Maybe I am blind, but when I first arrived in Korea four years ago, I never saw a Blacksmith restaurant. I always saw the usual suspects: Outback, TGIFs, and Bennigans. Now like breading rabbits, Blacksmith is spreading its love around Korea. As it happens, one opened up near work, so X and I decided to have lunch and check it out.
How to get there: There are Blacksmiths all around Korea. Check out their website to find a location near you. However, the website is not in English, so you might want to brush up on your Hanguel or ask a Korean friend for help. That said, they seem to be everywhere, so you can probably just go outside and walk around for 10 minutes and fall into one. The location we checked out was in Nowon (Line 4 and 7). Now it was nowhere near the station, in fact you need to take a bus to get to the location we were at in Eunhang Sagari (은행 사거리). If you choose to go to that location, hop on bus 1135 from Nowon, or the easier route would be to jump into a taxi and say “Eunhang sagari” and the taxi driver will take you to the intersection. The restaurant is on the side with the glasses and contacts shop and is about five doors down on the second floor.
Service and Atmosphere: The service was subpar, but the atmosphere was great. The server seemed more interested in his cellphone, and since there were only six or seven people in the restaurant, there wasn’t much of an excuse not to give attentive service. The server left our glasses of water empty and never was really engaging or friendly. He seemed robotic and cold. However, the atmosphere gives Blacksmith an edge. When you walk in you feel as though you have entered a five-star dining establishment, when in fact the prices are quite reasonable. The interior is dark, and modern. The kitchen is open, and there is a nice open wood stove for pizzas. I’m a sucker for open kitchens and wood stoves! Although some people might find Blacksmith a tad pretentious, there are people of all classes at the restaurant.
Food: X ordered the lunch deal which included pasta, soup and a beverage. I ordered the chicken Caesar salad, galbi risotto and a Coke. There was complimentary bread with oil and vinegar. One of the pieces of bread had cranberries in it, not really my favorite, but it was barely noticeable over the tartness of the vinegar. Lunch was served in fifteen minutes. Perfect timing.
X had the corn soup to start, it was pureed and had a calming yellow appeal. X said it was warm, creamy with enough corn flavoring to make it sweet but not overwhelming.
Next came the chicken Caesar salad. First, the portions were huge. This chicken Caesar can easily be shared by two people. X snagged a few bites, and I finished about 90% of the salad. If you are going for lunch, you could easily order the salad and be satisfied. The leaves were fresh and the dressing was applied perfectly. My leaves didn’t have their life vests on trying to avoid drowning in salad dressing. The dressing itself had a little kick to it, and was not too creamy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the perfect Caesar salad. There was no bacon. Yes, no bacon on a Caesar salad. This is a crime against the culinary arts. Also, the croutons were a little stale. Personally, I prefer croutons which are soft and slightly baked. Finally, the chicken was a little dry, but was still grilled and not that flimsy, rubber ducky-looking chicken that you normally see in Caesar salads.
For the main course, X had the Tomato Olio pasta. It was a colorful dish, with peppers and a light olio sauce. The baby tomatoes were fresh. The sauce was seasoned with basil and garlic.The oil wasn’t overwhelming and let the other ingredients to work their magic. It was definitely a simple, yet delicious Italian dish. Although it didn’t look like much in the bowl, X said that it was deceivingly filling.
The Galbi Risotto was the grand finale. Galbi is Korean marinated beef. I was interested in how they would fuse these two dishes. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The risotto itself was nicely seasoned. Although there was a strong presence of pepper it did not take away from the meal. A common mistake in Korea is to season the hell out of the dish because Koreans prefer spicy foods. Unfortunately, it is all too common that Korean chefs take away from the authenticity of the dish by over seasoning the dish. Not the case here. The risotto was creamy, but not wet. Finally, the galbi was a little overcooked, but still maintained its flavor. Overall, it was a great dish and worth the price. For a satisfying lunch, Blacksmith fit the bill.
Value: The whole lunch ended up costing 35,800KRW. X got a lunch special (9,800) which including soup, a main, a cold beverage and a coffee. The Caesar salad with chicken was 11,800KRW and the galbi steak risotto was 15,500. The portions were ample and the flavor exceptional. Although it is a franchise, it doesn’t feel “franchised” yet. I hope Blacksmith rides that wave for as long as it can. This would be the perfect place for lunch, and it would be appropriate to bring clients there because of the modern, sophisticated atmosphere.
Who Should go to Blacksmith: I would recommend this place for a quick and affordable lunch. I don’t know if I could recommend this place for dinner just yet, as I have just experienced the lunch atmosphere, but if you really wanted to, I would feel comfortable recommending it. Also, this place would be great for impressing dates on a cheap budget ;). Finally, if you are missing Italian, it is a pretty good substitute for home, and is available nearly anywhere in Korea.
Who should avoid Blacksmith: I don’t know if this would be a primary place to take the kids. It could be a little too intimidating for them. Also, some people might be taken aback by the modern and possibly pretentious atmosphere (hipsters).