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Italian tapas at Cucciolo Terrazza

After Cucciolo Terrazza, the newest eatery dreamed up by Cucciolo Group’s owner-chef Ji-woon Julian Kim, opened this September in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul, it quickly became the hip place to be.

Fans of Kim’s Italian establishments -- Cucciolo Osteria, Maremma Trattoria, Volpino Ristorante and Volpino Ristorante Busan -- seemed eager to check out his latest offering.

The new wine bar-style hangout lives up to expectations with a lineup of plates -- both big and small -- that are classic Cucciolo -- artisanal with palate-teasing combinations of textures and flavors different from anything Kim has showcased before.

“Every single restaurant is unique in its own menu,” Kim, 31, said in a phone interview.

“We are based on our interpretation of Italian food but at the same time the menu changes, name changes, interior design changes, so we are in no way a franchise but a collection of small, unique restaurants based around Italian food.”

Fig-cheese bruschetta (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
Fig-cheese bruschetta (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
Cucciolo Terrazza may well be Kim’s last Italian eatery for a long while -- he revealed future plans to launch Korean restaurants overseas.

For what may be his final take on Italian food for the moment, it seems fitting that it be, as he put it, his most “lively one,” a boisterous and festive nod to a cuisine he is passionate about.

Half of the seating is outdoors, a seemingly deliberate haphazard coupling of chairs and tables in a patio that will be enclosed during the cooler months to come.

Curious diners can peek into the windowed kitchen off to the side where chefs are busy doing beautiful things to food like laying out dollops of meat over long ribbons of dough before folding one side over and pinching the dough around each filling to create small Piedmontese ravioli called agnolotti.

Many, many things are made from scratch at Cucciolo Terrazza, from the pizza to the pasta to the bread.

Chefs also need to make their own ’Nduja, a piquant Calabrian spreadable salumi, that is spread over snowy mascarpone cheese as a pizzetta topping.

There are several handmade pastas at Cucciolo Terrazza, but perhaps the most difficult pasta to actually get one’s hands on is the pici.

“We hand roll each strand of pici daily,” said Jo Yong-ki, the head chef of Cucciolo Group’s Italian cuisine team. “We can only make so much pici daily, enough for about five to 10 dishes.”

That means only the lucky diners who come on time can try this thick, chewy pasta, which is served up as Cucciolo Terrazza’s take on cacio e pepe.

There is something addictive about this deceptively simple Roman dish of pasta, cheese and black pepper, from the elasticity of the artisanal pasta to the lip-smacking salinity of the rich, buttery Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese coating each strand. 

Housemade sausages over lentils and roasted green grapes (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
Housemade sausages over lentils and roasted green grapes (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
There are also handmade sausages served over a bed of lentils sweetened with port wine and over roasted green grapes and smaller nibbles like their uber-popular fig bruschetta.

“We make the sourdough for our bruschetta daily with a natural starter,” said Jo, 33, explaining how the house-made sourdough is then sliced, toasted with a little extra virgin olive oil, topped with a blend of burrata, mozzarella and housemade ricotta cheese before being crowned with fresh figs, salty ribbons of prosciutto and a generous drizzle of truffle honey.

The diversity of the two-page menu invites repeat visits, but despite the casual vibe of this new spot, reservations, according to general manager Heo Ju-seung, are a must.

“Walk-ins are possible,” Heo, 30, said, explaining that there are also tables and a bar area where customers can casually nibble on eats while standing, an option that seems to send a nod to the cicchetti bars of Venice, a vibe that is further accented by a cocktail list that includes a peach Bellini and Campari Orange.

Still in its soft opening stage, Cucciolo Terrazza currently opens at 6 p.m. but Heo revealed plans to open at 3 p.m. for diners looking for a sip and a nibble in the afternoon. 

An interior view of Cucciolo Terrazza (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
An interior view of Cucciolo Terrazza (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
Cucciolo Terrazza
90-25 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
(010) 3347-1571
Open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Dishes cost 3,000 won to 53,000 won, wine by the glass costs 12,000 won to 23,000 won, cocktails cost 15,000 won 

By Jean Oh (