Seoul bar and grill a real treat
It’s hard to have a true neighborhood haunt in Seoul, maybe outside of a trusty Kimbap Cheonguk, as the city is ever changing, ever seeming to swallow establishments and reproduce new ones in a blink. WinK Kitchen and Taphouse in Gangnam, near Seoul National University of Education station, is an attempt to erect a comfortable, reliable neighborhood grill and bar where Seoulites of all walks of life have a seat at the table.
The stylization of the name stems from owner Willam Cho’s organization WinK Travels (WinK standing for “When in Korea”) that organizes trips encouraging expats and others to explore Korea. WinK Kitchen & Taphouse is Cho’s latest attempt to bring people together through an age-old method—feeding them. Along with Chef Ryan Phillips, the two have created an eatery focused on Tex-Mex and Korean fusion, comfort and a bit of booze, too.
The clear highlight of the starters is the ceviche. A shrimp rendering anchors the ceviche on the menu, although it’s constantly getting a boost from the house’s fresh catch. This is not a hot and tangy ceviche but a cool, soft one the server described as “sour.” Jeju-caught snapper graced this one, and it was a real treat, soaked in cucumber, vinegar, tomatoes and lime and served with tortilla chips. The ceviche is market price. The Jeju snapper rendition was 13,000 won.
Other parts of the menu include “Bowls,” meaning pretty much anything you can put in a bowl from their Ori Duck Confit salad to a Brazilian Burrito Bowl, rice topped with carnitas, black beans, corn tortilla chips and salsa. “Tortillas and Breads” are a variety of Tex-Mex, sandwiches and burgers.
The El Burrito (11,000 won), which the server warned to only order if we’re hungry, comes filled with three cheeses, carnitas pork, black beans and house-made chorizo. It is definitely a burrito for the meat-inclined. Rib-sticking and healthfully spicy, it could have done with another element, one of the earth, probably. The cheese was hard to detect.
The Pulled Pork Sandwich (11,000 won) causes gasps when plunked in front of diners. Two massive triangles splayed open exposing a generous pork filling streaked with purple apple slaw, a bed of waffle fries before them. In a day and age where we often describe junk food as sexy, let’s go ahead and say the glistening Texas Toast binding this sandwich is something of a turn-on.
The sandwich is certainly a step up from standard junk food. The pork perfectly soft and smoky, the sweetness the apple slaw lends is just right. Again, you hardly taste the cheese here, but that doesn’t change the sandwich’s excellence.
WinK’s beers on tap are some of the best priced in town. KABREW Hefeweizen is 6,600 won and the most expensive on the menu. Blogger and cocktail connoisseur Gemma Wardle has touted their Cranberry Jackass, a remix of a Moscow Mule, as well as the rest of their colorful cocktail menu (5,600 -7,000 won).
As new as WinK is, its potential as a south-of-the-river comfort food standby stands out even as it finds its stride.
WinK Kitchen & Taphouse can be found about 100 meters outside of Seoul National University of Education station’s exit 14.
Address: 1576-6 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu