I am sitting here wracking my brain trying to think of one Chicago Korean restaurant that would fit Shannons, or for that matter the self described youthful and hip Critical1s, definition of upscale, not one comes to mind, not one that I would go to at least. There may be an upscale Korean restaurant in the suburbs, but, truthfully, I dont often go West of Harlem Ave.
Woo Lae Oak, which Shannon mentioned, is ok, focusing on Korean BBQ, I have not been to the suburban one, but went, once, to the River North location as I read an article that said they made their own hot bean paste and, being an aficionado, wanted to try theirs. The flavor seemed muted, they used gas flames, as opposed to charcoal, for the BBQ and, while nice atmosphere, ambiance (insert ~whatever~ spoken with a slight valley girl accent) I have not been back, truthfully, I did not even notice it was gone.
I see by the article link that Shannon posted the suburban Woo Lae Oak has Yook Hwe, raw beef mixed with, at least in versions I have had, pine nuts, sesame oil, raw egg and julienne Asian pear, one of my favorites. If I am in the area, hungry with no other place in mind I will certainly give Woo Lae Oak a go.
As far as Chicago Korean restaurants I enjoy that have a nicer atmosphere, which is a highly subjective term, than plain Jane 24-hour Korean or Lincoln Noodle House, one of the best value for ones dining dollar in the city, or the bar atmosphere of Hourglass, which has great chicken and an engaging proprietor, there are a quite few, but not a one where the waitresses are sleek, slinky, dressed to kill and the waiters wear Armani.
I can start with a place I went to the evening after the Rib Tour, Do Won, which is a Korean restaurant with many of the usual suspects and a full scale sushi bar. That evening I had a nice mix of panchan and sashimi, perfect the evening after a day of rib tasting. Do Won, unlike many of the Korean run restaurants with sushi is not shy about its Korean roots. I am not sure where Do Won falls on the Shannon/Critiacl1 hip o meter, but I would imagine a 5, at best. Actually as Do Won has Tatami rooms, as do a surprising number of Korean restaurants, it may rate a 5.5 on the S/C hip o meter.
As far as Korean BBQ, there are many, but, picky as I am, I only go to Korean BBQ restaurants that use live coals, no gas for me and certainly no cook in the kitchen kalbi. The three place that I prefer, in descending order are Hai Woon Dae, Woo Chon and Kang Nam Galbi. All use live coals, all have first quality meat, poultry and seafood, none have a hip o meter rating of over 4.75 on the Shannon/Critical1 hip o meter scale.
In the vein of full scale Korean restaurant, not bar, not BBQ, not 24-hour nonexistent decor, more along the lines of the, now closed, Gin Go Gae on Lincoln, which everybody seems to know, are any number of places. A few that I enjoy are Jang Mo Nim, good panchan, good selection of well made dishes, and a nicely appointed restaurant, though they tend to run the TV at all times. Maybe a 6.1, at best, on the S/C hip o meter.
San Chae Dolsot is a full service Korean restaurant that specialize in Dolsot, rice cooked in a stone pot so the bottom layer of rice is crisp, almost sweet, with toasty caramelization. What Jeff B calls raspa and Koreans refer to as noo roon bop. I have a pictures of a couple of different outings to San Chae Dolsot. San Chae Dolsot scores low on the Shannon/Critical1 hip o meter scale as well, but the food is good.
There is also the tofu specialist So Gong Dong on Bryn Mar, S/C hip o meter rating of 3.2, with a variety of Korean soups and a small assortment of other dishes, the mandu are quite good. There are also two other Korean restaurants just West of So Gon Dong, same block, one a homestyle place the other BBQ, but I would not really recommend either.
There also a number of Japanese restaurants run by Korean proprietors, which have some Korean dishes, my two favorites are Tampopo and Midori, but that is not what we are discussing.
In sub categories there are coffee shop/diners run by Koreans with Korean offerings on the menu. My favorite of this type, which is solely Korean, is Lincoln Korean Restaurant, which would rate a -2 on the S/C hip o meter. There is also Seth's Korean lunch spot, across from Cafe 28, home of Sue 'It's all good' our tour guide at Chicago Food Corp one afternoon. That, I am not sure of the name, would rate a -.05 on the S/C hip o meter scale.
The last type, of which I am admittedly least familiar with, is the Korean night club which serves food. Some of these may rate in the upper scale of the S/C hip o meter. I have been to Café Orange once, but it was early, for Café Orange, and I do not have a feel for the place. Monica Eng did an article on the Korean nightclub scene in last Fridays Chicago Tribune, it is currently on-line, but no telling for how long.
The places she listed, which serve food and, probably rate high on the S/C hip o meter scale, are Café Orange, New Chicago Karaoke and Origin Café, with Café Orange most likely rating highest on the S/C hip o meter. Daniel, the youthful owner of Tampopo has mentioned he enjoys stopping at Café Orange occasionally after work.
Specifically as to what restaurants offer Korean Imperial Banquets, I dont know, but will find out in short order and report back.
Hai Woon Dae
6240 N. California
Chicago, IL 60659
5744 N California Ave.
Kang Nam Galbi
4849 N. Kedzie
Jang Mo Nim
6320 N Lincoln
Chicagii IL, 60659
San Chae Dolsot
3737 W Lawrence Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
So Gong Dong Tofu House
3307 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.,
Lincoln Korean Restaurant
5501 N Lincoln
New Chicago Karaoke
5100 N. Western Ave.
5062 N. Lincoln Ave
5639 N. Lincoln Ave