Cooking over an open fire in restaurant kitchens has been big this past year, so it’s only logical that letting diners grill their own food would be the next step. Of course, Korean barbecue joints have been doing this for years, so the concept is hardly new. But while Chicago doesn’t lack for Korean barbecue, Logan Square did until November, when Ryuu Asian BBQ opened its doors. The sleek new spot doesn’t limit itself to Korean fare, or even to Asian barbecue: the menu also includes sushi, Thai noodle and rice dishes, and a few Vietnamese, Laotian, and Malaysian entrees.
Still, when there’s a built-in grill on your table, it’s hard to resist the temptation to fire it up. There’s a range of options: a dozen meats, half a dozen types of seafood, two tofu preparations, and several vegetables. (For the indecisive, there are also a few barbecue combo platters, which include an appetizer and side dishes.) The problem with tabletop cooking, though, is that if your food is overdone you have no one to blame but yourself. The attentive wait staff will help guide you, stopping by intermittently to determine when it’s time for a protein to come off the built-in tabletop grill. But I have a feeling that I was responsible for the rubbery texture of the baby octopus we ordered, and the array of dipping sauces couldn’t save it. We fared better with the sesame-soy marinated bulgogi, which seemed to turn out tender no matter how distracted from our efforts we got.
If grilling your own food feels like too much pressure, though, there are plenty of other options. In fact, the menu is so wide-ranging that it’s hard to know what to order. From a broad array of appetizers we chose savory, tender seafood pancakes stuffed to the gills with ocean dwellers (including some calamari much more pliable than what we’d later fry ourselves). Spicy tuna with crispy rice, a type of nigiri in which the rice is deep-fried, offers a satisfying contrast of textures between the cool, slippery fish and the warm, slightly crunchy rice.
The restaurant also boasts one of the best collections of Asian beer and spirits I’ve seen lately: in addition to Japanese hefeweizen and lagers from Singapore, Korea, and Thailand, there’s an impressive list of soju and Japanese whisky. The 20 taps also offer an array of local beers, plus four wines. Asian restaurants in Chicago are often BYOB, which I like—but Ryuu’s carefully selected drinks list makes me thankful that it’s not.