“Costola di Manzo,” braised short ribs with spinach rice and vegetables / Korea Times
By Bae Ji-sook
Pizza and pasta are widely regarded as junk food in some parts of the world, including Korea. However, original Italian pizza and pasta are quite the opposite ― they are healthy.
"Lots of tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and others are there. They all come in different styles and recipes. That's why they are well-being foods," Vito Bianco, visiting chef at the Imperial Palace Hotel's Italian restaurant Verona, said.
"Also, we take more than two to three hours to finish a meal, where merriness and laugher fills the air. We feel happy when cooking and eating. That's healthy."
Bianco is presenting some Italian delights under the theme of "Romeo and Juliet" at the end of the year. Some of the very typical but uniquely Italian ingredients ― artichoke, buffalo mozzarella cheese, prosciutto ham, salami, pesto, mascarpone cheese and arugula ― freshen up the dinner tables and add nutrition. The hotel has managed to find some of the best ingredients on the market and Bianco said one couldn't even taste the difference from the local Italian cuisine.
Romanticism might not show in the exterior of the dishes ― there are no flashy decorations or ingredients as some people might expect ― but it is carried through the coziness and warmth of each item.
From fresh salads served with salami and prosciutto ham among other tasty morsels to creamy desserts, the Romeo and Juliet set menu is a huge hit.
The flavors aren't flamboyant or polished as posh restaurants sometimes boast about but rather bring people back to the old days: mother's magic.
Bianco agreed. When asked the secret or philosophy of his cooking, he simply replied, "I put in lots of love. I hope people eating this food will become happier and better in life," he said.
"Costola di Manzo," one of the main dishes on the set menu, serves braised short ribs with spinach rice and vegetables. Bianco puts the meat in the oven for four hours with various herbs, then lets it mature for an hour. "It takes a lot of work and attention but I have managed to pull it off," he said.
Bianco recommended gnocchi with gorgonzola in cream sauce for those who want something unique. The rather strong but impressive flavor of the cheese goes well with the potato pasta. It is soft yet edgy. With the popularity of blue cheese soaring here, the dish is hailed by many young women, the hotel said.
Another best seller is spaghetti with seafood, where calamari, scallops, shrimp and clams are presented in tomato sauce. "The fish here is quite good and I was impressed that the amount of salt was good enough to cook right away," Bianco said. The tomato sauce with a touch of garlic brings both familiarity and exoticness to the dish.
Bianco bakes pizzas in the shape of a heart upon requests from the guests. "With a glass of wine ― the hotel has more than 300 different bottles ― how much more romantic can you get?" he said.
The restaurant said the sales of the set menu had marked a 250 percent rise in the four weeks since Bianco took charge of the kitchen. He was handpicked by the hotel chairman while working at a top-class restaurant in Toronto. He will open his first signature restaurant in the Canadian city in early January.
But he left the door open to visiting Korea again. "I have enjoyed noodles and Korean sausages. There are so many things I want to learn and adapt!" he said.