Esto opened in Sinsa-dong, Seoul last October. (Photo credit: @esto_sinsa)
At Esto, a wine bar which opened in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, in October, owner-chef Park Joon-beom tinkers with fragrant lavender and smoky romesco to create flavorful, eclectic eats.
“Instead of sticking to a single cuisine, I like to take inspiration from a diverse range of cuisines,” Park, 32, said in an email interview.
Park, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America and racked up experience at Spanish and French restaurants, draws from his experiences to take classics and rework them in his own fashion.
This includes his riff off Italian meatballs, which feature Spanish romesco sauce instead of the traditional tomato.
Romesco -- which hails from Catalonia -- is customarily crafted with tomatoes, garlic, nuts, oil and nyora peppers.
“Romesco is one of the sauces I have always liked and I don’t deviate greatly from the basics when I make it,” he said. “I char the paprika and shed the skin and the innards and then add almonds and spices to make the sauce.”
“While debating over what to create for our lunch repertoire, I wanted to add a bit more body to Italian-style meatballs and thought of romesco and tried pairing the two,” he said, explaining how he came up with the combination.
Esto’s meatballs are served over a thick bed of romesco sauce and topped with small cubes of avocado. (Photo credit: @esto_sinsa)
Park also wanted to keep the meatballs as meaty as possible.
“I feel meatballs are tasty when there are not a ton of special ingredients in them and plenty of meat is used to make them,” said Park, who crafts Esto’s meatballs with beef, herbs and spices.
Plump, rich meatballs are served over a thick bed of romesco sauce and topped with small cubes of avocado.
The juicy meatballs and the smoky, nutty sauce go wonderfully together and the grilled sourdough on the side is perfect for scooping up every last bit of the delicious, umami sauce.
For yet another tasty lunch option, Park drew inspiration from the Japanese cutlet sandwich, katsu sando, and the Chinese dish, mian bao xia.
Customarily, the Japanese cutlet sandwich features fried pork cutlet, called tonkatsu, swaddled between two slices of Japanese milk bread, shokupan, while mian bao xia essentially consists of deep-fried mini, almost bite-sized toasts filled with shrimp paste.
Esto’s shrimp toast features two slices of toasted brioche, a shrimp cutlet, pickled beets, Dijon mustard, mayo and housemade lemon aioli. (Photo credit: @esto_sinsa)
Park created a hybrid of the two with Esto’s shrimp toast.
“I wanted to reinterpret it as Western cuisine,” Park said. “After several attempts I succeeded.”
The resulting shrimp toast features two fluffy slices of toasted brioche, a delicate shrimp cutlet, pickled beets, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and housemade lemon aioli.
The toast is pillowy, crispy and crunchy all at once.
The beets add a lovely tang, while the shrimp adds a natural sweetness and textural spring.
Salads also get Park’s creative touch.
Esto’s burrata cheese and lavender tomato salad features lavender-pickled cherry tomatoes, creamy burrata, greens, roasted pistachios and basil oil. (Photo credit: @esto_sinsa)
For instance, for Esto’s burrata cheese salad, aromatic lavender tea is used to infuse the pickling liquid for cherry tomatoes.
He takes the fragrant, sweet lavender-scented tomatoes, creamy burrata, greens, roasted pistachios and basil oil to create a salad that literally perfumes the mouth.
And Park’s experimentation does not stop there.
From his second floor perch in Garosugil, he and his team are busy coming up with a new dinner menu item every week.
“We are putting a lot of effort and careful attention to our dinner repertoire,” Park said.