Urban Dining With a Taste of Home
Story by: Kyung Lee
Photos by: Kyung Lee
There’s no denying Hongdae features a plethora of attractions for visitors who crowd the local alleyways, which resemble blood vessels pumped with adrenaline.
With its lively atmosphere generated by the daytime buzz and bustle that keeps going until past midnight, this Mapo neighborhood’s eating culture offers options for people on the go, with alcohol as a selling point to warm any gathering, while also delivering a number of places where those waiting in lengthy queues can experience yet another new food trend and add it to their suite of Instagram trophies.
Emerging out of this lively intensity, however, are settings that encourage their patrons to appreciate the smell of their home-roasted cups of coffee or the detailed flavors of their dishes over casual dialogue.
Of the places that promote this concept for frequenters of Hongdae who also prefer a break against the tide, the restaurant July 16th serves as a culinary exception.
Nestled within a cul-de-sac located roughly 500 meters from the main entrance of Hongik University, this Western kitchen – with a pinch of Korean – is run by chef Chang-woo Park, who intends to cultivate a relaxing dining atmosphere with a recipe he believes involves more than just a wide selection of creative dishes and beverages that he concocts from scratch.
Set in a house that has been converted to a commercial nest of restaurants, the main floor of July 16th zigzags into three separate dining sections with the kitchen stationed in the center. And thanks to the bricked wall interior that can prevent the echoes of conversations from leaking through to its neighboring tables, patrons will barely notice the presence of others seated and conversing in the adjacent or opposite rooms, save the erratic laughter that can burst out from any direction.
Park’s modern studio décor also doesn’t copy the glitter of surrounding objects and opulent bright lighting that you might observe in French or Italian restaurants located in Cheongdam-dong, but instead offers a setting fixed with warm white LED bulbs, modest but plush seating, and silverware that requires nothing fancy beyond a fork, a spoon and a round metal dish.
“For people visiting Hongdae, I want to give them a chance to take a deep breath and settle down and eat in a place like a home away from home,” he says. “By no means do I want to channel the kind of vibe that makes customers get up right after finishing their meals only to surrender their seats to the next incoming diners.”
One of the main draws that finalized Park’s decision to use this space for July 16th – which is named after his birthday – was the appeal of creating a dining environment for his patrons on the third floor rooftop.
Carpeted with lawn turf, the rooftop offers a more natural setting for patrons accompanied by their friends and even furry companions – the restaurant allows in dogs and, yes, even ferrets – with a perspective overlooking Hongdae’s bustling alleys, with fresh air whipping up your thoughts as you sip on a draught beer or cool glass of red wine.
“[The rooftop] is an especially popular during the spring and summer that customers love to use as their own personal outdoor space,” Park says. “While it might be a little too chilly to dine up there in the winter, I have a radiator fixed in the center just in case.”
A Family Man
The retro-hip interior and multilayered comfort July 16th communicates to its diners may speak volumes, but the service doesn’t end there. To ensure that his customers receive the Park family treatment as if glued to the living room sofa conversing with family and friends over tea and biscuits, Park says he tries to accommodate each and every incoming diner by observing – from his kitchen or in direct engagement – their behaviors, seeing what they might be lacking on the table, and serving extras for dishes that appear more plentiful than the photos attached in his menus.
“On top of preparing appetizers and sides on the house to satisfy my customers, my menu concept from the beginning offers dishes at nearly half the price of what someone would pay at other Western kitchens in Korea,” he says. “Tasting what I have to offer, customers won’t have to spend too much, a philosophy that goes against the mainstream logic of paying a hefty check for French or Italian. And though I receive a volume of customers from Seoul and afar, I always try to remember their faces with hopes of delivering them seconds,” he adds.
July 16th caters to its incoming diners with portions customized for pairs or more. Between couples, perhaps a seafood tomato pasta and pan-seared scallops with thin slices of chorizo and paprika would suffice while, for groups of at least four (e.g., during a girls’ night out), a yogurt-based beef flatbread and a smoked turkey leg with potato wedges on the side, topped off with a party-sized platter of strip steak and pork ribs would be the ticket.
And though each dish may be worth its standing in your Instagram gallery of photos, Park says that what’s equally deserving of merit when it comes to his creations is the chemistry of flavors between the ingredients he uses.
From the seasoning that goes with the meats to the creamy thickness of a pasta sauce, all the way down to the condiments, his cooking methods are as meticulous as a scientist mixing elements in the lab.
And when I asked Park why he placed a tablespoon’s worth of flying fish roe on top of twirled strands of pasta with tomato sauce, he replied with: “The balance between textures is also important, especially for customers who order a dish with a sauce that’s creamy or thick, weighted against something crunchy they can chew,” he says. “After much careful experimenting, I always try to incorporate Korean elements, whether appreciated through our palates or the other four senses, that can dance well with their Western counterparts.”
Name: July 16th 줄라이식스틴
Address: Mapo-gu Wausan-ro 23-gil 35-6 (서울 마포구 와우산로23길 35-6)