Blue Radishes, Black Pig Belly & Tammy Wynette Chicagos most authentic Korean Restaurant? Very long!
F.D.L.T. Korean Restaurant has always intrigued and beguiled me. Ive walked past this joint dozens of times always wondering what the place is all about. Was it a private club? A restaurant? Pool Hall? Massage parlor? So last night curiosity (and hunger) got the better of me I was surprised, enlightened, entertained and well fed for the effort.
As you approach there is no sign, only lurid, almost pornographic backlighted photos of food. A glistening, wet bowl of salmon roe, proudly erect bottles of soju and Korean rice wine, a demur and delicate fruit plate and the most salacious of them all a whole fish lying supine, its flesh slivered into sashimi for all to gaze upon, its grimacing head tossed back in rapturous ecstasy!!!!!! Oh yeah, theres a pool hall on the second floor.
We entered into a dark foyer with a small gong on the host station and directly to our left we saw a long, darkened hallway with eight or nine private rooms all sealed by heavy doors. I thought to myself My God, this IS a massage parlor. It was then that a charming young man who was to become our host, cook, dining instructor and entertainment director for the evening appeared. Table for two? he smiled. Still a bit uneasy I peered over my shoulder at the private rooms and asked, uh what are those for? He smiled again and replied, Oh, you get that later. Later? What were we getting ourselves into?
He led us into the dining room which was done up to replicate a Korean country village, troughs, plows and various other farm implements lined the walls. The central focus was a thatched stucco hut that was the sushi and grill bar. The place seemed empty, but we heard loud voices and laughter coming from the very private booths that resembled ox stalls, one of which we guided into. There was a heavy wooden table and four solid (at least 50lbs) chairs hewn from the same wood. In the corner was an equally solid wooden stool a purse stool ala Tru we postulated? Not even close .this was the meat stool (more on this later). The booth was equipped with a discreet (silent) doorbell mounted on the side, our guide said Press this button when you need me.
He presented us menus, of which 90% of the content was in Korean and a cup of barley tea. The menu was five or six laminated pages with strips of colored paper taped over items no longer available and other dishes (all in Korean) written on more paper strips, completing the book were a few hand written paper pages (again, all in Korean).
We were immediately drawn to several package deals ranging from $29 to $100 on the first page. From this point on the spelling and descriptions I will use were those of the menu, so all you Korean food scholars simmer down. (to be continued)
The $49.99 menu we selected included the following items, listed but not served in this order:
beef rib meat (kalbi)
black pig belly
beef brisket meat
kimchee Jeon (panchan)
soybean paste soup (tofu chigae)
1 bottle soju or 3 beers
We opted for soju and were asked by our guide Do you prefer too much alcohol or very little alcohol? Too much alcohol we cried! He laughed and returned with a bottle of Jinro Chamisul Soju (44 proof made from 70% tapioca, 15% sweet potato and 15% barley). He explained that this was a very common soju, it was mild and smooth with a sweetish, slightly medicinal aftertaste, we liked it!
Wave of panchan began to appear:
agar with sesame chili oil
kelp w/ pickle and surimi
kimchee cucumber pickle
sweet marinated yam and sweet potato
pressed fish cake
pickled bean sprouts
shredded onion tempura
shredded pickled radish
soy pickled egg
mayonnaise potato salad.
Next some hot dishes arrived, first, the soybean paste soup, which was rich and salty with fermented bean tang shreds of napa cabbage, scallions and chunks of tofu (great). Then an amazing steamed omelet in stoneware crock, it was soft and fluffy part custard, part soufflé. This was followed by the rice pancake; a thin, crispy oval about nine inches long and five inches across, not dissimilar to the green onion pancake served in so many Chinese restaurants (superb).
We were starting to fill up when the guest of honor arrived the MEAT! It was truly a sight to behold. Bright red, marbled, thinly sliced rounds of brisket, precisely cut strips of kalbi and thick, fat streaked, slabs of black pig belly. All two pounds of it artfully arranged on a platter with raw mushroom caps and half an onion which he placed upon the wooden stool .not a purse stool, but a meat throne.
Our culinary guide, who was now our cook, set up a butane fueled, flat-top griddle (no charcoal debate here please) and fired the sucker up. While he was waiting for the griddle to get up to temperature he delivered the condiments and accoutrements. Our guide took a moment that explain that the first two meats, (brisket & pork belly) should be tasted with four flavors. Then he got down to griddling!
The four flavors were as follows:
1) Wrapped in a slice of blue radish Let me stop here and describe these, they were wafer thin slices of radish that were 3-4 inches in diameter, coated with some sort of marinade (it tasted like wasabi) that made them appear to have a mysterious, greenish-blue glow (incredible with the brisket).
2) Rolled in leaf lettuce w/ red miso paste and some steamed rice (delicious with both the brisket and pork belly.
3) Salt flavor this was a bit of sesame oil w/ salt and finely ground pepper (so simple and elemental, it shined with both meats)
4) Paper-thin slices of onion marinated in a tan colored sauce (miso again?) and horseradish. This one was our favorite! We were to put a morsel of meat in the onion dish and wrap the onion around the meat and consume it in one bite (all I can say is oh baby, oh baby!!!!)
Rib meat (kalbi) was the final dish, for this, our guide placed a fresh lining of foil over the griddle and began to fry the meat .as its succulent fat began to melt, he stirred in slices of garlic, jalapenos and snipped up the onion with a scissors he the turned down the heat and let it cook slowly, letting all the flavors meld together. We were told to savor this with rice alone, no condiments or wrap, he was right.
He brought the check and we happily paid the bill. As we headed toward the door, he grabbed my sleeve and grinned, Sir, you have one hour free, it comes with the meal and motioned to the hallway. Oh no, this was it gulp! What now, a happy ending?
He led us down the dark narrow hall when I heard something that abated my panic, not the expected moans of pleasure, but the drunken bombast of karaoke .yup, these were private karaoke booths. He ushered into the last booth, resplendent with comfy sofas, black light (wild deep sea mural) and plenty of ashtrays. He demonstrated the high-tech remote controlled karaoke set up, complete with pitch control, tempo control and echo effects. He placed the song catalogue on the cocktail table, gave us a pitcher of water and disappeared. Of course, 98% of the songs titles were in Korean, but toward the back of the book we found some vintage country music chestnuts! We launched into a twangy chorus of Tammy Wynettes Stand By Your Man hoping our entertainment director would return with more soju.
F.D.L.T Korean restaurant
5588 N. Linclon Ave.
Open 7 days 5:00 PM until 5:00 AM