Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Korean Exploration Proves Good for the Seoul

Pusan Restaurant
1144 S. Elmhurst Rd., Mt. Prospect
Yelp page

What I ate: Kalbi + complimentary side dishes

The first month of my 2013 Chicago Dining World Tour has taken me, gastronomically speaking, to Argentina (Tango Sur), Cuba (Taste of Cuba), New Orleans (Dixie Kitchen), Lebanon (Basha) and Thailand (Ruby of Siam).

I have genuinely enjoyed each of these excursions, and the resulting blog fodder, but because two of the restaurants were old favorites, a third I had visited previously,  Cuban food wasn't entirely new and I didn't order what I'm told is the most emblematic Argentinean food--steak with chimichurri sauce--my forays to date weren't nearly as revelatory as they were tasty.

Thus, my Friday night visit to Pusan, a Korean restaurant I found through Yelp--on which it is highly rated--came the closest so far to fully satiating my desire to sample new cuisines and cultures in ways that can expand my palette, and perhaps even worldview.

The restaurant is in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall on Elmhurst Rd. a bit south of Golf (look for El Sombrero Mexican restaurant as an identifier). As you can see, the restaurant's lit sign is in Korean, which I had been tipped off to online, but what made things confusing is that the same strip mall had another Korean sign atop a vacated storefront. Had I not known the exact address for Pusan, I may have assumed I had arrived to find it no longer in business.

I entered to find only one of the 6 tables occupied and it took a few moments to be greeted by a friendly woman who seems to serve as host, likely proprietor, waitress and one of two cooks.

Upon being seated, I was brought a hot murky liquid in a drinking glass. It seemed to be a tea of some kind, and in asking I learned it was roast corn tea, which tasted really good, especially on a bone-chilling evening.

On a couple prior occasions, I had been to Korean BBQ restaurants, at which I've selected a type of meat and a variety of vegetables which were stir fried in front of my eyes.

But although Pusan's business card says "B.B.Q. PU-SAN RESTAURANT"--and they may well offer stir fry options--I ordered Kalbi off the menu and had no input into its ingredients or preparation. 

The menu describes Kalbi as "marinated short ribs" and it turned out to be rather flavorful meat, though with only two pieces still attached to a bone.

In itself, the Kalbi would have made for an interesting and tasty meal, but perhaps not quite worth the $19.95 cost. But what made my visit to Pusan rather eye-opening and delightful was that in addition to a bowl of white rice, without any inkling on my part my entree was accompanied by a complimentary medley of side dishes.

Clockwise from the bottom left in the photo, these included--and yes, I had to ask--marinated mushrooms, bean sprouts, potatoes, marinated zucchini, white radish, fishcakes, egg, marinated pickles and cabbage. I was also brought some soup without ordering or requesting it.

Altogether, this feast provided a rich array of flavors to accompany the beef, and everything was very good.

Suffice it to say, I was abundantly filled up, which is good because the only dessert item was a small yogurt flavored drink.

While there is a world of other Chicagoland cuisines I intend to explore and hopefully enjoy, this was a perfect case of trying something new to which I would certainly like to return.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a menu for Pusan that I can share online, but it appeared to be pretty extensive.

While the offerings seemed to lean heavily on beef and chicken dishes, I imagine Pusan would also be inviting for vegetarians, if only for the side dishes.

What I also liked about the place, is that while the hostess/waitress spoke perfectly good English and the menu had good descriptions of all the items, Pusan did not seem overtly "Americanized." The other patrons were likely all Korean--always a good sign for culinary credibility--yet I felt entirely welcome, comfortable and well-served.

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