|The Beastro’s chilled beet soup with creme fraiche, lemon zest, dehydrated black olives and olive oil (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Lunch at the Beastro in Hongdae is not meant to be a rushed affair.
While the menu reads heavy on sandwiches, these carefully constructed handheld meals are best eaten in-house, not packed for the road.
Served hot, with crisp wedges of potatoes, each riff on the classic lunch box eat comes swaddled in housemade bread and draped with gourmet fixings.
Then there are the sides, which are designed to be savored, like the parsley-cilantro flecked chimichurri fries topped with translucent curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or the cool, silken beet soup crowned with creme fraiche and lemon zest.
“It’s being thoughtful about the food,” said executive chef Matthew Chung, explaining the philosophy behind the Beastro, which dishes out lunch-friendly “new American” eats by day and then beefs up the menu with some more upscale creations for dinner.
Chung cut his teeth holding down part-time restaurant and deli gigs while studying English literature in college before enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu in Arizona.
Through the years Chung, 28, has amassed an eclectic culinary resume that includes slinging cheesesteaks to hundreds of hungry customers, fine dining stints and private dining experience to boot.
|The Beastro’s 24-hour hanger cheesesteak sandwich with barbecue seasoned potatoes and Sriracha-mayo|
Now he seems to have created an edible mash-up of his gastronomic career at the Beastro, an approach best exemplified in eats like the hefty hanger cheesesteak sandwich, a lunchtime meal that requires jaw gymnastics, a napkin and a love of Sriracha sauce.
“To me a good cheesesteak is all about the beef and good cheese,” Chung, a self-proclaimed “cheesesteak purist,” said.
For his meat, Chung settled on the hanger steak instead of the more usual rib-eye. The steak is cooked sous vide for 24 hours before getting seared in beef fat and “hit with brown butter” for “nuttiness.”
That velvety, beefy 190 gram steak is then served up, cut up into thick hunks and smothered in a robe of cheese sauce that rides the line between bechamel and melted cheese in texture and flavor.
Korean “ggwari” chilies, soft onions and bell peppers accent the sandwich, which is cradled in a warm, housemade potato bread-brioche hybrid. Potatoes coated in housemade barbecue seasoning and Sriracha-mayo complete the dish.
Whether intentional or not, this sandwich-sauce-potato trio is what makes the dish so satisfying.
Each component is good on its own, but the Sriracha-mayo acts as a crucial piquant, grease-cutting anchor to this heavy dish, pairing well with hunks of beef that have fallen out onto the plate and those potatoes as well as with the sandwich itself.
“I’ll put it in anything,” Chung said of the fiery chili-spiced mayo.
Chilies and its kindred sauces seem be to one of the Beastro’s many fortes, reappearing as a memorable garnish in the bistro’s Icy Hot cocktail.
“After 18 hours of dehydration, we pulse it into this fine powder,” explained bar manager Ray Oh, noting that spicy green Korean chilies are used with sugar to coat the rim of the glass.
The slight fire of the chili powder is offset by the fresh juiciness of the cocktail itself, which is concocted with lime, cucumber and aloe vera juice and gin.
Oh, 32, also revealed plans to create an “adult milkshake” with “housemade whipped cream.”
“It will be tequila-based,” general manager Catherine Chung, 24, divulged.
In addition to new drinks, the Beastro, which opened this May, is also revving up to release some new summer-friendly dishes.
“Summer. It’s all about being ripe, bold,” executive chef Chung said.
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org
2F, 358-32 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5:30 to 10 p.m., open till 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, closed Mondays
Sandwiches cost 10,000 won to 12,000 won, lunch appetizers cost 8,000 won to 13,000 won, signature cocktails cost 8,500 won to 12,000 won