Estilo Coreano: Eating Korean in Style in Puerto Madero

Noontime in Puerto Madero sees suited, hungry executives pouring out of luxurious office building, rushing madly around Olga Cossettini Ave looking for a bite to eat before returning to work. The traditional 3-s lunch (soup-salad-sandwich) so popular among businessmen of American financial districts, men and women who are seemingly constantly pressed for time, is often replaced with empanada-choripan-alfajor (among those who attempt to stay traditional), with cream cheese sushi (among those who try perhaps a bit too hard to appear cosmopolitan) or a heap full of fast-food Chinese veggie grub from a rotiseria (among those who don’t really care and just want something cheap and satisfying). But what happens when a foreign client is in town for a conference, perhaps a Tokyo big-shot from Samsung? Where are they taken, by their eager-to-please Argentine counterparts, to eat lunch? Not one of the three above is a valid option….

The answer is Estilo Coreano. Modern, minimalist chique with sunlight silently streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and illuminating the colorful painted portraits of women from around the world which hang from each wall, as well as the stoic bamboo guarding each comfortable green-leather booth, this place is definitely distinct from the boisterous, family-style Korean joints I’m most familiar with.  Upon sitting down, we were informed by the owner/head-chef himself (a Korean guy), of the executive lunch special, a package deal: chicken bulgogi served with rice, soup, dessert and drink included. We decided to get it, as it appeared to be the most popular item among other guests who were already stuffing their faces, hurriedly discussing cost-benefit analyses and upcoming presentations.
Thick, warm squash soup with a side of toasty white rolls was brought out first and although the flavor was a little bland (maybe it needed a bit more salt to bring out the faint sweetness of the squash) it was a good start to the meal. Next came the chicken bulgogi, stir-fried chicken strips, onions, red and green bell pepper strips and slippery bok choy, all marinated in soy sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Although the chicken was cooked to absolute perfection and was tender and juicy moist, there was nothing really specifically Korean about this dish. There were no chilis, no pickles, no runny egg yolk, no ginger, no spinach – it was really just a wok-full of normal stir-fry, delicious but pretty ubiquitous, Asian instead of Korean. For dessert, a brownie (which in Argentina means chocolate cake) with a thick layer of sticky sweet dulce de leche, be-speckled with bits of toasted walnut, and topped off with thin chocolate shavings. Deliciously sweet although the cake itself was a little dry, too cold and stiff (perhaps day-old and straight out of the refrigerator) and again, nothing remotely Korean about it.
Our meal wasn’t imbued with Korean essence as we had hoped, but it was still pretty good and surprisingly cheap (AR$40 for the whole thing). Definitely an impressive place to bring a colleague. We also met the Japanese ambassador who happened to be having lunch with his crew one booth away from ours. Hey, if he chose this place, it must be good, right?

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