Nearly every Korean joint offers the same lineup: grilled beef, fiery kimchi and flat, seafood pancakes. But at Ttowa, you'll find options that are a little different. In fact, once you try three of the signature dishes, you just might be hooked on Korean food for good.
There are certainly plenty of Korean options in the Northwest suburbs. But few of them take creative license like Ttowa, which occupies a quiet corner of downtown Arlington Heights. There are familiar sights, like maki rolls, done up with Korean ingredients, but three dishes are worth noting, mainly due to their ability to bridge tradition and innovation.
Take the bo ssam, a typical Korean feast featuring pork belly.
"It's usually wrapped in steamed cabbage, and you have condiments that come with it as well," said Rhan Whang, Ttoaw.
He begins by poaching the belly in a stock pot with soybean paste, radishes and onions for a couple of hours. Once removed from the stock, they're cut into smaller hunks, so he can saute them in a pan with butter and bone marrow stock. Finally, they get grilled, just to sear the outside, adding a bit of crunch and texture. After caramelizing the outside layer, they're removed and sliced into manageable squares. On a giant, rectangular plate come the condiments: crunchy, spicy radish kimch, sweet soybean paste, salty tiger shrimp puree and a small mound of rice powder.
"Normally it's with a briny, salty thing, but here we use Tiger shrimp and grind it up and make it our own way," said Whang.
While herbal sesame leaves and crunchy lettuce are set on the plate, Whang makes a quick garnish of sauteed garlic, sliced red and green jalapenos and sesame oil, which is strewn over the sliced pork belly. At the table, you begin with each of the lettuces, then grab a piece of the pork with the cooked garlic and peppers; set that into the lettuce; grab a dab of soybean paste.. then a little bit of the shrimp puree and apply that to the pork; finally, a pinch of rice powder. Wrap it all up and enjoy one of the most delicious combinations anywhere.
Two other solid renditions from the kitchen include a seafood-packed egg casserole called eggjjim, served bubbling and piping hot, directly from the stove.
"With a little shrimp, squid, jalapenos, some scallions," said Whang.
And finally, the dakkalbi: sauteed-and-grilled chicken thighs, slightly caramelized, served with a heaping mound of acorn and hubbard squash, plus some sauteed cactus strips. It's a bit of Mexico-meets-Korea, but it works.
"Trying to introduce different flavors you know," Whang said.
A reminder on the bo ssam: it could easily feed three or four, so plan accordingly.
161 W Wing St
(between Davis St & Vail Ave)
Arlington Heights, IL 60005