Korean food rocks! Make no doubt about it. The flavor, affordability, quantity, health benefits, and convenience is surpassed by none. However, diversity is the spice of life. Since I’m from America, I’m acquainted to being able to choose from a diversity of cuisines. The problem with living in Seoul is if a foreigner doesn’t live in a touristy area, his options are limited to Korean Barbecue, kimbap and seafood. If he’s lucky, he might have a few more options but he generally exhausts those options quickly. As a result, foreigners are accustomed to heading to Gangnam, Itaewon, Hongdae, or Samcheong-dong on the weekends for a minor recourse from Korean culture.
While the break is nice, there is one minor problem. For all of us who have lived in a major or even a minor city, we know the most popular or frequented restaurants aren’t the best in town. The best restaurants are typically the smaller venues treasured by locals. These are the places that you are excited to share with your close friends and family when they visit from out of town. These places are unique to you and your neighborhood. In essence, they are the jewels of where you live. They are the places that make you feel proud of your city and in a small way become part of who you are.
As a foreigner, I often miss these places in Seoul due to the language and culture barrier. If I want variety, I usually seek out touristy restaurants because they are easy to find. I’m fully aware that better places must exist somewhere in this massive city. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered an excellent French Restaurant off the main road directly behind my building. Never in a million years did I think I would write a business review for a location in Jangan-Dong. Nevertheless, I’ve been so mesmerized by the wonderful staff and its delicious French cuisine that I want to share with you what has recently become a small part of who I am.
Enter Escoffier, the crown jewel of my neighborhood known as Jangan-dong in the Dongdaemun-Gu district. I first visited after a tiring photo shoot of Olympic Park. It was late on a Sunday night when the chef of Escoffier welcomed me. He spoke with me for an extensive amount of time and told me about his travels in Europe and how he studied at the famous and world-renowned culinary school Cordon Le Bleu in Paris. He is fluent in French which was obvious because he often jumbled his French with his English in the most charming manner. Good food often brings out the best in people, but the best restaurants are where the owners make you feel equally as wonderful. Restaurant Escoffier is such a place.
Since my first encounter, I’ve learned more about Chef de Cuisine Byong-Dong Jang. Not only did he study at Le Cordon Bleu, but he worked at restaurants like La Manifacture in Paris for three years and toured Europe(with an extended stay in Spain) observing the best culinary techniques and sampling the best cuisines. He is also a published chef and is the president of both the Le Cordon Bleu Korea and the Escoffier(Escoffier was a very famous chef in Paris) organization in Korea. He worked in Samcheong-dong for several years as a Sous Chef but wanted to open a restaurant near his home so he could be closer to his two beautiful daughters and help improve the quality of life and cuisine in Dongdaemun-Gu.
His restaurant is small and cozy. It’s comprised of one room, a bar, an open kitchen and a beautifully lit outdoor patio. It’s off the main street so it is quiet and not inundated by crazy sidewalk-driving Korean traffic. The restaurant is the perfect place to take a date or visit with a small group of friends who enjoy cracking open a bottle of wine-or three.
I’ve eaten here three times and each time has been a delightful experience. I’m not a food critic, but all of the food has been excellent. On my first visit, I partook in the linguine with white wine clam sauce that had a very subtle but pleasing flavor. On my second visit, I ordered the dinner special and was served smoked salmon, beef rib-eye steak with pine mushroom sauce and gatueu au chocolat. On my third visit, Chef Byong-Dong showed me that he is not only a master of French cuisine, but he is also the Korean master of barbecue and cooked the most delicious pork I have ever had in my life(this is not an exaggeration). Make sure you stop by during the summer as he will be holding outdoor events and grilling often on the streets. As he told me, “summer is a time for barbecue.” I couldn’t agree more.
Chef Byong-Dong Jang and his staff are extremely heartwarming and whether you are seeking a break from Korean cuisine, desire to enjoy elevated (but not overly priced) dining with friends over a few glasses or wine, or if you need the perfect neighborhood restaurant to charm that girl you always daydream about at work, Restaurant Escoffier is your ideal spot.
To dine at Escoffier, take line 5 to the Janganpyeong Station and use exit three. Proceed to walk down the main street. You’ll pass a Tom N Toms on your right and about 5-8 minutes later you will pass another Tom N Tom’s on your left. Once you pass the building with the second Tom N Tom’s, take a left and restaurant Escoffier will be behind this building. The business hours, phone number, contact information, and address in Korean are provided below.