I’d love to visit South Korea, far away from that dangerous border, only to experience the people living in fairly normal happiness and success, and mainly to eat their food. I love kimchee! Yum! Spicy, refreshing, crunchy health bowl. I down that shit by itself, but adding it to a noodle bowl or some Korean spiced meat dish ain’t too shabby either. My trek to the East won’t happen for about 18 months, so until then I take advantage of my abundantly populated city, and head north to Korea-town, for some kimchee and about a billion other delicious items. I had a memorable evening, barefoot, with some of the best people I know at San Soo Gab San. A few Sundays ago we gathered a collection of weirdo food enthusiasts and embarked north, out of our comfort zone and into a spiced heaven. There were 7 of us. We nailed down a table ahead of time and when we arrived, we simply removed our shoes and sat comfortably around a rectangular table similar to a Japanese steakhouse, take away the cook-top and add two holes for future grill space, where you and your cohorts can sizzle your seasoned meat and veggies to perfection, with the polite guidance of the very helpful employees.
The menu is overwhelming and difficult to understand. It helps to go with someone who’s been before. Keep it simple and order from the back of the menu, for groups of 5 or more. Each of you select your chosen meat, including familiar selections like beef and chicken, and more adventurous choices such as octopus and pork belly bacon. Being no bullshit eaters we opted for a few safe choices and a few risks. The risks always pay off, and this was no exception. The octopus and pork belly burst with flavor and provided us all with surprising satisfaction. Korean seasoned beef and chicken were crowd pleasers as well.
For $21 you receive an individual bowl of excellent miso soup, the kind that tastes and feels home-made, not boxed or mass-produced; and 37 other items to throw into a big leaf of fresh lettuce, dip into a variety of sauces and shove down your ever-widening throat. We rarely knew what we were eating and then as we chewed we slowly figured it out and ended up loving every single little bite, yearning for more, and getting it. The amount of food we racked up in the end was embarrassing, and very American, even for Korea. We left with burst pant buttons and I’d say a 16 week along food baby. Delicious, funky, worth it.
Sometimes I want to travel to Korea, and other times, I just prefer to find Korea-town, or find that modern twist of Korean-American cuisine; something a foodie like myself came up with to make Korean food accessible and exciting to people beyond just the open-minded and adventurous, but to those who simply love bowls of rice and flavored meat, sandwiches and soups, and at an affordable price. That is something no rational human can resist. And for this, I take you to Crisp!
At the junction of Southeast Lakeview and Northeast Lincoln Park, you’ll find Crisp in a narrow space on the west side of Broadway, a street lined with delicious food, particularly fare from East Asia. I could eat Italian and Mexican food every single day of my life. And I pretty much do. Sad but true, my digestive tract is consistently busy processing pizza and tacos. But Asian food, and I’m including falafel pita, curry, pad Thai, chow mein, brightly colored meat, chili pepper, sprouts, dumplings, sushi, and any dish with rice or noodles I CRAVE, with an angry, forceful capital C! 10 of us were collectively sharing in that special craving and we set the intention to satisfy it as quickly and as well as possible.
I walked in and felt immediate panic. Crisp is similar to many gourmet fast food favorites (I’m trademarking FFF and others. Watch out Rachel Rae!). You order up front and then pray to the omnipresent culinary gods for a seat to open up. Having this food delivered would be amazing, but mostly I prefer to eat something fresh, with chopsticks (and truthfully, I suck at chopsticks despite hoovering their food on a regular basis so I only use them in public to quell my American, white guilt.), right there where the magic happens. So 10 is a challenge. You’re immediately becoming a mathematician as you calculate the number of available seats with how many in your party and how many waiting. It’s a mind fuck of a problem, especially if you’re hungry. Being the slightly competitive friendly eater that I am, I utilized a trick my parents learned me long ago. Casually chill out next to a table of nice looking people and ask if you can take their seats when they’re finished, no rush of course!
And with a bit of patience and ingenuity, we’re in. We’d been smelling scallions and chili pepper and meat for minutes now, so we were so ready. I parked my ass in the spot I’d previously assigned in my head and then almost as quickly got back up to order my highly anticipated meal. I ordered 5 wings of the Crisp BBQ flavor, my hunk of man love deciding on 5 spicy hot, and we collaborated on a Seoul Steak Bowl (pronounced soul for those ignorant in Geography and English), a mixture of Korean flavored beef, over perfectly cooked, seasoned rice. I tried the Seoul Sassy wings along with the two of ours and every single one was worth dirtying my face and disgustingly licking every single one of my alienesque fingers. We all cannot wait to go back.
I have truly special friends. I’m including my family members with whom I also share a friendship. It’s the #1 thing I’m grateful for. A close second are food and comedy. My life is full of a sandwich with those ingredients and I could not be happier. My career hasn’t brought the success I hope for yet and I haven’t seen nearly what I want or experienced what I hope to, but I’m supremely grateful and content because of the sandwich I’ve made to fulfill my life. I hope I’ve been a supportive and fun ingredient for you, or that you have your own version of a life sandwich (this is getting bad, all my metaphors and mottos involve food).
Explore your relationships and your taste buds. Enjoy.
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