Gala Dinners 1 and 2

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 04 Jul 2010 | Events

One of the objectives of the two meals I had at Hotel Shilla was to prove to high end Korean wine lovers that their traditional cuisine matches beautifully with European wines. This was my fourth trip to Korea, and I have had some remarkable dishes. Most Westerners think of Korea cuisine as simply the spicy, garlicky, peppery, fermented cabbage dishes generically called kimchi, and of course, Korean barbecue. However, the country’s food is far more sophisticated and refined than those two dishes would suggest. Once you taste through several classic recipes, and see what Korean chefs can create, it becomes apparent that this is a cuisine meant to be taken seriously.  The wine match-ups worked fabulously well. The biggest problem appears to be that the Koreans need to be more aggressive in promoting their own cooking. The Hotel Shilla’s chef (who has cooked all the meals I have had over the last four trips, from classic French food to these two recent dinners), Chef Seo Song Ho is unquestionably brilliant.

We Westerners tend to think that things such as ginseng, Yuzu marinade, soybean paste, abalone, tofu, bean purée, and ginger confiture are unfriendly to wine, but nothing could be further from the truth. These were some extraordinary dishes. The Korean plum caviar and tuna on a cauliflower purée appetizer was good, but the Yuzu marinated crab meat and jellyfish with Omija dressing was to die for, as was the soy flavored ginseng and salmon terrine, a beautifully layered salmon terrine with delicate flavors. That worked great with both the 100% ChardonnayMarc Hebrart Brut Champagne, and the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon dry white from Mouton Rothschild, the 2005 Aile d’Argent.

The traditional dish of sea scallop slices in soybean paste vinaigrette, followed by a beef clear soup with dumpling and tofu matched up beautifully with the 2000 Talbot, which I rated higher than I had ever done in the past, which tells you how well the combination worked. The next three courses were Chef Seo’s finest. The steamed and broiled eel with ginger confiture was an extraordinary dish. Bursting with flavor, it was the perfect foil for a big, muscular Pauillac like Pontet Canet’s 2000. While the wine is still very young, it has loads of crème de cassis and, again, this was the best tasting I have yet had of this wine, and I have to give the food some of the credit. The baked duck breast with seasoned cucumber and green onion sauté easily stood up to the massive 2005 Montrose. Who would have ever though of combining abalone and soy braised beef short ribs in one dish? Chef Seo did (it is apparently a traditional Korean dish), and it is a fabulous combination that worked beautifully with the 1995 Mouton Rothschild. To make things even more interesting, the 1998 Ostertag Fronholz Vendange Tardive Gewürztraminer was exquisite, and married superbly with the Korean desserts.

At the second gala dinner, the menu was the same, and again included a treasure trove of delicious dishes. The appetizers worked as well as the white Bordeaux with a delicious, delicate, medium-bodied 2007 Roulot Meursault Tesson Clos de Mon Plaisir. The beautifulMéo-Camuzet 2006 Nuits St.-Georges Les Boudots is a fully mature, delicious red burgundy that is best drunk over the next 4-5 years given its softness and delicate fruit. One of the great combinations of the evening was the eel with the 2006 Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservée. Something about the intensity of the eel working with the garrigue, roasted Provençal herb, kirsch, and meatiness of the Pégaü was one of those marriages I shall never forget. The 1999 Haut Brion was delicious with the duck breast, which surprised me since the duck breast was a pretty intensely flavored dish. While it held up against the 2005 Montrose the night before, the 1999 Haut Brion (nearly fully mature) is a more delicate wine. After having had two so-so bottles of 1990 Latour from my cellar, I had a great one in, of all places, Seoul, Korea. This beautiful bottle renewed my confidence in this wine, but it does appear to be fully mature, which is unusual for a 20-year old Latour. Again, it worked beautifully with the soy braised beef short ribs and abalone. We finished with a classic Sauternes, the 2006 Château Guiruad, which was pure honeysuckle, marmalade, and nectarine.

I can’t say enough about the cuisine. It will take the confidence of the Koreans and some courageous and energetic people to demonstrate to the world what the finest level of Korean cuisine represents. It is eye-opening, innovative, and flavorful.

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