Korean comfort food restaurant opens in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood

0

Although chef Wes Yoo lived in Seoul until he was in college, he ate a fairly typical multicultural Seattle diet as an adult, not placing much emphasis on Korean cuisine – nor on his Korean identity – in his everyday life. But in 2018, when he took over the Gerald, an American gastropub on the main street of Ballard Avenue, people often asked him if he would add Korean food to the menu, a suggestion he found limiting. “Naw man, I can do more than that,” Yoo said, remembering thinking. “Just because I’m Korean doesn’t mean I have to do Korean things.”

In March 2020, however, Yoo found himself quarantined at home, distraught and scared about the future of a business that was just beginning to grow. During those early days of the pandemic, he opted to use his essential grocery shopping to get to the H Mart. After about a week of quarantine, he realized he had only eaten Korean food, something he hadn’t done since leaving Korea two decades ago.

“That’s all I wanted every day,” Yoo says. “I realized that [when] I’m in a real crisis and my body is in panic mode, that’s when I come back.

Yoo rediscovering his deep love for Korean comfort food led him to launch a weekly Korean food pop-up in April 2020, mostly cooking larger portions of any dish that excited him that week. As a social justice movement gathered momentum in America following the murder of George Floyd in May of that year, Yoo’s desire to connect with his cultural identity grew and eventually, in September, he transformed The Gerald overnight into a Korean restaurant serving tteokkalbi, rice cake skewers, kimchi fried rice, and Korean fried chicken wings, although his name has not changed.

Nearly two years after the pandemic began in Seattle, on March 4, he officially transformed The Gerald into Wero, which Yoo describes as an “upscale Korean comfort food restaurant.” Yoo says that many Korean restaurants, as they become more upscale or move into trendy neighborhoods, are starting to become fusion restaurants, but his restaurant is all about exploring his connection to Korea (his parents live there always), and he wants to keep the flavors true to what restaurants serve in Seoul today.

Chicken wings at Wero, a new Korean restaurant on Ballard Ave. NW.
Wes Yo

A milky green drink with ice in a small cocktail glass, garnished with mint and a dark pink hibiscus flower.

Wero’s sumnara cocktail is made with vodka haku, soju, and matcha, among other ingredients.
Wes Yo

The menu, which features eight courses designed to rotate with the seasons, includes kalbi-flavored wagyu zabuton steak served with ssam, ssamjang (sweet and spicy fermented bean sauce) and side dishes. Korean-style chicken wings and Korean-style beef tartare are also available. The cocktail menu includes homemade shrubs and bitters and East Asian liqueurs like makgeolli (rice wine), soju, Japanese whiskey, paired with creative ingredients like shiso, sesame and pine nuts. The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining Wednesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; takeout is limited.

Hours will likely be expanded once the restaurant is staffed. For now, Yoo acts as “chef, GM, repairman, [and] concierge,” while Jamie Freedman, who worked at Tom Douglas Restaurants, runs his menu as head chef.

Thanks to his restaurant, he says, Yoo finds himself “more Korean” than he felt for most of his adult life – a state he says came from accepting and to embrace who he is. The restaurant’s name, Wero, means “comfort” in Korean – the feeling it gets from Korean cuisine and hopes to share with its customers.

Share.

Comments are closed.