Sunday, September 16, 2012


In the Chicago area, most people will start their Asian food experience with Chinese food.  If they are a little more adventurous, they may then try Japanese or Thai.  If you want to delve any deeper than that, you may need to do a little digging.  While there is China town for Chinese food, Chinese cuisine is ubiquitous enough that you don't have to go to Chinatown to have it.  The same is true for Japanese and Thai restaurants.  this cannot be said however, for Vietnamese or Korean restaurants and in order to dine at a Vietnamese or Korean restaurant, you really have to go to specific neighborhoods.  I knew of the Asian populations around Uptown but I just recently discovered a Korean population in West Ridge which is on the far north side of the city.  I had a craving for Korean food and and traveling to West Ridge was easier to travel to after work than is Uptown, so I did some looking and discovered Solga, a Korean Barbecue where I dined this week.  While the building is large, it really doesn't look like much.  It's a large, single-story, free-standing building with a parking lot that looks like it was built in the 70's.  The windows were all covered and while there is a door in the front, the entrance is actually in the back of the building and not really obvious.  From the look outside, I expected a very dark interior.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The entrance opened into a hallway, one direction leading to the dining room which was surprisingly bright.  The booths and tables are made of dark wood but the walls are white and are covered with Korean writing (printed).  The lighting was overhead and bright and there were also several hoods in the ceiling for grilling at the tables.  I was seated at a booth and made my order.  While I was waiting for my first course, I noticed that my only utensils consisted of chopsticks and a long handled spoon.  This was actually kind of an issue because when my appetizer arrived, I had no idea how to eat it. I ordered what was called a Kim Chee Jun.  What it was was a kim chee pancake that was cut into six pieces.  As I had no way to cut it, I decided that I was going to have to eat it with the chopsticks which was pretty awkward.  I ended up trying to grab it in the middle and wolfing down each piece quickly.  It was served with a small dish of soy sauce.  I tried the pancake with and without the soy sauce and it was good both ways.  As far as texture is concerned, it reminded me more of a frittata than a pancake.  It tasted however, like a tangy pancake.  Despite the fact that it was a little difficult to eat, it was good.

My main course actually arrived a little early.  It came while I was still trying to figure out how to eat the pancake.  I ordered Jae-Yook-Bok-Um which was thinly sliced pork loin and vegetables (onions, peppers, and carrots) stir-fried in a spicy sauce and topped with green onions and sesame seeds.  The plate came out sizzling and after it cooled off, it was much easier to eat than was the pancake.  The meat was tender, the vegetables were crisp, and it was all very spicy.  On the menu it also said that entrees would be served with a selection of side dishes.  Having been to a Korean restaurant before I had seen this before but I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed by what they brought out.

They brought out soup, eight sides, and a dish of purple rice.  The sides were all for the most part fairly simple but it did make for a huge meal.  Included among the sides were bean sprouts, pickles in a spicy sauce, kim chee, eggs, potatoes, broccoli, a different type of kim chee, and dumplings.  The sides were decidedly less spicy than the pork and the mild things like the bean sprouts, broccoli, and rice helped to soothe my palate so I could actually taste everything.  The restaurant didn't serve dessert, but that was fine because from the Asian desserts that I have had, I haven't been terribly impressed.  Asian cuisine (in general) doesn't seem to lend itself well to sweet.  It also didn't matter because after eating my main course and all of the sides, I saw that the ride home was going to be very uncomfortable.

I enjoyed my meal here.  It was a good value, it all tasted good, and despite the appearance from the outside, it was bright and welcoming on the inside.      

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