Weekend nights in Itaewon are madness. Walk three minutes south of the station, however, and you’ll come across the Libertine, a classy respite from the madding crowd where you can nurse an old fashioned or down sazeracs in style. The interior is reminiscent of Old World New York, with high ceilings, dark wood and a beautifully tiled floor, not to mention a spacious and welcoming bar. If you’re feeling peckish, the Libertine’s mostly American-inspired menu is crafted with obsessive attention to detail every season (the lamb burger is consistently good, and long-time fans will want to keep an eye out for the Jeju organic free-range roast chicken, which is brined and slow roasted for hours). Daytime offers its own palate-charmers—the bacon is made in-house, and salmon is cured from fresh fish. Whether you’re charming a date over drinks or meeting the in-laws over brunch, the Libertine is a solid choice.
There’s a new charcuterie place where you can wine and dine. Though you might think of this place as a bar, because they make their own French ham and sausages here, it would be better to consider it as a professional charcuterie. The word l’impasse is French for “dead-end alleyway,” and the number 81 stands for the year that the duo from Studio Food Lab, chef Gregorie Michot and chef Jio, were born. These two searched the meat shops of Majang-dong to make their own ham and sausages, and finally found the perfect one (they use Australian lamb). Studying the culinary arts at the age of 16 and having worked as the sous chef for La Tour d’Agent and Plaza Athenee, chef Greg’s handmade charcuterie is close to flawless with all that experience under his belt. Chef Jio also makes things easier when he brings over the menu and breaks it down so that we can understand it. Currently at L’impasse 81, there are six types of handmade sausages, six different hams, four kinds of pâté and rillettes. It’s the kind of meat you can’t get anywhere else in Korea. The spicy lamb sausage, merguez, was superb, and the Andouille sausage, where they put the meat inside the stomach of a pig, was a menu item that would cause even the French to go home smacking their lips. The sausages come with several sides, including creamed spinach and potato gratin. (Our point being: it’s big enough of a portion to be your meal.) The cassoulet (traditional French dish made by boiling beans and meat in tomato sauce)
One of the owners cures the meats and then slaves away at the smoker slowly cooking the brisket and pulled pork over low temperatures for around ten hours. His efforts result in a tender brisket with burnt ends just pink around the edges with that coveted smoke ring and well done in the center. Served 200 grams at a time, the taste of the four lean and fat slices leave little room for dissatisfaction. Another talked about meat on the list is the lemon and herb marinated boneless chicken leg. One order means two leg quarters at a time and as far as poultry served American style in Seoul, this chicken is by far one of the juiciest. For extra flavor, ask for either the spicy mango or raspberry chipotle sauce. Although quite tasty and creative in its own right, traditionalists might prefer the tang of the more conventional barbecue sauces at Linus’.
The Beastro serves upscale New American cuisine at Hongdae prices, a steal considering the work that goes into every dish. Brother and sister team Matthew and Catherine Chung grew up around the world before settling in Seoul and eventually starting the Beastro—named for their love of unapologetically hearty ingredients. Matthew has formal culinary training but a soft spot for casual food, so you’ll find crispy fried chicken and buttery biscuits alongside orechiette with pesto and blue cheese. Every last detail is given the highest attention: the chicken is brined for six hours, the pork belly takes 24 hours to cure, braise and compress, they make their own ricotta cheese, and they bake all their bread in house. You can’t go wrong with the fried chicken (seriously), not to mention their cocktail list, but you’ll need several visits to appreciate all the Beastro has to offer—did we mention they serve brunch?