When I first walked up to the second floor spot of Vito in Seomyeon, I was immediately impressed with the decor. With natural wood tables and Italian designed flatware, the whole restaurant is a wide open space, with the kitchen not really a kitchen, but more a part of the restaurant itself; it is open and inviting to diners as if welcoming them to take part in the whole process.
Owners Vito and his wife Lindsay converted the former office space into a sleek yet simple, warmly lit dining space. Sandblasted brick and stainless steel meet dark wood and white details framed by the trademark cobalt blue doors. Choose from a table of four, a large dining table for up to seven or perch at the surprisingly comfortable bar and watch the action in the spotless open kitchen.
The husband and wife team both come from professional hospitality backgrounds. They met working in restaurants here in Busan, headed to Australia for their honeymoon and dove into the Sydney restaurant and café scene. From there Vito headed to Italy, where he discovered the secrets of old school pasta-making. It was there that he was christened “Vito” by one of his tutors due to his “mafioso” facial hair.
Just three months ago, Vito the restaurant was born and, with the addition of some well trained staff, the young couple is already enjoying great success with their simple yet elegant spot on a quaint back street in the heart of Seomyeon.
And much like the restaurant itself, Vito keeps his food traditional and simple. His specialty is handmade pasta, made fresh from scratch every day before the doors even open. Vito employs old school, slow food techniques with his pasta and sauces and takes great pride in the fact he only uses three ingredients to season: salt, pepper and grana pandano cheese.
Vito was influenced by his mom’s love of cooking (his classmates used to beg him to trade lunches) and the natural flavors of Italian cuisine. He believes in using the freshest produce available and never compromising the core elements of Italian cooking. As much as is humanly possible, everything is made by hand using traditional techniques. There was something almost musical as I sat there watching him roll it, cut it and cook it within minutes, all while deftly preparing the sauces individually.
Most dishes feature his trademark al dente tagliatelle with tomato, cream, or oil sauces. Prices range from 10,000-14,000 won for pasta, which includes two appetizers: soup and bruschetta (homemade ciabatta with ratatouille and shaved grano padano), followed by organic loose leaf tea. Although the menu only features one vegetarian pasta (pomodoro—a delicious slow cooked caponata), Vito will happily customize dishes by omitting meat and seafood, as he makes each dish to order.
I’ve returned to Vito a few times since my first visit, and have tried a number of dishes—the tomato and cream sauces are definitely the stars. Try the Amatriciana (Vito’s specialty slow cooked tomato sauce, with added bacon and spiced up with a little chili), the shrimp and mozzarella (also tomato-based with chunky garlic, shrimp and melted cheese), the shrimp bisque (a cream based sauce made with minced shrimp, a splash of tomato for color and topped with more perfectly cooked shrimp) or the Gorgonzola (creamy and cheesy with mushrooms topped with perfectly cooked steak).
The menu also features salads for 5,000 won: fresh mixed greens with a balsamic dressing and shaved Parmesan. There are salads featuring smoked duck, prawns, mushrooms or tuna. I keep going back to the mushroom salad, a perfect mix of different mushrooms sautéed with garlic and expertly seasoned.
On the snack menu there are two selections I really enjoyed: chicken ‘n chips or fish ‘n chips, Vito-style. The chips alone are brilliant but paired with the thin wedges of tempura battered fish and homemade tartar sauce, you won’t be disappointed.
As for drinks, there is fancy fizzy water, very reasonably priced Heineken (3,500 won), Sapporo on tap and homemade lemonade and lime as well as a forthcoming extensive wine list.
For the price, the atmosphere, the great food, along with the charm of both Vito and Lindsay, you would be hard pressed to find a better spot for great Italian food here on the peninsula.
Getting There: With TGI Friday’s on your right, turn left off the main street and follow the side street around to the right (same street as The Spot). Keep walking straight taking the left fork in the road at the 7-11. Look for the cobalt blue door and awning on your left with the hand-drawn logo of Vito’s face and take the stairs up to the second floor.
For more info, including a map, check out their Haps food page.
Vito and his wife, Lindsay
The trademark Vito sketch on the menu and at the door.
Photos by Mike Dixon