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Celebrity chef helms kitchen of highly anticipated new restaurant

Master Chef Korea judge Song Hoon to act as executive chef of S-Tavern

Less than a week remains until celebrity chef Song Hoon’s newest culinary endeavor, S-Tavern, launches in Seoul.

Master Chef Korea Season 4 judge Song and team are busy preparing for the grand opening, tweaking sauces and working the grill, making sure that all the details, including the extensive menu, are worked out to perfection.

The hard work seems to be paying off. 

The grilled seasonal fish with zucchini, fried eggplant and lentils is served straight off S-Tavern‘s state-of-the-art grill. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
The grilled seasonal fish with zucchini, fried eggplant and lentils is served straight off S-Tavern‘s state-of-the-art grill. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The rustic, dark wood elegance of the first floor, which sports an open kitchen and a state-of-the-art grill, and the airy opulence of the second floor, with its ceiling-high windows and crisp white tablecloths, paint a picture of a restaurant poised to become Seoul’s latest hot spot, with its slightly haute yet still down-to-earth vibe.

The menu reads like a foodie’s hip mash-up of eats -- a medley that jumps from Southern-style comfort food like fried chicken with biscuits and stuffed beignets to neo-Chinese fare like air-dried whole duck coated in honey and spiced with Sichuan peppercorns and coriander.

There are beer-friendly tapas, flame-kissed fare straight off the grill and even a whole section devoted solely to eggs.

“We are doing American cuisine,” said S-Tavern executive chef Song, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America before working at Danny Meyer’s Maialino and the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York. 
S-Tavern’s four beignets -- plain, shrimp gumbo, caramelized apple, cheese -- showcase both sweet and savory variations of the New Orleans fritters. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
S-Tavern’s four beignets -- plain, shrimp gumbo, caramelized apple, cheese -- showcase both sweet and savory variations of the New Orleans fritters. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Song elaborated that by American, he means the “melting pot” of cuisines he chowed down on while studying and working in the U.S. for over five years.

“We have dishes that exhibit French techniques, an Italian base, a fusion of Western and Asian cuisine on one plate,” Song, 37, explained, adding that he and his team will also be showcasing Southern-style and Chinese-inspired fare at the new 100-seat restaurant, which will open near Dosan Park on May 23.

Song’s newest stint at the soon-to-open restaurant might very well represent a lasting culinary milestone for the chef, who will be showcasing his wide range of culinary talent at a fortuitous moment, as someone who is already very much in the spotlight. 

   The launch of S-Tavern comes just as Song’s role as a judge on season four of cable food channel Olive’s “Master Chef Korea” nears its end, with S-Tavern opening the week after the unveiling of the final winning contestant.

All bodes well for the celebrity chef, who seems more than ready for the stardom that comes with being on television and for the pressure that comes with having to live up to fans’ high expectations of the much-talked-about S-Tavern. 

Even with the big day fast approaching, Song wears his crisp chef’s whites with ease, still sporting immaculately coiffed hair, a confident demeanor and a wry sense of humor.

While he bears his fame well, after a few minutes of conversation, it becomes clear that it has not gone to his head.

Seated at the dark wood counter facing the open kitchen, he works on the menu, meters out directions to his sous chef, tests the bread and discusses the seasonings, and in the midst of everything, still calmly and clearly explains in careful detail the food that will be served at S-Tavern. 

For the Roman-style meatballs, Song explains, they will be fried first to get them “seared on the outside and seal in all the juices,” then tossed in tomato sauce, covered and braised for meatballs that are succulent on the inside and crispy on the outside.

For their homemade riff off merguez sausage, Song elaborates that it will be crafted with lamb and pork fat before being served over sourdough doused in extra virgin olive oil and topped with red pepper caponata.

“The balsamic vinegar in the caponata will lend an acidity and sweetness,” Song broke it down. 

He went on to explain how the plating will be kept simple, unified and aesthetically pleasing and how most of the first floor will be walk-in only for hungry passersby who want to sit down and dip into some food and tip back some beer.

Clearly Song has put a lot into S-Tavern as executive chef, with a clear vision of how he hopes it will pan out, and in less than a week, when the Instagram-armed crowd hits, he will know if he hit the nail on the head or missed. 

By Jean Oh (oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)

S-Tavern, which opens May 23 in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, features a casual first floor and a more formal second floor, pictured here. (Photo credit: Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
S-Tavern, which opens May 23 in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, features a casual first floor and a more formal second floor, pictured here. (Photo credit: Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

S-Tavern

650-8 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

(02) 518-5505; www.stavern.co.kr

Open 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 11 a.m. on weekends with last orders at 2:30 p.m., and from 5:30 p.m. with last orders at 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Starters and tapas cost 9,000 won to 19,500 won, main dishes cost 23,000 won to 135,000 won
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