Part One: The Kitchen v. Grano
There are literally billions of pizza places in Apgujeong (too much hyperbole?) Ok, but there are too many pizza places to eat at them all without going broke and having cheese fatally block my arteries and choke the life out of me, so I have narrowed it down to two of the best in the Rodeo area - The Kitchen and Grano. They are within a block of each other and both owned by Italian chefs. Which one is better? Much like any good dish, pizza was born of poverty and has risen to the ranks of gourmet. These two places are of the latter sort, the wonderful pinnacle in Korea of what is possible.
On a corner in the backstreets of Apgujeong, a few blocks from Rodeo, is a gem of an Italian place. Owned and operated by Salvatore Cuomo, this place uses traditional ingredients to make wonderful pastas and salads, but we are here for the pizza. All cooked in a brick oven to perfection. In the tradition of authentic ingredients the buffalo mozzarella is imported from Italy. They have wonderful outdoor patio seating for those nice days that has been featured on at least one Korean drama I saw them shooting there. The interior is elegant, yet not overdone. You might feel a little underdressed in jeans, but they are welcoming and the staff is polite and well versed in the art of refilling your water without hollering at them, a la typical Korean restaurants. Small tables with candles and, sometimes, very little leg room are the norm, though they can accommodate a larger group if necessary. They also deliver (#1661-4373). I will take a look at three of their pizzas, the three that I was most interested in.
1. Diavalo e Cipolla - (21k, small - 24k, medium) Topped with smoked mozzarella, Napoli salami, bits of herb marinated chicken, and red onion (cipolla). The smoked mozzarella was to die for, it was forcing my mouth to make inappropriate noises in public, it was so good. The salami was great and the peperoncino (the devil in the sauce, diavalo) gave it that spicy kick that warmed the mouth. Then the bits of marinated chicken popped like a surprise attack of flavor. I was stuck in between a rock and a hard place because it was so good, I couldn't stop eating it quickly, but I also wanted to slow down and savor it longer.
2. Prosciutto e Rucola - (25k, small - 28k, medium) Covered in buffalo mozzarella, rucola, smoked cheese, and San Daniel ham this pizza was fresh and light. The smoked mozzarella was heaven, again. The prosciutto was nicely flavored and abundant. The rucola was on the heavy side, but I thought it was still very nice. A nice alternative to the heavier meat-centric pizzas, it was full of flavor without feeling overfilled. This only had the effect of making the pizza disappear quicker than expected, however.
3. Porcini - (24k, small - 28k, medium) The mushroom pizza was covered with porcini, oyster, and button mushrooms, mozzarella, and smoked cheese. This pizza was also very nice, the mushrooms popped off the melted cheese in appearance and flavor. The bed of cheese was not too thick but nicely covering the thin layer of dough it sat upon. The dough, though thin, still had a bit of a doughy flavor that, although normally nice to taste, was a little distracting. The pizza was also a little oil heavy which may have been noticeable because of the thinness of the dough in the middle. All in all, it was delicious, but not the best one here.
One extra block past The Kitchen from Dosan Park is this Italian place operated by Santino Sortino. After running a few places in Itaewon, the chef has come back with this spot in Apgujeong. The website claims that it is traditional Italian, and I believe they mean in the spirit of Italian food that is locally sourced. Many of the pizzas use locally sourced ingredients, as opposed to shipping in ingredients from Italy. The second pizza on the list is a perfect example of that. It has nice, heated outside seating and a cozy (read: small - make reservations) inside. For reservations call 02-540-1330.
1. Carnavoro - (32k) This pizza is topped with wild boar, prosciutto, and provolone. It was slightly cool when I received it and slightly crispy and black underneath. I thought the pizza flavor was undercut with the lack of heat. The cheese wasn’t soft enough and the boar meat chunks were worrisome. Much better than the average pizza around town, mind you, but not nearly as good as The Kitchen so far.
2. Jeju - (32k) A cream sauce pizza with Jeju asparagus, Jeju black pork pancetta, quail eggs, and white truffle oil parmesan cheese was a huge step up from the first experience. Relatively locally sourced ingredients from Jeju were nicely used and flavored. It was cooked perfectly this time. Thin sliced parmesan cheese lay next to healthy cuts of asparagus with cracked ponds of quail eggs that added that local flair to this pizza. This pizza was elegant and light and wonderfully unique.
3. Boscaiola - (32k) A white pizza with three kinds of mushrooms (shiitake, button, and oyster), wild pork salsicce, talegio cheese, thyme and black pepper. The salsicce had a nice kick of spice to it and was generously spread around the pizza. The cheese was smooth and creamy. I am not a big black pepper fan, but it was nicely peppered, not over-done, as is the case often in my opinion. The dough was crispy at the edges yet soft underneath but thick enough for decent support so there was no topping landslide when picking up a slice. This is the pizza for the woodsmen out there. Even though I was full, I couldn't help but finish this pie. This was easily my favorite at this place and made the challenge extra hard to decide. Having started off a little rough at Grano with the Carnavoro not being hot enough, they really picked up steam going into the third pizza here.
The simple truth, and I know this is a cliche, but they are both great and you will most likely be very satisfied with either one if you are looking for a slice of nice pizza in Apgujeong. I have had issues with both restaurants as well. I was with a group at The Kitchen and they totally forgot an order for one person in my party and did very little to remedy the mistake, so my friend decided to just cancel the order. I mentioned the pizza at Grano that was served nearly room temperature as well. Grano also has a smaller space and it can be hard to get a seat walking in on a Friday or Saturday night. The Kitchen can also get busy, but they have a larger space and can fit a group. I will avoid the food other than pizza, since this is a pizza review, but they both have excellent pastas and salads as well. When it really comes down to it, the best I can do is the gut decision. Which pizza do I crave when I am hungry for a pizza, and in that case, the decision is pretty easy. When I want to grab a slice I think of The Kitchen first. The smoked cheese and sausage are to die for and have me coming back regularly.
If you have an opinion, suggestion, or death threat, comment below. This is part 1 of my pizza reviews, so stay tuned for the next Pizza War.
Eat up Apgujeong!