86 Pine St, Pike Place Market,
206-443-5443; chanseattle.com $$$
When your houseguests clamor for a restaurant that feels like the real Seattle, set your GPS to the belly of Pike Place Market and find yourself in a glittering jewelbox that celebrates the cuisine of Korea. Sort of.
Heong Soon Park was toiling behind the stove of his daytime breakfast-and-panino restaurant, Bacco, when he began longing to show off the cuisine of his home country. The Continentally trained chef repurposed Bacco’s downstairs space, tucked off the courtyard of the Inn at the Market. He adorned the interior in textured neutrals with dark tables and scarlet napkins, installing plenty of mirrors to enhance the candlelight and brightening the display kitchen.
The result is as sleek a spot to squire a date as to school a novice in the art of bibimbap, Korea’s signature mixed rice bowl—namely, feisty bulgogi beef; fresh-that-moment Market vegetables, arugula to shiitakes; an organic fried egg; and plenty of the sweet-spicy gochujang sauce that helps to give Korean food its distinctive ferocity.
Park honors his origins with other classics: kalbi-braised short ribs, kimchi pork belly, and one extravagantly fine hunk of unctuous black cod, poached and perched upon a disk of moist daikon with gingery soy sauce.
But that’s just half the menu. The other half fuses Korean cuisine to, well…whatever fancy Park is flying that day. Brioche buns pack bulgogi beef, cucumber kimchi, and chili mayo for some of the most entertaining cocktail sliders in town. (Cocktails aren’t bad, either: try the cinnamon-gingery rye concoction, the Su Jung Kwa.) Chicken wings are thickly gilded in a haunting chili--caramel glaze, then draped in peanuts. Kimchi fried rice—a Korean classic—goes Euro with bacon in the fiery rice and a thick crown of melted mozzarella.
Yes, purists will be horrified. Heat is dialed way down from what you’d taste at the Korean mom-and-pops in Shoreline or Federal Way—Park’s banchan, the pickled and spiced vegetal side dishes integral to Korean dining, can be much too tame—but Park is in it for the converts. “I want to introduce Korean food to Western culture!” he declares. He’s hardly alone: so do the owners of Oma Bap, the fast-food joint in Bellevue with the kimchi tacos; and Joule, that seminal Korean-Continental fusion house relocating in August from Wallingford to Fremont.
Sounds like the real Seattle to me.