Two white folks walk into a Korean barbeque...or so the joke goes.
A few nights ago Dave and I visited Kang Nam, touted as one of Chicago's best spots for authentic Korean eats. Both he and I are novices at the Korean BBQ game, and were a bit intimidated when we were handed menus by the native Korean staff. Luckily English translations accompanied the original descriptions for everything. We were put at ease when our drinks arrived at the table. I ordered Seokryuju, a pomegranate wine. Expecting a glass of it, I was surprised when the waitress arrived with a fairly large bottle with a label warning that it was 16% alcohol by volume, more than 5 times the amount of a normal American beer. Needless to say, I was sauced by the end of the meal. Dave ordered OB, short for Oriental Brewery. His beer was huge. Koreans obviously enjoy alcoholic beverages.
We ordered beef short ribs and squid. Moments later our waitress delicately placed a fiery hot bucket of burning coals and wood chips into the pit in the center of our table. Immediately we felt heat radiating from underneath the table. She positioned two grates on top of each other and brought out a heaping platter of thinly sliced, marinated beef and dumped it on top. Then she abandoned us without a word. Dave got to grilling. As the beef quickly cooked, several plates of panchan, small Korean salads, arrived. Tiny bowls of tangy pickled cabbage and zucchini, spicy kimchi, sesame seaweed salad, creamy potatoes, crunchy bean sprouts, an indecipherable egg concoction, and other things we couldn't pinpoint crowded the table. There was barely room to fit the platter of squid that still awaited us.
We grabbed lettuce leaves and pretended to know what we were doing. We layered them with bean paste, soy sauce, and beef. Rolling them up taco style, we devoured, and it was good. Every bowl of panchan was like a little adventure, not knowing if it was going to be sweet or sour, crispy or soft. I am not sure if I have ever consumed so much vinegar.
Squid probably wasn't the best option, considering our newcomer status. Seafood like that cooks extremely fast, and when it's overdone, it becomes rubbery. Chew all you want, those tentacles aren't breaking down. We chewed a lot, and I was secretly happy for all of those short ribs.
Some time later the server arrived with bowls of rice and a spicy soup that was heavy with zucchini. I thought we might have to start balancing plates on our laps, but somehow she squeezed it all onto the table. In addition to plentiful alcohol, Koreans must like an abundance of grub. I can dig it. I can also dig the small complimentary bottle of Seokryuju our server sent home with me.
Next time, no seafood. Maybe we'll give one of the pork cuts a shot.