Ive been eating at Seoul Garden in Northbrook for about 10 years. Today, I went in with my Chowhound Passport and completely befuddled my waitron, who didnt speak English, may not have been able to read Korean, but was capable of turning a bright red. After the initial embarrassment, I went ahead and pointed to something Id never had before: Kimchee Jagai, a spicy soup.
As I waited for the soup, my now totally flustered waitron brought out the 7 reasons I go to Korean restaurants: little white bowls of condiments. Now, I realize that sounds like a slam to the entrée, and I dont mean it that way, but I just love the idea of having a multitude of different-tasting items to modify the flavor of the main event. Actually, to call them condiments does them no justice: each one has so much personality, and they far transcend the usual meaning of the term. Todays offering included several pickled radishes, some thick yellow ones flecked with red pepper, others very white and thin, some cuke, two kinds of cabbage (one hot and one sweet) and hard and salty little black soybeans and hard-fried seaweed (two items I had not tasted before: the seaweed was especially interesting, dusted with a caramelized sugar coating, and crunchy).
The soup came to the table roiling and it kept bubbling for about 2 minutes. It was damn hot, on a Fahrenheit as well as a Scoville scale. It was the kind of hot that raises the body temp and tickles the taste buds, but doesnt scar the tongue. I was sweating like Pyongyang porker, and I could have used some more napkins (or maybe a even towel) but after the initial Passport-related awkwardness with the waitron, I think she was afraid of me.
In Korean cuisine (BBQ excepted), meat also seems to take on the role of a condiment, an added flavor, but not the main focus, which is another thing I like about this ethnicity of eats. My soup had slivers of pork, but not big chunks and my usual dish, Bibimbop, has slivers of beef amidst a grove of freshly cut veggies, fried egg, and spicy sauce. The meat has a part to play, but the meal is an ensemble piece, with no food group allowed to hog the spotlight.
As I mopped my brow with a ragged napkin, my waitron hurriedly brought me a complimentary après soup rice drink with my check, and then scurried away, apparently fearful that Id spring some new weirdness upon her. I paid, and went out into whipping winds, and as I glanced into the rear-view mirror, a little flushed from the peppery soup, a drop of perspiration hung down from my right ear, a wet diamond, making me look, for just a moment, like a chic pirate. It was cold outside, but I was warm.
3420 Milwaukee Avenue
Northbrook, IL 60062