Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 12: Lincoln Square

I have been looking forward to this day for a long time, and finally I had plans that did not fall through. Everything went exactly as I had planned it, or rather, as close to the plan as one could hope for. Today was the day that I went out to Korean Barbecue in Lincoln Square, and it was probably the most interesting restaurant that I have been to thus far. Maybe Cuban food was better, maybe the atmosphere at Oak Tree is swankier, but this was such a unique experience. The restaurant is called San Soo Gab San, located at 5247 N. Western Ave, and I am going to guess that translated into English that means "delicious awesome barbecue delicious."

To get there took me over and hour and a half of buses, trains, and buses. I took the number 8 bus north on Halsted until Milwaukee and Grand, took the Blue Line train (which once again decided to become an express train right before my stop...) to Western, and then I took the number 49 bus north on Western until Foster, which dropped me off about half a block away from delicious awesome barbecue delicious:

Sidenote: You know those guys that hang out in front of stores or wherever else and ask for money because their made-up school's basketball team needs money to fund a trip to somewhere random because they made their fake league's playoffs? Well, there were two of those guys on the train today and a CTA employee was on my train car and he asked to see a flier. He read it and then said to the two guys, "Look, I know this is a scam." Blank looks. "Seriously, I know this is not real. I'm from this suburb and there's no school by this name. I know you're lying. So why don't you just get off the train at the next stop and I will pretend like nothing happened." The two kids left at the next stop. Sometimes there is justice in the world.

The only other experience I have ever had with Korean food was actually in Korea, so I consider myself quite the expert on Korean food. From what I could tell, this restaurant was very authentic, which was backed up by the fact that none of the waitstaff and the minority of the people in the restaurant spoke any English.

The restaurant is not elaborately decorated, but there are a few decorations that seem very Korean to me:

But the true Korean experience comes at the tables. In the back of the restaurant is one long table that seats large parties. This is exactly how it is in Korea:

In these large tables you sit on the floor, but in the smaller two- or four-person tables you sit in a regular booth, but the table has a giant hole in the middle:

The waitstaff then puts a pot of hot coals in the hole:

And then covers it with a grill and gives you a plate of meat that you had ordered before. Warning: they make you order at least two types of meat, and each meat can feed one person, and costs enough for one person. So, when you go to delicious awesome barbecue delicious, make sure that your eating-mate is not a vegetarian because your half of the bill will be very, very expensive. I learned that the hard way:

That's $40 of meat right there. Get a good look:

If I am not mistaken, the pinker meat on the right is beef ribs and the browner meat on the left is seasoned beef. Then, you cook the meat on the grill in your table:

Plus, you don't just get meat. The barbecue comes with about twenty tiny bowls of weird and colorful and aromatic ingredients:

I did not take a picture of the full table, but I think three to five more little bowls were added to the table after this picture was taken. Inside the little silver bowl on the right-hand corner was steamed rice, and a little later, the waitress brought me miso soup:

This miso soup contained zucchini, tofu, and onions inside the dashi stock. The rice bowl can go into the soup as well. Also, the twenty-something little bowls of ingredients can go in the soup or in the rice bowl:

Many of these ingredients are different types of kimchee. There are kimchee potatoes, kimchee cabbage, kimchee spinach, basically anything orange is kimchee-related. The row of greenish things behind the stacks of dishes are different types of seaweed. The thing that looks like potato salad is in fact potato salad. Other things that maybe cannot be seen very clearly are lentils, various anonymous roots, pickled things, and this weird black bean thing that was very strange but oddly delicious. All of this stuff, including the rice and the cooked meat can be dipped in the miso soup. That is what I did and it was really good.

Because of how much food you are given, and because of how much fun it is to grill meat, I strongly recommend ordering the barbecue. However, go with a large group because the amount of meat can feed at least two or three people, unless you are me and eat 2/3 of the meat yourself. And, like I said earlier, make sure that at least one person with whom you go to San Soo Gab San is an omnivore. Vegetarians make things expensive!

Because Linnea, today's eating buddy, is a vegetarian, it gives me the very expensive opportunity to tell you about Bibimbap. Which is totally worth the price because Linnea is an awesome eating buddy who has great taste in earrings. Oh, and it is also worth it because I was watching Iron Chef America the other day and Iron Chef Batali cooked Bibimbap, and now I know what it is, so this gives me an opportunity to brag about how much food stuff I know:

Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish that literally translated means "mixed dish." It contains rice, seasoned and sauteed vegetables, and is usually topped with some sort of fried egg. In this case, the bibimbap contained zucchini, carrots, soy bean sprouts, mushrooms, some green leafy things, onions, and a fried egg. There is another type of bibimbap (which I know about because Iron Chef Batali made it on TV) which is served with a raw egg inside of of a hot stone bowl. The raw egg is then cooked on the sides of this bowl.

By the end of the meal, we felt completely stuffed and we had hardly made a dent in our food. At least, it looked that way. I suppose I ate most of the meat and Linnea ate most of the bibimbap, but there was so much food in the small dishes that we maybe ate 40% of what was on our table. Our total bill came to $50 which is humongous and is mainly coming out of my allowance. $10 of that was Linnea's and the other $40 was mine, which makes me sound like a pig. I brought home maybe 1/3 of the meat, and I really should have only had to order half of what I ordered... but whatever. I'm not bitter...

Tomorrow I will be nearly-fasting because, true to my gender stereotype, I want to look super sexy for prom. However, Sunday I will be going to Old Town for either an awesome burger or for (American) barbecue. Actually, I have not done real Italian food yet, so if there is an Italian place in Old Town I would like to know about it. I do need suggestions for restaurants because I am not native to Old Town. And I only accept suggestions for awesome burgers. Be they less then awesome, I be angry. Anyway, until next time, happy eating!

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