One of the best parts of being the restaurant reviewer for this publication, apart from getting to sample a variety of foods of course, is that friends and readers are quick to let me know when they find a new or newly discovered dinery and urge me to try it. Many of these finds are well off the main roadways or tourist paths so it is only thanks to such suggestions that I know about them at all.
One such is Dream Forest, a restaurant cum café in Sunheul-ri that was described to me as having “a magical atmosphere, garden and delicious food, which includes some of the herbs they grow.” Further praise had me eager to try Dream Forest myself and my friend Jenie happily offered to accompany me and provide tasting and translation services.
The property is located just past another special find that is off the beaten track, Shara’s Garden (see review, Issue 23), leading me to suspect that this small village has more than its share of environmentally aware gourmets. We arrived there early on a Saturday evening to talk with husband and wife owners Im Keum Taek and Han Mi Rim before other customers arrived, and found, indeed, a magical setting.
▲ Photo by Tracie Barrett
Set on about 18,000 pyeong (5.95 hectares) of land that also is home to an herb farm, Dream Forest’s atmosphere is instantly soothing. The restaurant is in an unusual building made of logs and stone, with a stream trickling into a soothing pond outside the back door and outdoor tables available at the waterside. Inside, a central stylized tree appears to hold up the ceiling, which itself has been painted to resemble a dream sky or distant galaxy. It has a “Little Prince” theme, Im said, referring to the book by Antoine de Saint Exupery. Adjacent to this is the building the couple share with their two children, which looks like a fairytale house or, as Im suggested, where the Smurfs might live.
The inside tables are made from hefty slabs of wood, many with channels carved into the edge and filled with pebbles or coffee beans, and the sofas are high-backed and comfortable. The open kitchen, framed with soft drapes, allows customers to watch Han as she prepares their meals.
The menu is not extensive and includes many staple dishes found in cafes throughout Korea, such as bibimbap, sujaebi, pork cutlet (donkatsu) and spaghetti, the difference at Dream Forest being that all are made with the generous addition of fresh herbs from the fields outside. Han said the herb bibimbap is most popular with adults and the pork cutlet with younger diners. Jenie and I decided to try the bibimbap and, at Han’s suggestion, I reluctantly agreed to make sujaebi our second dish. My reluctance was because I’d only eaten sujaebi once before and had found the hand-torn noodle soup bland and uninspiring. I was pleased I’d been persuaded to try again as Han’s sujaebi was a hearty broth filled with vegetables, herbs, clams, shrimps and tasty strips of dough flavored with rosemary and mint (almost a rustic pasta or gnocchi, rather than dumplings as many of my Korean friends describe the dish).
The bibimbap was also excellent, fresh and inviting with ample herbs and fresh greens and served with a good selection of homemade kimchi and other banchan (side dishes), and a spicy gochujang (chilli paste) that Han makes by adding her own ingredients to a store-bought base.
Han said that the Jocheon area is famous for its beautiful forests and with Dream Forest the couple wanted to “create a space where people can come, be rejuvenated, dream again and get their hopes back.” It does all that, and provides delicious food also.
Dream Forest 2072 Sunheul-ri, Jocheon-eup, Jeju City Tel. 064-782-9183
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