Even though not everyone has a firm grasp of Korean food, Jennifer Kim's goal is simply to cook food that would make her family proud.
When Kim planned her new restaurant, called Passerotto and tucked into a busy block on the North Side, she wanted to combine her Korean heritage with some of her professional cooking experience, which involved Italian food.
"I wouldn't say it's a Korean-Italian restaurant, it's definitely 100 percent Korean," she said.
But when you see her dokbokki - typically a late-night snack of rice cakes in a sweet-and-spicy Korean chili sauce, you realize immediately the rules can be bent.
You don't see a tender lamb ragu with root vegetables very often in a Korean restaurant.
You also don't see the typical rice cakes seared in a blazing hot pan after they're boiled.
"Very much in the style of gnocchi, because traditionally with rice cakes, how those are made, when you make dokbokki, they're just lightly stir-fried," she said.
But the combo works, she says, because the sweet-spicy flavors mimic the Korean original.
"In terms of flavor profiles, it's very much in line with what I had when I was eight or nine years old," she said.
Her tartare is also different, but similar. Unctuous lamb saddle is topped with a soy-cured egg yolk, then some cheese plus delicate cucumbers and Asian pears
A few rice poofs are set next to it for scooping.
"The rice poofs are just dehydrated rice sheets and once you pop them in the fryer they just puff right up," said Kim.
Then there is sunduboo, a traditional seafood stew, but the use of carefully-sourced calamari, shrimp, clams and mussels is a bit outside the norm. The flavor base, however, is very much Korean, including housemade tofu.
"Has tons of gochugaru, uses anchovy stock, the soft tofu...I think once you taste it, it's very much, is sunduboo, it just looks a little bit different," she said.
The thing that doesn't look any different, however, is the banchan, or side dishes. Ranging from cukes and radishes, to potato salad or standard Napa cabbage kimchi with bean sprouts, Kim and her staff make everything themselves.
"You can ask any Korean person and they say how do you measure how good a Korean restaurant is and the answer is always their banchan. There are no Italian influences whatsoever because it's very important that that aspect of the dining experience remains 100% Korean," said Kim.
So even though at its core, Passerotto is a Korean restaurant, one thing that makes it a little bit different is the ambitious wine list, with all of the selections chosen to go so well with food.
EXTRA COURSE: Passerotto's interesting wine and beer options - definitely not the typical lineup for a Korean restaurant
5420 N. Clark St., Chicago