[Treandy Eats] Along with the exotic backdrop, it is the area's cafes and restaurants that draw people south of Seoul.
There used to be a saying that Bundang, Gyeonggi is just beneath heaven, one of the most suitable places to live in Korea. The saying even rhymes - "Bundang beneath Cheondang".
"However, in recent years, Bundang residents have said that Jeongja-dong (the southwestern neighborhood of Bundang) is even Closer to Heaven", said Shin Hyun-seung, a 54-year-old Bundang resident.
Shin moved from the southern part of Seoul to Bundang in the late 90s, as many other middle- and upper-class Seoul residents moved south, away from the busy city.
Less commercialized compared to other parts of Bundang, the Jeongja-dong area started to bloom in 2003 when high-rise residential buildings, such as the Royal Palace and Park View, started to attract wealthy residents, including celebrities. Cafes and restaurants naturally began to spring up around two tall buildings, the Paragon and Sante View Regency, and more than 50 shops in the area now make up Jeongja-dong Cafe Street, each with a different beautiful terrace, creating scenes more often found in Europe.
Since the neighborhood was formed by an influx of well-off residents, posh restaurants and cafes lure customers who are willing to pay for quality food and atmosphere.
More people outside Gangnam and Bundang are also venturing out to the Jeongja-dong area with the launch of the Shinbundang Line, which dramatically cuts the commute time between Gangnam Station and Jeongja Station.
"I have heard a lot about Jeongja-dong but never made the trip because of the distance", said Choi Hyun-woo, a Seoul resident. "After the Shinbundang Line, I prefer to visit Jeongja-dong rather than Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul".
Along with the exotic backdrop, it is the area's cafes and restaurants that draw people south of Seoul. It takes at least an hour from central Seoul by car or nearly an hour and a half by subway or bus.
A favorite destination for many Jeongja-dong visitors is the French restaurant Aix-en Provence, which is located in the heart of the Jeongja-dong Cafe Street.
Nearly 50 percent of restaurants shut down in their first two years, but Aix-en Provence has been there for five, serving French and Italian cuisines.
The restaurant's secret of longevity comes from fresh ingredients, purchased from produce and fish markets every morning.
What made the restaurant famous in the first place, however, was its terrace decorated with natural flowers, mostly with hydrangeas, with a small violin concert held on weekends from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Roses replace the hydrangeas on special occasions such as Valentine's Day and White Day. The concept appeals to couples who are in need of a romantic night along with hearty foods and crisp night air.
This is Jjamppong. Chinese spicy noodles served with vegetables and seafood
The French restaurant also appeals to families by decorating the terrace with carnations, often given to parents as a sign of love, and poinsettias on Christmas Day. "You should make a reservation at least three days in advance if you want to secure seats on special days", said manager Jeon Seung-ho.
Another long-running restaurant near Aix-en Provence is Salon de Choonja, opened in 2006, serving French cuisine at reasonable prices. While studying Western art in Japan, owner Choi Myung-a fell in love with the atmosphere of French restaurants, which are easier to find in there.
The restaurant provides a set menu that changes every day, decided by five chefs depending on what seasonal food is available in the morning.
On a recent visit to the Salon de Choonja, the dinner course menu consisted of bread, sweet potato soup, quiche Lorraine, sirloin served with wine and Japanese apricot extract sauce, coffee and chocolate ice cream. The main dish is steak, but pasta and fish are also available for vegetarians.
If French and Italian are not your thing, head to casual American dining places, a few blocks away from Aix-en Provence and the Salon de Choonja. DailyKing's Diner and DailyKing's Brown Sugar both focus on American casual foods. According to Diner manager Lee Jong-deok, DailyKing's also owns the nationwide Vietnamese chain PhoMein, but in the case of the Diner and Brown Sugar, these two restaurants only exist in the Jeongja-dong area.
The Diner began offering a wide array of American foods alongside selected brunch menus in 2007 and saw brunch become a phenomenon among young women influenced by American dramas like "Sex and the City". It saw DailyKing's open Brown Sugar, which is more focused on a brunch, in 2008, with pancakes, French toast, waffles and choux pastries.
Typically, brunch menus are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at most restaurants, so those that are slow to rise should head for the Diner and Brown Sugar, where brunch is available at any time.
Jeongja-dong also offers Asian fusion restaurants. A short walk from the DailyKing restaurants, Naroo offers a unique menu. One of them is the Naroo steak, which is seasoned with wine and served with bean sprouts that are often used in Asian cuisines.
Another best-selling creation at Naroo is the pumpkin-cream pasta. The cream pasta is served with pieces of steamed sweet pumpkin. Soft and creamy texture of steamed sweet pumpkin goes well with cream pasta.
A special jjamppong (Chinese-style hot noodles with vegetables and seafood) place should be added to the list of fusion cuisine list, located a few walks from Naroo. Ordinary jjamppong comes with a spicy broth that is purported to ease hangovers. This Is Jjamppong, however, adds a little twist by adding cream. Kim Dong-han, who lives in the area, has become a believer in cream jjamppong, eating it every time he has a hangover.
"When I first looked at the cream jjamppong, I wondered how it would be different from Italian cream pasta", said Kim. "However, the cream jjamppong surprisingly had the spiciness of ordinary jjamppong and soon became the go-to food for me to cure hangovers".
Out of eight different types of jjamppong, the cream jjamppong is the one that surprises customers the most based on its dramatically different taste and appearance.
