There is focused intensity back in the kitchen at Agit Bar & Grill in a Niles strip mall. This Korean bar has lots of booze-friendly dishes, including buldak, or "fire chicken;" which has a sweet-spicy marinade, that's mitigated by a blanket of cheese that gets torched from above. The dish is found in several Korean restaurants in the region.
In Ravenswood, Dancen is a favorite of first generation Korean kids. Their grill is out in the dining room. You can see them cutting up chickens, then grilling them for about 20 minutes, before completely submerging them in a spicy sauce with a bit of sugar. The cut-up chicken is tossed with a pair of tongs, then plated next to the charred legs on a cast-iron plate. As that sugar burns off on the grill, the chicken is brought to the back kitchen, where it gets an even coating of mozzarella. Just before being popped into an oven to gently melt it. The combo goes oh-so-well with a Korean beer.
EXTRA COURSE: Traditional stew at San Soo Korean BBQ
In River West, Andrew Lim has added a buldak to the menu at San Soo Korean BBQ. If you choose not to grill, you can try one of the spiciest but also most satisfying buldaks in town.
"I put a lot of habanero in it, serranos, jalapenos, and then there is this capsaicin powder that we use as well. Super, super spicy," Lim said.
Sugar and salt are added to chicken thighs. Then that capsaicin powder, some gojugaru, a Korean chili flake, and a bit of soy sauce. His pounded habaneros, serranos and jalapenos add the serious kick; which is balanced by a bit of fructose syrup for sweetness. The spicy-sweet Korean favorite, gochujang, is added as well, then everything gets a thorough mixing and it's left to marinate overnight.
Next day, the thighs are cooked in a skillet, along with a few shards of white onion. And after the chicken is plated over a bed of white onions, comes the cheese. Chihuahua cheese, that is.
"We love queso fundido, and that's the cheese they use. And it pulls really, really well, looks really nice on the plate," Lim said.
Lim pulls out his torch and blasts the top of the cheese while the bottom is simultaneously cooked from below. Once it's done it's immediately brought to the table. Where he says you can treat it like the star that it is, rather than relegate it to side dish status.
"I like to eat it as a main dish," Lim said.
Just because San Soo is a Korean barbecue doesn't mean you have to get the short ribs or the pork belly all the time. Those are fun, but I would say try something a little bit different. Get a stew - a jigae - or the fire chicken. You're not gonna be disappointed.
Agit Bar & Grill
9098 W. Golf Rd., Niles
5114 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
San Soo Korean BBQ
401 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago