There's been so much buzz lately about Gogi, a new Korean barbeque restaurant in Rogers Park, so I couldn't resist venturing out one bitter cold night to check it out. I can't say I am bowled over by the place, but I certainly can see what all the fuss is about.
With oversized black leather booths and minimalist Asian-inspired décor, the space is arguably sleeker than many restaurants of a similar ilk. And the meats, which are the stars of the show, are fresh, well seasoned and served in ample portions. So, it's not surprising that Korean barbeque fans are buzzing about Gogi. It's clearly a cut above its competition.
There's no denying that the traditional Korean barbeque dining experience is just plain fun ( unless, of course, you are a vegetarian ). You get to cook or watch someone else cook your meat over blazing hot coals right in the middle of your table. The friendly and engaging staff at Gogi definitely adds to that experience. They will cook your meat for you and are on hand to identify unfamiliar foods and offer suggestions for creating tasty bites ( Psssst! Dip the pork belly in the sesame oil! ).
Gogi offers a mouth-watering smorgasbord of raw meats for grillingbrisket, short ribs, spicy pork, marinated chicken, and for the truly adventurous carnivore, veal intestines. The pork belly is undoubtedly worth a try. Two foot-long strips that look like the biggest, juiciest slices of bacon you've ever laid eyes are slapped down on the sizzling grill and cooked to tender, succulent perfection. The bulgogi, thinly shaved marinated beef, is also flavorful and cooks up nicely, but it's not the most memorable grilled meat I've ever eaten. I would have preferred to try the more tempting sounding short steak marinated with sesame oil. But, the pork belly and short steak, I was informed, can't be cooked on the same grill, so it was one or the other. Tough choices. That's why I'd recommend bringing several friends to Gogi so you can sit at a larger table with multiple grills and try a bunch of different meats.
As is customary, the barbeque meals at Gogi are served with banchan, traditional Korean side dishes. As soon as you place your meat order, tiny bowls filled with cucumbers, bean sprouts, tofu, radishes and kimchi will begin arriving at your tableand they won't stop until there's hardly an inch of space left. The side dishes are all tasty and they make cool, fresh-tasting antidotes to the grilled meats. But, truth be told, the banchan gets lost in the flurry of hot meat being placed on your plate. Once that grill gets hot, the barbeque comes at you fast and furious. Amid the frenzy, two side dishes managed to make an impression on me. One was what tasted like a Korean version of the jalapeño popper, a plump and sweet pepper fried in tempura batter. The other was a dish of thin rice noodles coated in a cold creamy mayonnaise-like sauce. It reminded me of cole slaw, and was the perfect crunchy addition to a forkful of pork.
While the barbeque is the main attraction at Gogi, there are also some noteworthy sideshows. The fried dumplings are crisp and golden brown on the outside and stuffed with a savory mixture of meatthey're as good as any I've had in Chicago. If you dine at Gogi on a busy night, when it might take a bit longer for your barbeque to come out, keep your appetite at bay some pajeon, savory Korean pancakes. The seafood pajeon is a colorful treat. It's packed with so much fish and fresh green chives that it's more like fillings coated in batter than a pancake stuffed with fillings. I thoroughly enjoyed Gogi's pajeon, but I can't say it was better than the tofu scallion pancake at Jin Ju, the reigning champion of Korean pancakes in my book.
Gogi's cocktail list is short but interesting. In addition to a few American beers and wines, there are also a couple of Korean versions of each, as well as soju and sake. The soju is served without ceremony in a small bottle with a couple of shot glasses. I recommend ordering a Korean beer and adding a shot of soju to it, which is, I'm told on good authority, what the cool kids are doing these days.
Gogi is located at 6240 N. California Ave.; call 773-274-6669 or visit www.gogichicago.com .
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