Asian fusion restaurant Naroo
Although the jjamppong place opened earlier this year, the first and second floors of the restaurant are filled with customers every moment except break time.
Even after a belly full of good food, we all still have a room for a cup of coffee or sweet dessert.
Among the many franchise coffee shops in the Jeongja-dong area, there is one coffee shop that peeks through the clouds.
One may wonder whether Samantha's is a cafe or a show room, what with all the sparking jewelry in every nook and cranny - but it is in fact a coffee shop, run by owner Goo Eun-jeong, who loves jewelry.
"I always adored unique jewelry. All the jewelry displayed at our cafe is from artists who may not be well-known, but don't make the same type of jewelry over and over again", said Goo.
The Green Gallery House cafe, which opened in 2005, lures haggard city-dwellers with various plants from ivy to ficuses which almost reach the ceiling of the cafe. All the decorations, including the trees, flowers and stones, are arranged by owner Lee Jae-kwon, who has previously worked as a landscape designer.
Dessert shop Cream Fairy, which sells 20 different types of handmade ice creams, is also hard to pass up. The base ingredient used in all the ice cream is Ttonatta milk, which has a cult following among health-conscious people.
The milk produced at Ttonatta Farm of Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, is famous for drawing milk from its cows between midnight and 4 a.m., the hours when milk is believed to contain a higher level of melatonin, which helps people sleep naturally.
Cream Fairy uses local ingredients that are all produced in Gangwon.
"Customers are amazed at the fact that all the ingredients are from Gangwon", said Min Sung-ja, the owner of the ice cream store.
Reporting by Sung So-young Shin Ji-ye and Choi Won-jin
By Special Reporting Team [[email protected]]
Green Gallery House
Once a landscape designer, the owner of the Green Gallery House turned the cafe into a small forest inside the busy city. From trees to flowers to stones, the cafe gives a relaxed atmosphere for customers.
One of the best-selling beverages is gluhwein, which is a warm wine with sweet cinnamon and fruits.
Food can be enjoyed from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Prices range from 6,000 won to 38,000 won.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Cream Fairy draws in people with their 20 flavors of ice cream from Gangwon Province.
The most popular ice cream of them all is Ice Queen. It's made from Gangwon Province salt, but surprisingly lacks a salty tang. The addition of finely-ground ice lends texture to the taste. Return of the King is another customer pick and is made from Ttonatta milk, which has cult following among health-conscious people in Korea. The milk produced is from Ttonatta Farm located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi.
Prices range from 3,400 won to 17,000 won.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Salon de Choonja
This French restaurant has one menu for lunch and dinner courses. For dinner, a dessert is added and a different type of meat is served. The menu includes homemade bread, soup, a salad, an appetizer made with seasonal foods, well-grilled steak and dessert.
The restaurant changes the menu every day so there is no concern of eating the same course every time you visit. The main dish is mostly beef, but pasta and fish are also available for those who don't eat meat.
Prices range from 20,000 won ($17.60) to 35,000 won.
Hours are from noon to 10 p.m. (Break time: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Enjoy the unique and splendid jewelry, bags and dishes displayed at Samantha's while sipping on a cup of coffee or tea. All the products at the store are original, one-off pieces made by local artists. Four types of tea, including peppermint, green, flower and buckwheat from Gangwon Province can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Prices range from 4,500 won to 6,000 won.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.
This is Jjamppong
This is Jjamppong marks the ne plus ultra of what jjamppong (Chinese spicy noodles served with vegetables and seafood) can be transformed into. The most notable noodles at the store are the cream jjamppong that resembles Italian cream pasta but tastes like spicy Chinese noodles. Besides that, the pure rice jjamppong and garlic jjamppong are always popular. Customers can get an idea of how the noodles will taste by eyeing the menu carefully, since noodles in a white dish have less soup than noodles in a black dish do.
Prices range from 6,500 won to 9,500 won.
Hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Break time: 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) from Monday to Friday. Hours are from 11:55 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. (Break time: 4 p.m. to 5: 30 p.m.)
DailyKing's Diner and Brown Sugar
In the same district, DailyKing has two restaurants, the Diner and Brown Sugar. Diner's best-selling product is Philly cheese steak sandwich and eight types of burgers including a chili burger and pizza burger. DailyKing's Brown Sugar is notable for their wide array of brunch menus including eggs Benedict, Jay's morning platter and DailyKing's brunch.
Price ranges from both dining places is the same, from 14,000 won to 42,000 won.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily (Diner), hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (Brown Sugar).
Asian fusion restaurant Naroo offers Naroo steak, a house special seasoned with wine and particularly enjoyable with green bean sprouts. The pumpkin cream pasta is another best-selling creation, served with slices of steamed sweet pumpkins. Gyusuji tomato pasta, which the restaurant launched last September, is made of boiled beef and tomato sauce.
All the sauce used at the restaurant is made by the chef. If a reservation is made at least one day in advance, customers receive a 10 percent discount.
Prices range from 9,000 won to 60,000 won.
Hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Break time: 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
One step into the French restaurant Aix-en Provence and you will feel the romantic atmosphere. A small violin concert is held on the flower-filled terrace between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekends - a prime time and place for couples.
Brunch costs 15,000 won, the lunch course costs 25,000 won and the dinner course 70,000 won. Hours are from 11 a.m. to midnight from Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on the weekends.
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