When Sanok chef Kim Jeong-ho decided to strike out on his own, he zoomed in on the ingredients, turning to the bare bones of cuisine for inspiration.
Kim explained how he, as a father cooking for his child, found himself increasingly interested in the provenance and cultivation of ingredients that made their way to his table.
This newfound focus influenced his role as chef of the newly-minted bistro, Sanok, which, Kim explained, means “four types of greens” in Korean.
“It signifies ingredients from the mountains, fields, paddies and farms,” Kim, 34, elaborated.
At Sanok, which opened in September in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong, Kim creates fresh, multifaceted dishes with carefully curated ingredients.
Argentinian red shrimp are pan-seared to sweet, succulent softness, draped with a cilantro-infused coconut milk reduction and crunchy slices of pickled chamoe a.k.a. Korean melon. A wedge of charred lime is served with this aromatic appetizer.
“I wanted to use red shrimp,” Kim explained. “The texture is similar to that of a lobster.”
“The lime is charred to get more flavor and achieve a soft acidity,” Kim added.
The natural pop of sugar from the shrimp complements the sweet freshness of the chamoe, while the soft texture of the shrimp is juxtaposed with the crunchiness of the chamoe. Creamy coconut milk fragrant with cilantro gets a hit of tartness from a generous squeeze of lime.
Kim wows again with a main dish that sends a nod to traditional Korean galbi -- grilled ribs.
1) Sanok’s sweet Argentine red shrimp (right) are pan-seared to succulent softness, draped with a cilantro-infused coconut milk reduction and crunchy slices of pickled chamoe melons. Sanok’s riff of Korean galbi pairs, marinated short ribs, are served with a toothsome lentil-kimchi concoction and grilled broccolini. Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
He fuses lentils with baek-kimchi, essentially kimchi sans red chili powder, to create a beautiful side note to his boneless short ribs.
Kim’s lentil-kimchi concoction is so toothsome it threatens to eclipse the other elements of this dish.
“The lentils are sauteed in butter and baek-kimchi is added at the end,” Kim revealed.
Rich butter that seems to have browned during the cooking process amps up the nutty flavors of the lentils while the kimchi adds a beautiful layer of salty, fermented tartness to a dish that could be easily be enjoyed by the bowlful, heaped over rice.
For now, diners can enjoy it with Kim’s riff off kalbi, essentially short ribs marinated in a fairly classic kalbi sauce just long enough to seep into the outer perimeter of the meat.
Bitter and spicy mustard greens seasoned with vinaigrette and grilled broccolini round out this hearty dish.
One can delve into the ingredients that form these dishes by perusing the menu, which divulges information ranging from whether or not the beef used was grass-fed to what region a quail hails from.
Kim plans to continue to source ingredients that he can parlay into dishes that reflect his own culinary aesthetic, one born out of years and years of experience.
He knew he wanted to cook from a very early age, enrolling into culinary arts high school and then majoring in culinary arts in college. He then interned at a hotel in Nevada and at a restaurant in Chicago that specialized in molecular cuisine before spending a decade working at a prominent fine dining restaurant in South Korea and in New York.
After a long career spent mastering high-end cuisine, Kim has stepped away from fine dining to create more casual eats at Sanok.
“This is not a fine dining spot, but a place where one can enjoy dishes a la carte with wine in comfort,” said Kim.
2) Sanok, a bistro that opened in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong in September, features fresh, multifaceted dishes crafted from carefully curated ingredients. Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
2F, 642-14 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open 5:30 p.m. to midnight daily, closed Sundays
Starters cost 6,000 won to 22,000 won, main dishes cost 30,000 won to 40,000 won, rice and noodle dishes cost 19,000 won to 22,000 won, side dishes cost 4,000 won to 10,000 won, dessert costs 5,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)