Bicena: A Modern Take on Traditional Korean Cuisine

Hey Nomsters, if you follow Robby and me on instagram, you already know that I’m currently vacationing in South Korea.  I’ve been eating SO much, it’s borderline ridiculous. For the last few days, I’ve been staying in Jamsil at Signiel, a luxury hotel located inside the 5th tallest building in the world.  Suffice it to say, the view was spectacular.

During my stay, I made a reservation to dine at Bicena, a one Michelin star restaurant specializing in traditional Korean cuisine with a twist.  Now, I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to Korean food because my mom is such an amazing cook.  She’s spoiled me rotten so I rarely enjoy eating Korean food at restaurants…but Bicena was pretty damn good.

I went for lunch and got their 6-course tasting menu for 77won (about 65 US dollars), and that’s the minimum.  You have the option of upgrading and adding certain courses, but we’ll talk about that later.  Let’s tackle the amuse for now.  The meal started off with a bowl of mulhoe (cold raw fish soup), 5 different types of seafood aged for 6 hours, served in a savory sauce.

mulhoe bicena

If you prefer something cooked, let them know when you make your reservation in advance.  They’ll give you thinly sliced abalone that’s served in a ground white soybean broth – reallllly tender and delicious and honestly tastier than the hoe (prnounced hoo-eh) IMHO.

abalone bicena

The next course was corn jeon (aka corn pancakes):  shrimp patties covered in corn and served with a gochujang dipping sauce.  They were nice and juicy but the corn was a little too chewy for my taste.  That didn’t stop me from finishing everything though, ha.  The accompanying sauce gave it a nice kick, and the corn powder was an interesting touch.  It added a subtle sweetness to jeon, which I enjoyed.  They also brought out a side of pickled jooksun (aka bamboo shoots), and the acidity provided a nice contrast.

corn jeonbicena bamboo shoots

Then came their Dong Quai Tteokguk.  This was, hands down, the best rice cake soup I’ve ever had.  Although Koreans enjoy this dish all year round, it’s tradition for us to eat it on New Year’s Day.  The white dduk represents purity so it’s supposed to bring good fortune, and it also signifies aging a year.

I’m used to having way more broth than this, but I really enjoyed Chef Kwangsik Jun’s take.  The soup was incredibly rich, and I mean that in the best way possible, and there was a bunch of meat nestled inside the dduk stack you see there.  The rice cakes were cooked to al dente perfection, and the texture was tender but chewy.

bicena ddukgook

There was an option to add stuffed abalone (aka abalone dumplings) for 25won, but I passed because I had already added a different dish! I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet, but we’ll get to it soon.  Now, onto the next course for now:  their wet-aged striploin, grilled and seasoned with their signature sauce, served with a side of kimchi guhtjeolie.

Real talk, I don’t know exactly how to write that in konglish, but I’ll explain what it is.  Kimchi’s fermented, but this is served “fresh.”  It’s like a kimchi salad of sorts – it’s made with the same flavors, but the texture is more crisp and it tastes lighter.  It was the perfect side dish to the striploin, which was melt-in-your-mouth good.  Note:  you could upgrade for grilled blackthroat seaperch (+10won), dry-aged striploin (+20won) or ribeye cap (+30won).

kimchi bicena bicena striploin

Alright Nomsters, I’m really excited because it’s time to talk about their gaejang (aka fermented blue crab) – this is the additional dish I was telling you guys about earlier.  At 50won, this supplement doesn’t come cheap, but it’s so, SO worth the money.  I had abalone earlier so I went with the crab, but that’s also an option for those of you interested.  This dish is fermented in a soy sauce that’s made with 14 different ingredients, and you enjoy it with rice.  This is a shot of it pre-prep – they take all the meat out for you so you can enjoy it with minimal effort.  Pro tip: after you enjoy the crab, mix some of the soy sauce with your rice.

gaejang bicena

Before they brought out the next course, our lovely waitress offered us some housemade makgeolli and who was I to refuse.  I’m not a big drinker, but I’m always down to enjoy Korean rice wine.  This milky goodness is lightly sparkling and just the right amount of sweet.  It’s been around five-ever – in fact, it’s the oldest alcoholic drink in Korea – so you need to try it if you haven’t yet.

korean rice wine

Then came the final savory course.  The regular course comes with daily milled rice, soybean paste soup and an assortment of banchan (Korean side dishes), but I paid an extra 11won to get their cold white soybean noodles.  Think perfectly cooked buckwheat noodz in a ground white soybean and nut stock topped with shredded chicken and cucumber.  I was SHOCKED at how big the bowl was.  I kept eating and eating, but I barely finished half.

konggooksoo

To be honest, the soup was just fine.  The banchan wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a solid course nonetheless.  I was impressed with the rice though – instead of cooking it with water, they used a special broth of sorts, and it made a BIG difference.  They’ve inspired me to experiment at home so we’ll see how that goes.

bicena courses

And last but not least, their dessert course.  They brought out a beautiful floral tea along with date pie and sweet red bean porridge (aka patjook).  I wasn’t a huge fan of the pie, but the porridge was lovely.  It’s made with simmered red beans, baekjinju rice, and raw sugar, and it’s served chilled.

floral tea bicena red bean porridge

So, is Bicena worth a visit?  Abso-freaking-lutely.  If you find yourself in Jamsil, they’re a must-try.  I wasn’t blown away by EVERY course I tried, but the food was tasty from beginning to end so definitely make a note to go.  Service and ambiance was second to none, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a fantastic experience.  Just remember to ask for a table by the window because the view is spectacular.

Alright Nomsters, I hope you enjoyed reading all about Bicena.  Let me know if you have any questions and make sure you keep an eye out for more travel content.  Happy eating, friends!

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