A friend who avoids Chinatown has a theory that the relative economic affluence of some suburban ethnic enclaves make them more friendly to authentic, highly specialized restaurants than those in the city. This flies in the face of the knee-jerk prejudice that the ‘burbs are a wasteland of bland conformity–and certain meals I’ve had in the last year support him. Can you find better handmade noodles than Katy’s in Westmont? Or a more dramatic, fortifying goat stew than Chun Ju in Morton Grove?
Last night I was introduced to another, Kim’s Korean Restaurant, at 1827 W. Algonquin in Mount Prospect (847-427-1642). Kim’s specializes in samgyeopsal, uncured pork belly from “black pig,” a heritage breed otherwise known as the Berkshire or Kurobuta. Meat from these animals is prized for its marbling, tenderness, and a flavor far more memorable than industrial supermarket pork.
In Korean samgyeopsal means “three-layer” pork and refers to the alternating strips of fat and meat in the belly. At Kim’s you can order it with one of five different marinades (red wine, red wine and herbs, soybean paste, bamboo leaf, and garlic and curry). Thick matchbook-sized slabs are cooked on a tilted griddle (the fat runs into a bowl), wrapped in red leaf lettuce or circular slices of daikon, and accented with a variety of condiments (soybean paste, soybean powder, a fruit and onion sauce, spicy green onions, and of course, kimchi). There are quite a few other dishes made with the pork belly, not grilled tableside, and plenty without.
You can find samgyeopsal in plenty of city restaurants, but no one does it with more focus, variety, and care than Kim’s; a full review is pending.