Welcome to another mouth-watering slice of Mastication Monologues where the reviews are real, and the food is plentiful! Today’s post is about Korean cuisine, a corner of the world I am very well acquainted with due to my time living there last year. While working there as an elementary school EFL teacher, I sampled a wide variety of drinks, snacks, and meats that many Western diners would be repulsed by. When I came back to America, I still had a hankering now and then for spicy kimchi and other savory bites, so thankfully Korean cuisine in Chicago has expanded beyond Koreatown. Plus, my girlfriend, who is Korean American, has given me the inside scoop to some of the hidden gems across Chicagoland like San Soo Gab San.
When we got there, I knew it was going to old-school just based on the tiny parking lot that tested my mettle and growling stomach. Once I squeezed into a tiny spot, I walked into the establishment. It was very simply furnished and not too busy on a Sunday afternoon. The silver vents over the grills were all throughout the restaurant, and the brusque Korean waitresses just told us to sit at a table very quickly. Once taking our seats, they brought out the banchan or little dishes you get for free that come along with your meal. They can range from the basic kimchi to boiled peanuts to even these clear gel noodles that were absolutely bizarre since they were chewy yet slightly crispy and didn’t have any taste. It was unlike anything I saw back in the Land of the Morning Calm. I also have to say that at San Soo Gab San that they gave so many samplers that we could barely see the table top, but the quantity did not take away from the quality. The amount and variety of banchan was very different from any restaurant I saw in South Korea. When our waitress finally came over, we got an order of wang kalbi (grilled ribs) ($19.95), heuk gumso tang (goat meat soup) ($9.95), and yuk gae jang (hot and spicy shredded beef soup) ($7.95).
It took a bit of time to come out, but when it did I was afraid of getting a steam burn from the blazing hot soup and ribs. Eyebrow-scorching heat aside, I couldn’t wait to dig into the meal. Once it finally subsided a bit, I went to town on the spicy beef soup in front of me. It was hearty and super scrumptious with plenty of seasoned meat along with clear rice noodles that were extra tender and melt-in-your mouth greens. As for the spice factor, I’d liken it to maybe a slightly dull jalapeno level of heat. Nothing like other super-spicy Korean foods I’ve tried before, but it let me know I was still alive. The more interesting part of the meal was the goat meat soup. While I had tangled with some goat curry before in London, I wanted to see the Korean take on this atypical meat on American menus. Janice was telling me about how delicious the soup was, and it really did live up to the hype. There were a lot more greens in this stew, but the goat meat was lip-smacking good. It wasn’t quite like beef since it had a slightly gamier taste that could be likened to a less intense lamb. The best part of the meal was the wang kalbi. I didn’t really dig the fact that there was way more bone than meat, but the beef that was on the bone was extra succulent. I especially enjoyed the parts close to the bone that were a bit more difficult to remove, but once stripped from the bone, proved to be like a beefy, cartilaginous chew-toy for this hungry dog. With a bit of jaw power and gumption, I took it down with gusto. I highly recommend these ribs.
By the end of my meal, I was full, satisfied, and not bloated even though it looked like the banchan were never touched there were so many little dishes. So, if you want a no frills Korean barbecue/cuisine experience in the Chicagoland, hit up San Soo Gab San!