The sea urchin pasta at Titolo, a new Italian spot in Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong, looks like a straightforward iteration of the popular dish, like its banking on the huge dollop of sea urchin garnishing it to singlehandedly wow with a massive wash of briny umami.
Then the friendly wait staff gently blends the sea urchin into the creamy strands of pasta and everyone digs in.
There is a lot going on in this dish, with sea urchin acting as just one of many components to deliver an unctuous, creamy slick of sauce that is buttery, umami and nutty, wrapped around linguine that is incredibly chewy and elastic in texture.
Owner-chef Totti Kang, who racked up seven years of experience in Italian cuisine before striking out on his own with Titolo, explained that butternut squash puree, butter and how the pasta is cooked all play a role in this toothsome dish.
According to Kang, Soresina butter, sourced from Italy, is added to the pasta and to the butternut squash puree.
The rich squash puree is used to add another dimension of flavor to the sauce.
Then there is the linguine itself, which is cooked very briefly in water, drained and then left to slowly soak in whatever residual moisture is left in the noodles.
The undercooked linguine is then added to the sauce while it is being made so that it will finish cooking as the sauce cooks.
All of those carefully thought-out components meld together into Titolo’s sea urchin pasta, just one of the many palate-pleasing eats at this ambitious, fledgling establishment.
Titolo, a 26-seat restaurant, opened in March in a hard-to-find cul-de-sac in a hilly area of Cheongdam-dong.
Though located on the first floor, Titolo gives the impression of being ushered into a moody and intimate wine cave. (Photo credit: Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Though the restaurant is located on the first floor of the building, the dark wood interior gives one the impression of being ushered into a wine cave, moody and mellow and intimate.
The space is so intimate, that aside from eight table seats the rest of the seats are situated at the counter, giving diners direct access to Kang and his team in the open kitchen.
“I want customers to interact with us,” said Kang, 26.
From that open kitchen, Kang aims to craft what he calls modern Italian fare, food with an Italian base crafted from a variety of ingredients.
That approach shines through in eats like Titolo’s lamb leg bruschetta.
Titolo’s lamb leg bruschetta marries housemade sourdough with tzatziki, tomato chutney and juicy lamb seasoned with cumin, rosemary and garlic for a hearty, toothsome take on the popular Italian appetizer. (Photo credit: Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Housemade sourdough is topped with tzatiki -- a yogurt sauce -- tomato chutney and lamb spiced with cumin, rosemary and garlic, for an intensely-flavored, hearty take on the popular Italian appetizer.
For Titolo’s ricotta honey prosciutto bruschetta, ricotta and truffle sauce, both homemade, are combined and paired with confited tomatoes mixed with pesto sauce, lemon juice and lemon oil.
Salty prosciutto, jammy tomatoes and fragrant and sweet ricotta come together in this delicious appetizer.
The menu at Titolo is fairly expansive, ranging from veggie-centric dishes like roasted cauliflower and grilled endive to meat-centric eats like brisket bruschetta and short ribs.
Naturally, there is plenty of pasta, and Kang takes pride in his pasta, including Titolo’s bottarga pasta crafted from breadcrumbs, anchovies, peperoncino, Soresina butter and most importantly, shaved salted fish roe.
Kang plans to continue expanding the menu “bit by bit” and to “twist” the menu around every four to five months.
1F, 79-8 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open daily from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., closed Sundays
Bruschetta costs 14,000 won to 17,000 won, main dishes cost 18,000 won to 34,000 won, pasta costs 24,000 won to 36,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)