By YOUNGSEO JHE, ANDREA KWON
We arrived in Yeonhui-dong at around 6 p.m., and it was already starting to get dark outside. Walking past all the houses and the densely packed shops, we entered the alleyway where our destination was supposedly located. After a few turns of the head and a little wandering, we finally spotted the partially underground restaurant of Mongone. As we entered the modest-sized store, the cooks and servers greeted us energetically. The soft yellow lights of the restaurant shone on its tables, creating a relaxing ambience. The dark wooden frames of windows and chairs paired with honey-colored walls also created a perfect atmosphere for a warm spring day. Pasta served on a classic white plate added a touch of perfection to the restaurant.
The origins of pasta go far back in the history of civilization. In fact, food historians concur that ancient Greeks and Romans most likely consumed lasagna. While there are a variety of postulations about the ancestry of pasta, the consensus is that the food can be traced back to China. Long before Marco Polo’s sojourn in China, central Asians were producing and consuming noodles. The concept of noodles eventually reached the Mediterranean through methods yet unknown, though many think that Arab merchants carried it westward into Europe. With its fertile lands and rich vegetation, the Mediterranean region was well suited for the development of different kinds of pasta. In time, pasta became an inseparable part of Italian cuisine, thanks to the food’s inexpensiveness, long shelf life, and culinary flexibility. It later evolved into one of the main aspects of Italian culture enjoyed internationally today.
Upon entering Mongone for dinner, we were led to our seats along the windowsill of the restaurant. After ordering anchovy pasta named A.O.C. pasta and sea urchin (often referred to as uni) pasta, we were delighted with homemade baguettes served with olive oil. With both oat and white baguette available, the bread had a tasty crunch to the crust encasing its soft layers, bringing out a wonderful beginning to our meal.
The first item on the menu we tasted was uni pasta. Known to be Mongone’s signature pasta, the dish had a great emphasis on the uni. When the pasta was served to us, the uni lay on top of the spaghetti. The waitress helped us mix the ingredients together, so we could enjoy a nice blend of seafood and noodles with each mouthful. Though the dish was an amalgamation of oil and different herbs, it seemed to enhance the taste and scent unique to the uni. While the uni’s typical faint bitterness was still present, for uni lovers, the dish was a savory delight to the mouth.
Considering that the essential key to pasta is not just its sauce but also its noodles, our second order impressed us even further. Mongone’s noodles were the epitome of al dente pasta. With enough chew to the noodles along with perfect softness, the pasta proved to be cooked perfectly. The A.O.C. pasta’s sauce accentuated a delightfully mixed proportion of noodles and sauce. Made up of anchovy, olive, and caper—and hence the name A.O.C—this dish was excessively salty. One mistake on our part was that the plates of pasta we ordered were both olive oil-based. Without the excessive greasiness, our first visit to the restaurant would have been much more satisfactory.
Though the waiters and waitresses were fairly nice, the restaurant had a rushed atmosphere with constant offers from servers to clean up plates when it was evident that the plates were not empty. Lax and complete enjoyment of our food to its full potential was, in effect, limited and difficult. Furthermore, the price of the pasta was costly with an average of ₩30,000 per pasta. The mood and food quality of Mongone were indisputably above par, but if you wish to eat a light meal, this restaurant is probably not the best choice. However, we do plan on visiting the Mongone chain in Sinsa to try some of the dishes offered exclusively at that store.