I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a dumpling. Apologies to Joyce Kilmer for bastardizing the opening lines to his famous poem “Trees,” but I do love stuffed comfort food. If I were one of the people they eventually chose to colonize Mars and had to choose one earthly delight to take with me, it would probably be a lifetime supply of dumplings. Advertisements
Love has done a lot of things for the world, but it has not brought me great bulgogi. That is until now, for Sol’s on Sheridan, a new Korean restaurant in Uptown that serves great red chili-slathered beef, has landed in Chicago as a result of a great love affair.
If you’ve ever wondered what Logan Square or Wicker Park looked like before hipsters, all you have to do is spend some time in the neighborhood surrounding Kimski, a new Korean-Polish fusion counter at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar in Bridgeport. There, you’ll find Section 8 housing, a metalworking shop, cops, politicians, blue collars and white collars—a true-blue Chicago neighborhood bursting at the seams.
According to the Bible, Samson killed a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone. And as one is after slaying an army with a mule’s mandible, Samson was pretty tired and thirsty. So he prayed that his powers would be restored. As the story goes, his cries were answered with a spring, where he quenched his thirst, regained his power and went on to rule Israel for 20 years.
I rarely watch a movie or dine at a restaurant twice. There are too many new movies to see and so many new restaurants waiting to be discovered.
When chef Edward Kim and his partners Vicki Kim (his sister) and Jenny Kim (no relation) opened Asian-French-Latin mashup Ruxbin in Noble Square, Chicago got that once-in-a-blue moon restaurant. It was a very personal venture serving kimchi- and Oaxacan cheese-stuffed empanadas and soy gelee with horseradish granita amidst repurposed church pews, and diners went crazy for it. I wondered, with their second effort–Mott St, an Asian night market-inspired spot just a few blocks north–would they rise above again?
Trying Korean cuisine for the first time is like reading Kafka as a middle-school student — disorienting and unfamiliar. Usually sandwiched in strip malls, often next to karaoke bars with signs written in what look like hieroglyphics, Korean restaurants often feel like secret clubs. And once you actually walk in, you’re often the only non-Korean in a smoke-filled room that seems to have a hundred different rituals: War and Peace-sized menus, and often waitstaff that acknowledges your presence when they feel like getting around to it.
My honesty came down hard the last two times Bill Kim opened restaurants (Urban Belly and Belly Shack). I thought the flavors were muted and the food was expensive at the former, and I thought the questionable decor at the latter was a bad parody of some non-existent Abercrombie-and-Fitch-meets-a-skateboard store clothing catalog. Seems the third time’s the charm. Chef/partner Kim’s bellyQ is fantastic.
Five years ago, I was just a hungry kid with a dream. As I became a professional food writer, I’ve tried mightily to stay close to those roots. Somehow, though, I’ve found that lately I’ve become a bit of a grumpy critic. In the zeitgeist culinary parlance, I’ve been a bit of a foochebag, aka foodie douchebag. I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I found myself watching a new episode of “Check, Please!” and yelling at the TV screen because a young woman recommended a Mexican restaurant that had a huge wall mural of a cheesy dude in a sombrero. I mean I was crankier than the crotchety Sun-Times critic Pat Bruno after being forced to review a non-Italian restaurant with hearing-aid-threatening noise levels. There had been all kinds of signs of my decline. One of the most poignant came earlier this year when Roy Choi got named a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef. For those who don’t know, Choi is responsible for one of the biggest Twitter food sensations, aka the California-based Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck. With a wink and a jar of kimchi, Choi tapped into an unquenched, but previously unknown desire for Asian-spiced…
There are a lot of things about Belly Shack, the new Chino-Latino (technically the style is “Puerto-rean,” as chef/owner Bill Kim is Korean and his managing partner/wife Yvonne Cadiz-Kim is Puerto Rican, but that sounds like a bad stomach ailment) restaurant in Humboldt Park that I don’t love. The menu with sections titled “SAMMICH” and “U KUD LIK THIS” (for the soft-serve ice cream—Is that “like” or “lick”?) which seems to be the literary collaboration of the dyslexic cow mascots of Chik-fil-A and Tony Soprano is pretty groan-inducing. Then there’s the cutesy faux wall graffiti featuring Hallmark-card friendly protest aphorisms like “Enjoy More. Use Less” and “More Bike Lanes.” There’s also a painting of a dude grasping at a chain-link fence looking like he’s about to get frisked while sporting a t-shirt that says, “Eat it.” If this were a comic-style mural, I’m pretty sure the next frame would show that dude surrounded by rabid cops unholstering billy clubs and going in for a little Jon Burge-style Chicago Police justice. I guess I’d really like to see a little more incisive commentary here, maybe a painting of a befuddled Mayor Daley caught in the cross-hairs, Public Enemy-logo style, or something…