Though Sazanka’s kaiseki-style omakase dinner is an affordable 49,000 won per person, chefs Park Jong-ha and Shin Byung-suk do not skimp on effort or flavor to make ends meet.
Drawing from over five years of experience in Japanese cuisine, including time spent learning kaiseki-ryori in Japan, the duo pay careful attention to each detail at this new restaurant, which opened in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong in November.
Such dedication shines through in dishes like suimono -- a clear soup served as part of a kaiseki meal.
Suimono (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
To create the minced fish and crab ball that is the crowning feature of this soup, Park and Shin use a clay hand grinder.
Shin described how snow crab meat and the meat from white-fleshed fish are ground with crab entrails, mountain yam, egg yolk and oil to create that ideal, elastic consistency.
“As we grind we add dashi broth,” Park, 33, added.
All that hard work results in a single ivory orb, ensconced in a steaming pool of clam broth. A small piece of yuzu peel infuses the dish with its heady aroma.
The fish and crab ball is sweet, umami and springy in texture, melding with the refreshing broth and citrusy fragrance of the yuzu.
This is just one of many dishes served as part of Sazanka’s omakase meal, which draws inspiration from kaiseki-ryori.
Kaiseki-ryori can be summarized as Japanese haute cuisine, a traditional multi-course meal that has evolved over centuries into a seasonally sensitive, fine dining experience that can often cost over 100,000 won per person for dinner in Japan.
Park and Shin wanted to incorporate kaiseki-ryori into their repertoire, using fresh, seasonal Korean ingredients to create an affordable and more casual approach to the traditional high-end cuisine.
“One can express the seasons with kaiseki,” said Park, explaining how he and Shin want to maximize the flavors and textures of the ingredients in their natural, seasonal states.
Served in a more casual and intimate setting -- all seats are at the counter -- Sazanka’s omakase is a beautifully plated, delicate affair.
Sashimi arranged in a jade green ceramic bowl are adorned with a single sprig of lavender-hued shiso flowers.
Sazanka’s sashimi is artistically plated with a colorful sprig of purple shiso flowers. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
The effect is not only artistic but functional as well.
As the dish is served, Park recommends picking the tiny flowers off the stem and dropping them into the soy sauce, to infuse the sauce with their fragrance.
While the backbone of the dishes at Sazanka are kaiseki, Park and Shin also draw inspiration from other cuisines to create some of their dishes.
“I wanted to make it like cream pasta,” said Shin, 35, of their butter-cream abalone.
After boiling the abalone for two hours until it is soft and tender, the meat is served in slices, bathed in fresh cream and butter and topped with red peppercorns and green onion.
Rich, juicy and silken, the abalone pairs well with the crunch of the peppercorns and the green onion and blends seamlessly into the meal, as the unctuous precursor to a thrice-charcoal-grilled flank steak.
With the open kitchen surrounded by three counters, it is a treat to watch Park and Shin in action, grilling fish, meat and vegetables over hardwood charcoal and carefully slicing and plating sashimi.
Patrons can watch the chefs in action, grilling meat like the flank steak pictured here as well as seafood and vegetables over hardwood charcoal. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Less than five months into business and Park and Shin are busy getting ready for spring with a new menu, slated to launch on March 11.
Their spring suimono will feature hard clams, rapeseed and bamboo shoots while flank steak will be swapped out for breaded and fried beef katsu and their grilled fish will be sea eel.
Plans are to change the menu once to twice a month.
640-13 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open from 6 p.m. till 1 a.m. (last order) daily, closed Sundays
Sazanka, which opened in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong in November, serves kaiseki-style eats in a casual and intimate setting. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Omakase course costs 49,000 won, Sazanka course costs 69,000 won, tapas course (available from 10 p.m.) costs 39,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org