Dave Park has worked in some of the best kitchens in town. After a brief stint in Westmont on his own, he's now upping the ante at Jeong, which, despite its name and the chef's heritage, is NOT a Korean restaurant.
"I would say it's a soul of Korean food, or soul of Korean cuisine with a heart of an American growing up here," said Park.
Mackerel sashimi is accented with puffed rice and green tea; a bit of chopi - a relative to sichuan pepper - is added for its numbing characteristics, while a pool of vinegar and lemon-laced gochujang offers sweet-spicy-tanginess.
Beets are roasted and tossed in a tofu-perilla dressing, they're also accented with tiny herbs and crispy wedges of fried tofu skin that have been seasoned with Japanese togarashi spice.
EXTRA COURSE: Desserts at Jeong
Tteokbokki is a common street snack in Korea, often eaten from cones with toothpicks. But these long, slender, chewy rice cakes typically have something else going for them.
"And I vividly remember loving the cabbages that were in it, and that's why I wanted to bring the charred cabbage effect, because I thought smoke would add a lot to the tteokbokki course," he said.
So once rice cakes are crisp and heated through with gochujang, charred cabbage puree is piped on the plate, followed by some salted, charred cabbage. Rice cakes go on top of that, then for garnish, some pickled mustard seeds and a couple of marinated quail eggs.
Cod is another star - gently cooked with Japanese seaweed and mussels, crowned with fish roe. And meat lovers will love Park's take on short ribs.
"Essentially think pot roast. It's braised short ribs. And we marinate it for like 24 hours, low and slow in the oven at like 290 for like five hours. Until it's soft and succulent, and we take that and we press it, and we grill it on the bincho," he said.
That's the binchotan, a portable grill with Japanese charcoal. The short rib is finished here, over high heat, then basted in braising juices and heated in the oven.
"In this case, instead of just doing poached carrots, we're making a veloute out of it," said Park.
After the veloute, the beef, the sauce and some grilled turnips, plus some soy-pickled carrots and a giant leaf of iceberg lettuce that's been pickled in makgeolli - the ubiquitous Korean milky-white sparkling rice wine.
"We're just kind of picking apart the ingredients, and just enhancing them a little bit," he said.
Park definitely references some of his Korean heritage, and taste memories as a kid, but don't expect 100% Korean restaurant. He also draws from his fine dining experience which shows up on the menu as well.
1460 W. Chicago Ave.