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Northwest Side Restaurant Review: Chicago Kalbi

By Meghan Clark in Food on May 23, 2007 10:11PM

With its brightly lit blue and orange round sign serving as a beacon on the congested strip of Lawrence just east of every high school boy’s favorite strip club, the Admiral, Chicago Kalbi is instantly noticeable. Chicagoist has walked past it several times and it’s almost always looked small and crowded, which is why we shied away from it at first. But after experiencing it, we’re sure to return again soon.

Upon opening the standard-store-front glass door, which was covered with what appeared to be a wood carving, we were instantly escorted into a small room with two tables and a divider between them.07_05_chicagokalbigrill.jpg
Most of the restaurant is laid out with “mini-rooms” like this, which gives it a very private feel in addition to making us feel like we were a celebrity hidden from the general public’s view. While the little rooms could have made getting the attention of our server more difficult, the staff was on top of it. They were practically refilling our water glass before we even set it down.

Chicago Kalbi’s “gimmick,” if it can be called that, is Korean barbeque. The large wooden tables are built with a cylindrical metal center upon which a bucket of hot coals and a grill are placed when the food is served. There’s also a large exhaust fan pipe above the table, to remove the sometimes incredible amounts of smoke. The menu is set up to order individual types of meat marinated in a variety of traditional sauces or a combination of their most popular meats.

07_05_chicagokalbi_meatandgrill_crop.JPGChicagoist ordered the Kalbi, which are marinated beef short ribs cut off the bone in a long, thin piece of meat, the Bulgogi, marinated rib eye steak, and the Oeji-gui, which--since we were unable to pronounce it-- we sheepishly ordered as the “spicy marinated pork.” All of the meats arrived to the table marinated and raw, but the thin pieces cooked very quickly on the grill, sometimes so quick that it was hard for us to make our Bulgogi medium rare. Even well done, the Bulgogli was tender with just enough marinade to flavor the meat without overpowering the natural beef taste. Predictably, the spicy pork was, in a word, spicy. While the first few pieces surprised us with their bite, we quickly learned to wrap the pork with white rice in one of the giant lettuce leaves placed in a basket on the table. Of course, there was also miso soup- available spicy or mild, kimchi, seaweed salad, potato salad and several other small dishes that we passed around the table in between grilling the meats.

Thankfully, along with refilling the water, the busboy was all about removing all of these dishes from the table the instant they were empty, which made for a very pleasant dining experience that Chicagoist plans to repeat.

Chicago Kalbi is located at 3752 W. Lawrence and is open from 5:00pm to midnight everyday except Tuesday.