Tastingroom duo masterminds another hit

Lisa Myung, Jan. 20, 2017, 10:09 a.m.

Restaurateurs often dream of holding a track record the likes of that held by the duo behind hit eateries Tastingroom and Melting Shop.

Since the launch of their first Tastingroom in Seoul nearly eight years ago, the husband-and-wife team has seen continued success, opening multiple Tastingroom outlets and yet another hit restaurant, Melting Shop, in 2014.

Now Kim Ju-young and her husband have circled back to where it all started, to the spot where they opened their first Tastingroom.

Here, the duo has made a bold move, converting a place that once housed their design company and their first restaurant into a three-story eatery called Pairing Room.

“We started working on Pairing Room right after we opened Melting Shop,” said Tastingroom, Melting Shop and Pairing Room director Kim, 40.

“It took us six months to design the space and four months to build it,” Kim added. “It took us a year and a half to develop the menu.”

In October, the team tentatively unveiled the Pairing Room before officially opening in November.

Now, less than three months later, the buzz surrounding the new hotspot has reached fever pitch, with reservations hard to nab despite the enormity of the 100-seat space.

“It is best to reserve five to six days in advance,” Kim recommended.

Photogenic food and surroundings seem to be one of the major draws of Pairing Room, but Insta-worthy snaps can only take one so far.

Pairing Room delivers on its visual promise, serving up fare that tastes as good as it looks.

Scallops festooned with strands of balsamic vinegar-infused chewy squid arrive hot, plump and succulent, artfully plated over a thick cloud of creamy pureed potatoes for a dish that unfurls layers of umami, citrus and a hint of sweetness.

Pepe Pie, a nod to the currently hip Detroit-style pizza, is delightfully bready and crisp. Slathered in fruity olive oil, this thick, oblong pie is smothered with salty rounds of Italian sausage, which act as the perfect foil to all that airy, crunchy crust underneath.

Gambas al ajillo are referenced in their shrimp scampi aglio olio. One can see the inspiration reflected in the chili-garlic infused oil coating thin strands of angel hair pasta and tender shrimp for a dish that manages to be both fortifying and feather-light in one fell swoop.

Kim explains the food concept behind the new restaurant as a pairing of Asian and Western flavors, an approach that is well-reflected in two of the Pairing Room’s most popular dishes -- pepper soybean pasta and green tea fondant with red bean jelly.

Doenjang (fermented soybean paste) is used to create a cream-based sauce that goes heavy on black pepper and is paired with pork and mafaldine noodles and a green tea cake achieves its hot, gooey filling with chewy rice cake and green tea syrup.

“It took us much trial and error to get the filling right,” said Kim.

Kim pointed out that the Pairing Room is open all day from 11 a.m. to midnight for cafe-goers who want to pop in for dessert and coffee in the afternoon.

Desserts at the Pairing Room are as relevant as the restaurant’s savory menu, a fusing of visual panache and harmonious flavor combinations.

Flan, for instance, is served up eggy, chock full of vanilla and topped with a heap of impossibly nutty and rich chestnuts. A housemade salted caramel sauce is poured over the whole affair tableside, adding that needed extra sweet note to tie the entire dish together.

Kim plans to unveil yet another dessert soon, one that will fuse a traditional Korean dessert with mascarpone cheese.

“We will be making it to order so that it will be served up warm,” said Kim. 

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