I, like many on the Chowhound board, find RST an interesting fellow, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of food, an inquisitive nature and the ability to impart a sense of poetry to what is often taken for granted. This has led me, after some sleuthing and often a little help from Zim, to explore a number of places that RST has mentioned.
I have been Los Mogotes de Michoacan on N Kimbal, eaten Quesadillas Flor de Calabaza and Huaraches with Nopales and quite enjoyed myself. Did I see generations of Mexican/Americans and Mexicans all the way back to the pre-Columbian era in the waitress hands and sense love in the masa? Sorry to say, no I did not.
I have been to Georges Kabab on W Lawrence, had very respectable marinated grilled Cornish hen, mediocre rice, very good pickled vegetables, all served by a pretty Iraqi waitress with whom RST implied he flirted. (I could see why) I even had a conversation with the gruff, though not all that loveable George, about Pacha (braised goat head), Dolmas and his thick red foule. While Georges Kabab was exactly as RST described, down to the TV and pool table, I somehow missed the beauty, continuity of national perspective and overall sense of wonder that RST felt for Georges.
I realize that RST has a poetic nature and, simply put, I do not, but I was starting to worry that I was no longer able to see beauty in the simple things in life. Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life as one who could see the tree, but not the forest?
I needed not worry as I found Ssyal Ginseng, which RST referred to as an almost spiritual place, to be restful, almost meditative, beyond the simple nature of the fare or surroundings. Ssyal specializes in ginseng, with fresh and dried ginseng for sale along with a number of ginseng products and, of course, the chicken ginseng soup that RST described.
The soup consists of a whole small chicken lightly filled with short grain brown rice, three kinds of beans, bits of garlic and a red date all served in a light, but flavorful, broth that contains whole ginseng root. The chicken soup is served with small dishes of Korean style accompaniments; ginseng root in red chili paste, daikon radish kimchee, translucent cooked yam gelatin, and a slightly bitter water vegetable. There is also a side dish of short grain brown rice studded with multiple types of beans that is quite reminiscent of macrobiotic restaurants.
The chicken, which is incredibly tender, is eaten off the bone with chopsticks along with the occasional dredge through a small dish of salt mixed with fragrant Sichuan pepper. The broth, possessing of a slight cleansing astringency from the ginseng, is unique, each spoonful seeming to be a multi-vitamin for both body and soul. My description of the chicken in broth is not doing the harmony of the dish justice, this was truly wonderful soup. This is chicken soup that my Jewish grandmother would be proud to serve, though she would serve it with matzo balls instead of brown rice.
The waitress, who seemed incredibly calm, yet was quite efficient, provided, along with the calming new age/world music, the perfect backdrop for RSTs spiritual chicken ginseng soup.
Just a couple of notes, Ssyal ginseng, while definitely having a different feel than most Chicago restaurants, is a place to eat, not meditate. The whole chicken, along with side dishes, is filling and the place, at least on the day I was there for lunch, had a number of customers, all eating chicken ginseng soup. Ssyal does have two other offerings, fish and miso soup, though chicken in broth is the main focus.
After my lunch at Ssyal, I am now able to see at least part of the forest, thanks for the recommendation RST.
Ssyal Ginseng Growing Company
4201 W Lawrence
Chicago, Il 60625
Mon-sat 10:30am to 9:30pm
Sunday 1pm to 9pm
Parking in Rear
3216 W Lawrence
Chicago, IL. 60625
Los Mogotes De Michoacan
4734 N Kimball Ave
Chicago, Il 60625
7-Days 10am to 10pm