I think my great love of sharing good food with people stems in large part from having grown up in a Korean household. Korean dining is highly communal. Many dishes are shared. Bowls of banchan are passed around but there’s also plenty of reaching for things. People don’t fuss about things like double dipping. It’s a highly interactive experience and I love every minute of it. However, Korean food isn’t for the faint of heart. Koreans aren’t shy about their use of salt, garlic, peppers, and spices. The flavors hit you over the head. As the food of my childhood, it is certainly nearest and dearest to my heart, but I’ve also learned over the years that a LOT of people don’t appreciate it. (Case in point, I got into an argument with my first college roommate about keeping a small jar of kimchi in our mini-fridge. After a week or so in the fridge, she wanted to throw it out, describing the smell as a “wall of ass.”) I eat TONS of it when I go home to visit my parents and I have a few Korean friends locally that I can go out to dinner with, but in general, I’ve often assumed that non-Korean friends would not be interested in going out to a Korean restaurant.
So of course, I was thrilled to find out recently that some friends love Korean food almost as much as I do. Time for Korean BBQ! This was my first trip to San Soo Gap San. This restaurant seems to be the one most frequently recommended by Korean friends and it is, as far as I know, the only Korean restaurant in Chicago that has in-table coal grills. (None of that silly gas grill stuff here. Be warned that when you leave this place, you’ll leave smelling like you spent the night inside of a smoker.) We started with a seafood pancake (haemul pajun/해물 파전) followed by a good mix of meats and seafood to grill: spicy chicken (dak galbi/닭갈비), sliced brisket (cha dol bae gi/차돌배기), and spicy squid (ojinga gui/오징어 구이). The banchan was plentiful (usually the mark of a good Korean restaurant) and we ate to our heart’s content. Service, as usual at these sorts of places, tends to be sporadic and harried. For the uninitiated, it can be a lot to take in. Still, if you want good Korean food in Chicago, this is a great place to check out. I’ll definitely be going back with some friends again soon.