Thursday, January 14, 2016

REAL FUCKING PIZZA

Truly decent pizza is still hard to find in Korea, even after all these years and all these improvements in the local dining scene. Blogger and friend John McCrarey (currently gallivanting in Southeast Asia) told me, a few weeks back, that he had "a friend" who had just established his own honest-to-God New York-style pizzeria in Itaewon. I hope John will forgive me, but when he said "a friend," I immediately imagined some sweaty, 50- or 60-something Italian-American goombah from the meaner streets of New York City. But no: the guy in question was a young, skinny Komerican in his late twenties or early thirties named Eugene, a gyopo who grew up in Long Island. Eugene told us he had been on a pre-med track when he gave it all up to make pizza.

Charles, John, and I found his restaurant and were seated in a corner spot. Our table was adorned with three shakers and three raised silver platters—not for the head of John the Baptist, but for our pies.

Here's an establishing shot to give you a feel for the location:


The restaurant sits roughly across from Manimal Smoke House, next to a Tex-Mex place called Coreanos, and above a bar/resto called Oz, which looked empty while Gino's was full. If you know that area, then you know it's easily accessible from Noksapyeong Station, as Charles and I confirmed by walking down to Noksapyeong from Gino's after dinner. Charles complained about the cold as we walked to and from the resto, but I and my suit of blubber found the night air to be brisk and invigorating.

After we were seated, we had a chance to look over the menu, and we decided to go for an appetizer and two pizzas. This turned out to be the right strategy. Our appetizer was Parmesan-garlic chicken wings; our large pizza was The Butcher, a meat-lover's pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and bacon; and our medium pizza was The Woodstock, topped with pepperoni and mushrooms.

Here's the chicken, straight out of the frying-and-tossing process and still piping hot:


We didn't have to wait long for our pizzas to arrive. Charles had snapped photos of the crust-tossing process, and not long after that, we got our pies.

Here's the big one, called The Butcher:


As you see above, The Butcher was generously laden with pepperoni, and there was enough sausage and bacon to cover the entire pizza in a gentle yet insistent aura of succulent fat that gave the pizza more than its share of umami. (You may recall that, in a recent post that complained about bad pizza, I obliquely noted that lack of umami was the major problem.)

The three of us slaughtered both The Butcher and The Woodstock; I only belatedly remembered to take a picture of what remained of The Woodstock:


I had to take a shot of my dinner companions, so I started with Charles, photographing him as he was clicking his own picture of The Woodstock's tattered remains. I had a good chuckle: Charles's expression looks unintentionally pretentious, like that of a snooty Frenchman.


There were three shakers on the table instead of the standard two. I discovered by accident that the third shaker was full of garlic, or maybe it was a mix of cheese (or salt?) and garlic powder. Whatever it was, it was strongly redolent of garlic, and after inadvertently shaking a bunch of it onto my first slice, I never went back to that shaker again.


I snuck a picture of John.


And here's a picture of Eugene himself:


Normally, I'd say that it's never good to trust a skinny chef, but Eugene made us pizzas that looked, smelled, and tasted authentic because, goddammit, they were authentic. Eugene told us that he imported most of his ingredients except for the vegetables, which are all local. This probably explains why his pizzas are so damn expensive (the only reproach I have), but I found the experience well worth my while. I had two canned Cokes; John had a couple beers; Charles drank water because he was still a bit hung over from drinking with his Seoul-dae peeps the night before, and our meal came out to about W87,000 for the three of us: W29,000 per person. Again, not cheap, but if you're desperate for authentic pizza, you'll find Gino's to be well worth your while.

Restaurants and other businesses in Korea usually start off with an optimistic bang; over the next six months, both quantity and quality start their inevitable downward slide: portions get smaller, prices creep upward, and ambiance begins to sour. Competition among businesses is fierce on the peninsula, and if a place becomes popular, the landlord jacks up the rent. Restaurants already have a very narrow profit margin, and once the rent goes up, they lose what little they've earned unless they can find new and efficient ways to generate revenue cheaply. I sincerely hope that Gino's is still around a year from now; I could sense the quality of the pizza the moment I touched its crust. It would be a shame to lose such a business after a short time. I wish Eugene and his crew luck.

Here's a parting shot of the place:


If you're looking for legitimate pizza in Korea, go give Gino's a visit. John, Charles, and I came away more than satisfied with our meal. Charles is going back this Friday with some folks from his university. I'm not sure when I might be coming back, but I hope it'll be soon.

A Fat Girl's Food Guide just did a Gino's writeup if you care you read it.



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2 comments:

Charles said...

Good read! Hope to post my own write-up this evening.

(In retrospect, considering the prices in the area, I'm not sure that Gino's is that expensive. Definitely not cheap, but I'm not sure they break the curve.)

Bratfink said...

YAY!