I met Ron R for lunch today at Woo Chon and it was a toss which was more enjoyable the Korean BBQ or Rons company. (Ok, Rons company, but the BBQ was very good)
When we sat down we ordered a bottle of Soju and perused the menu, raw beef marinated with toasted sesame oil, julienned Asian pear, scallions, pine nuts and topped with a raw egg immediately caught our eye as an appetizer, as did the spicy octopus. The raw beef, which was served a bit too cold for maximum flavor, but developed incredible aroma and flavor in just a short while, was excellent, a Korean version of steak tartare. The richness of the beef, mixed with Asian pear, sesame oil, pine nuts and scallions was rounded out beautifully by the egg. I should also add that the julienned Asian pear was a very nice touch and added complexity, as well as texture, to the dish.
The octopus was quite good as well, spicy stir-fry octopus with veggies and Korean peppers. I am not sure exactly what constitutes a Korean pepper, but the ones I most frequently see in Korean restaurants look like thin Anaheims and are slightly hotter.
When we had finished the appetizers, and most of the Soju, our waitress, who was an excellent waitress in a very reserved way, brought out a large platter of kalbi, followed immediately by a burning pot of lump charcoal, then a multitude of side dishes.
The kalbi was excellent full of flavor, tender and subtly spiced, all rounded out nicely by the addition of Asian pear to the marinade, a really nice touch. We were also served the traditional lettuce leaves, garlic for grilling, hot bean paste, shredded scallions and a small bowl of sesame oil mixed with a bit of salt for dipping. We were also served piping hot miso soup with veggies and tofu, along with rice, after we finished the kalbi, and interesting sweet rice water with small grains of rice semi-suspended in the liquid. I liked the sweet rice drink, Ron was not as enthused as I was.
Humorously, when we inquired as to the raw beef as an appetizer, the waitress immediately said that it was no good. When we asked if she meant that we, as non-Koreans, would not like it or that it was really no good, she quickly qualified that a Korean would enjoy the dish, just not us. By the time we finished the raw beef appetizer and spicy octopus she didnt blink an eye when we asked for extra garlic for grilling or inquired if they had any of the raw spicy crab panchan.
Frankly, I am not wild about the raw crab panchan, but Ron had never tried it and whats a little raw crab when you just had raw beef and egg. I am not so certain Ron liked it either, there is something mucus like about the texture of the meat that is simply not appealing.
All in all Woo Chon is my new second pick for Korean BBQ in Chicago, Hai Woon Dae has been my first choice for so long that I would be remiss in replacing it with Woo Chon after only one visit, but Woo Chon is already knocking on Hai Woon Daes door.
5744 N California Ave.
Hai Woon Dae
6240 N. California
Chicago, IL 60659