San Soo Gab San
5247 N Western Ave
Date of Last Visit: November 18th, 2010
The Victims: Many. All from Grubwithus.com
The Damage: $30ish each
The Background: I wrote the other week about my very fun meal with Grubwithus.com. Although the sushi left me wanting, the concept of social (media) dining and the company had me quickly signing up for a second go. I was particularly interested in a second round because I LOVE KOREAN FOOD and San Soo Gab San was on the calendar. Regular readers are probably tired of me waxing philosophic about my two week trip to South Korea in 2004, but I could honestly eat Korean food every day. Twice a day.
The Entrance: San Soo Gab San is located on a miserable stretch of Western, a few blocks north of Lincoln Square. In a strip mall, no less. If you’re looking for an atmospheric location, this is not it. But the inside is nice enough and old-school enough, full of exposed-brick and lots of polished wood. Just a note though–if you have bad knees or a bad back, you might want to ask for one of the tables where you don’t have to sit on the floor as we did.
I love Korean food mostly for the ban chan, or the little plates of treats you get at the start of each meal. Restaurants in London always wanted to charge for ban chan. We had a set meal at San Soo Gab San, so I don’t know for sure whether the ban chan is included in your meal or not. But generally, I think that ban chan should be included in the price of your meal like it is in Korea. I thought SSGS’s kimchee (included amongst the ban chan) was particularly good–the coldness and crispness of the cabbage contrasting nicely with the hot hum of the chilli.
I also really enjoyed the Korean pancake. This was called Hae Moul Pajun, and was a seafood, egg and green onion pancake served with a soy dipping sauce–chock full of sesame seeds, which are a Korean staple. This is one of those deceptively filling and hearty dishes.
The chop chae (stir-friend noodles with vegetables and beef) was perhaps the only really disappointing dish of the evening. The glass noodles were so soft that they were practically disintegrated and the beef was almost non-existent. Let’s put it this way…it tasted like it looked…gloopy.
I’m sorry to end this post with a photo of raw meat. I apologize profusely to my vegetarian readers. The sad part is that there were so many plates of raw meat, that I can’t tell you what this one is. It’s either Wang Kalbi (marinated beef short ribs) or Seang Kalbi (unseasoned beef short ribs) or Bulgogi (beef seasoned korean style) or Deung Shim Gui (rib eye steak) or Cha Dol Bae Ki (thinly sliced beef brisket), or Sout Tue Gung (sliced bacon–although I’m pretty sure this isn’t the bacon). It was such a parade of meat that I think I briefly passed out. For those of you who don’t know how Korean food works, you’re given a barbecue at your table (a real coal barbecue at San Soo Gab San as opposed to the gas barbecues you get at some places) and you go to town, barbecuing all the meat that’s put in front of you. It’s fun, but hard work. I felt sorry for Jeong, who served as our Barbecue-meister, as it meant less time to eat. I would say that while all the meat was fine in its vinegar-y-ness, it all sort of tasted the same. (With the exception of the bacon.)
The Verdict: I like San Soo Gab San, more because of its setup and the endless parade of ban chan than because of the quality of its meat. (That being said, that Korean pancake was excellent.) It’s also a very good value, which makes it fun with friends. Lastly, for you night owls, San Soo Gab San is open until the ungodly early hours of the morning–5 a.m. EVERY DAY.