Every time I take a trip up to Seoul, I pencil in a few hours to hit up a Brazilian steakhouse, or Churrascaria, for a cuisine that has worked its way into my regular craving rotation. In fact, there are times when my itinerary in Seoul has actually revolved around shoveling meat in my mouth until I felt like I was about to burst. Little did I know that a Churrascaria as good, if not better, than those I’ve dined at in the capital, was practically around the corner. When Mercado was recently recommended to me by a Brazilian friend, I mentally calculated the amount of money I would save in KTX tickets if it lived up to her hype.
As soon as I walked into the classy, second floor space, I knew I was in for a treat. I’ve often found that the aesthetic of a restaurant directly correlates with the quality of its food. Mercado has an upscale, modern feel. The warm colors and lamplight, mixed with the industrial chic design make the space feel inviting… a little bit sexy. Another thing I made note of about the space was that even though it’s not huge, the way that the tables are set up along the banquette would make it ideal for a large group.
One of my favorite things about Brazilian steakhouses is the lack of menu. Being one of those people who always hums and haws over what to order, it is such a liberating experience to just arrive at a restaurant, order a drink, take a trip or two to the salad bar and buffet-style hot foods, and then let the rest come to you. Just because there’s no menu does not mean that there’s no variety. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Skewer after skewer of varied meat, including five kinds of steak, sausage, chicken legs and chicken hearts is delivered tableside and sliced from the rotisserie onto your plate by Chef Pepe Garcia. Garcia, who has been in Korea for about four years, tends the churrasco, which is a style of rotisserie grill where there is nothing between the fire and the meat. My personal favorite is the thinly sliced, rare top sirloin (picanha), which practically melts in your mouth. The incredibly flavorful Baby Befe is a close second.
One thing that really rings true is how Mercado takes a purist approach to the fare. At the start of your meal, you are equipped with a spicy red pepper sauce and chimichurri, a pesto-like sauce that originated in Argentina. Aside from the garlic steak, the other steaks are not marinated save a bit of salt. The earthy, robust house cabernet was well-suited for the meal, and the tangy Caipirihna was undoubtedly a nice way to round it out.
I am thrilled to have discovered a new place, not to eatâbut to dine, just a hop and a skip from home. At just 35,000 won per person, Mercado certainly delivers on value. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. The first Mercado, in Ilsan, has been thriving for two-and-a-half years, and Puesta Del Sol, which is essentially the same restaurant, has been gaining popularity in Paju. And, a fourth store, Seoul Jamsil, will open later this year.
Obviously, they’re doing something right.
Mercado Brazilian Steakhouse
open: 11:30 a.m. – 24:00
Editors note: Mercado is an advertiser with Haps Magazine, but we stand by the fact that it’s really damned good!