Mussel Heaven at Al Matto
Across from the Pinoy Mart in Haebangchon is Al Matto, a hip little restaurant serving Italian cuisine. Before you enter, prepare yourself for some of the tastiest “cozze” (mussels) on this side of the Han. My friend and I were not expecting much as we lived in Italy for several years, but we were pleasantly surprised. Al Matto’s modern setting creates a comfortable-meets-chic vibe.
In front of its well-stocked cocktail bar sits partially mismatched furniture with throw blankets on the backs of chairs and windows frosted for the season, complete with a faux balcony. On a poster board inside was an intriguing proposition: Tell them a favorite meal you are missing from home (apparently from anywhere around the world), give them a date and they will make it for you. A multitude of possibilities flooded my mind; I’ve been craving all kinds of food from around the globe. But I refocused on the task at hand and looked at the menu.
They had an extensive pizza and cocktail selection. I am generally wary of thin-crust, Italian-style pizza in Seoul, so my friend and I ordered from the pasta and sandwich section. I tried the spaghetti with shrimp and pesto while my friend tried a dinner special, the Mortadella panini sandwich. The waiter asked us if we wanted an appetizer. I almost said no, until I heard a loud slurp from the table next to us. They were consuming the remaining broth from what had been a three-quart pot full of mussels. Seeing their joy, I ordered the cozze as well.
The mussels started our meal at a high point. It smelled heavenly from the kitchen as it was prepared. Done correctly, and not rushed, the scent of garlic and other spices filled the air. The smell filled me with anticipation and the mussels did not disappoint.
They were tender, nicely cooked and had a little bit of kick – delicious and Italian, but sure to please the Korean palate as well. These reminded me of the mussels I could only get when in season back in Southern Italy. This set the bar high as memories of Pasta Amatriciana, my favorite accompanying dish to cozze, came to mind.
Unfortunately, the pasta was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a genuine pesto, but got more of an aioli instead. I enjoy garlic and olive oil as much as the next foodie, but I was expecting a real pesto sauce.
In addition, the pasta was a bit too “al dente” for my taste and was dry, despite a generous amount of olive oil. My friend appreciated the thin spaghetti and the pasta’s seasoning more than I, but agreed that the pasta came out tasting a bit dry.
I also sampled the Mortadella sandwich, served with a side salad. The ham was sliced thinly with brie cheese on Trevia bread that paired nicely with the saltiness of the ham. Although it looked unimpressive, it was not bad.
Observing others, I must say that the pizza did look respectable.
On the way out, I looked at the proposition on the poster and got their business card. What should I choose? Pasta Amatriciana, anyone?
Directions: Noksapyeong station exit 2, take first left. Al Matto is about 150 meters up the street, past Family Mart