On my way back from Madison, I decided to drive back to the Chicago area and stay in the Arlington Heights area again. Arriving at about lunchtime, I decided to drop by a place that was recommended to me by the same person who mentioned Johnnie's Beef and Peep's, a place that supposedly made their own Mandu by hand called Ttowa. I did a quick check before I left and noticed that the restaurant had moved to sort of the downtown/old town area of Arlington Heights, which looked nothing like the strip mall dominated area where my hotel was located, along with Mitsuwa and other shops.
Under a large multi-level building stood the little shop.......
It just seemed a bit out of place looking, but as I entered I could see the kim bap (aka sushi bar) in the back of the restaurant, which was spartan but very clean looking.
A very nice and friendly young man greeted me upon entering the restaurant and guided me to a seat. Unfortunately, I decided upon visiting during lunch and the menu was limited to starters, various Bi Bim Bap, and what they called their "Boonshik" (which if I recall means something like comfort food - homey restaurant or something like that) combo. I didn't find out until later that if I'd have wanted the Ssam Gyup Sal (pork belly) or Bo Ssam that they'd have made it for me.
I went with a combo which featured Dduk Bokki (I choose kimchi dduk bokki), Kim Bap, and the traditional mandoo ($9).
While waiting for my food, the young man, by the name of Terry came by and chatted. Terry had returned to Arlington Heights from New York, where he was working as a restaurant manager to help his parents who decided to move their restaurant to this space. Because of the varied clientele, he described the food as "Korean with a twist", which automatically sent alarms ringing thru my cabeza. I've always approached places that do "fusion" with caution....there's much more "con-fusion" than good fusion out there. After all, it's one thing to approach a cuisine with respect and understanding, another to throw almost disparate flavors together in a mish-mash. Though I do really enjoy when it works and after all, I'm from Hawaii...home of chili-spaghetti-hot dogs with rice and mac salad.
The panchan got me kinda worried......
Other than the baechu kimchi (napa cbaage) everything was on the very mild side. But I changed my mind when the bone soup arrived, which, when some salt was added, coated my belly and just made me feel all warm and comfortable.
Soon after the rest of the meal arrived.
The Kim Bap was, well, Kim Bap....I'm not much of a fan as I usually see it as second rate maki-sushi. At least this wasn't stuffed silly with rice and nori was crisp instead of rubbery. The mandoo was quite good, the filling was nice and had good flavor and the wrappers were nice with a good pull, but not brittle and overly sticky.
What was the real winna' was the dduk bokki.
Man this was good....the only way I can describe this is by how rich it was....it was almost like a dduk bokki bolognese, but had no meat in sight. The rice cakes had a perfect chew to them and while it wasn't very spicy, it had enough to let me know...... When I mentioned how nicely rich this was, Terry told me what made this so good, but made me promise not to tell, so I won't. Let me just say....this ain't vegetarian, ok?
As I was eating my meal, Terry approached my table and dropped this off saying, "I know you enjoy food, so this is for you on the house."
He seemed truly surprised when I said, "ah, it's a Wang Mandu." I told him this was the reason I came to Ttowa, but I didn't see this on the menu. This was very nice, the steamed bun fluffy, the filling substantial. And it is on the menu; I just didn't see it....old age you know.
As my meal was ending, Terry came by with a cup of tea, telling me: "thanks for visiting all the way from San Diego."
You know, Terry doesn't know I have a food blog. Nor did he see me take any photos (there's a reason my photos aren't very spectacular I guess), those were done while he was tending to other customers (I counted 70% Asian/30% not). He just thinks I'm someone from San Diego who enjoys eating. I believe he is a wonderful ambassador for his family's restaurant and makes me want to return. Not everything was a home run, but his attention and manner makes up for all the minor details.
161 W Wing St
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Mon-Thu 11:30 am - 9:30 pm
Fri-Sat 11:30 am - 10:30 pm