Decadence without guilt, Kyotofu style
Kyotofu Seoul is the place to eat delectably decadent food without the guilt. Its menu is centered on tofu, after all. Located in a chic setting with the look and feel of Manhattan, it is the first franchise of Kyotofu, the famed New York City bakery and dessert bar.
An East-meets-West concept permeates the menu. One of their specialties is Western-infused “Omakase,” a highly formalized Japanese culinary style that celebrates harmony and the changing seasons by using only fresh, natural and local ingredients in intricate presentations. Traditional Japanese flavors such as shiso (ggaennip), soy milk, miso (soybean paste) and matcha (green tea) mingle with French techniques.
Co-founder Anthony Kim, who brought Kyotofu to Seoul, said he was immediately struck by the concept when he ate at Kyotofu in Manhattan.
“I have never tasted anything like this in Korea,” he said. “When I tasted the sweet signature tofu in New York that was what absolutely sold me. I knew there is nothing like this in Korea and something like this would work here.”
Kyotofu imports its soy milk and coagulants from Japan in order to stay true to the textures and flavor profiles of the Kyoto tofu artisans who inspired their New York flagship. But it’s served with a Western twist. Dishes like soy milk cheese soufflés, makkoli with shiso flake sorbet and rich chocolate cake served with soy milk ice cream and miso caramel sauce feature French techniques.
“Soy Milk is used in 70 percent of the menu,” said the CEO of Kyotofu Seoul, J.D. Yu. “Tofu takes less than 20 minutes to make. This is not rocket science, we just use the freshest ingredients. For example, the Kyotofu savory and sweet signature Kyotofu dessert pudding is made daily. We throw away any leftover Kyotofu at the end of the work day.”
The presentation of dishes is edgy and modern. The savory offerings are bite-sized and thoughtfully arranged, bento box-style. The desserts are served on sleek white plates and punctuated with a smattering of edible artwork such as black bean sesame tuile and miso sheets.
For our savory offering, we tried the Dinner Omakase (Chef’s Choice) consisting of multiple “tastings” – yubu roll, creamy crab croquet, pork belly (Samgyeupsal) marinated in miso, chicken meatballs with ginger-wasabi sauce, prawn and meat sliders and savory Kyotofu. The mix of Eastern and Western styles provided contrast. Nothing in the Dinner Omakase was too sweet, too bitter or too spicy. Everything was balanced and loaded with “umami” (delicious taste).
The prawn sliders brought out the sweet solo notes of the prawn between red pimiento chili buns. The chicken and tofu slider was remarkably beefy and infused with an essence of ginger – light but substantial. The chicken meatballs were topped with a delicate ginger and wasabi sauce. The pork belly marinated in miso was flavorful and tender with a slight crispness.
As a global foodie, I tasted the real deal in Kyoto when I lived in Japan but I have never tasted anything like the Kyotofu, which I can only describe as the essence of savory.
I am not a big dessert fan, and for the sake of my waistline I usually skip it when I eat out. But not at Kyotofu. Dessert here is king. The stars are the sweet signature Kyotofu pudding and the miso chocolate cake. The Kyotofu pudding was delicate, lightly sweetened and characterized by a glossy smoothness, so buttery it tasted as if it should be spread on something. The syrup that came with the pudding was not necessary but amped up the sweetness of the dish.
While the tofu pudding was nuanced and exquisite, the miso caramel chocolate cake was a master class in decadence and richness. Miso – normally associated with savory dishes – was given a sweet makeover. The addictive combination of rich and gooey chocolate cake with miso caramel is worth the trip to Kyotofu alone.
Kyotofu Korea is located at Hangangjin Station, Exit 3. Walk about 200 meters and look to your left. It’s next to the Hannam-dong side of the Itaewon arch. Valet Parking is available.
Kyotofu is open for lunch and dinner. There is a special Brunch menu on Saturday, Sunday and Korean Holidays. For more information visit the Kyotofu website at http://www.kyotofu-seoul.com