Chinatown Kimchi

Ahjoomah's Apron brings Korean to Chinatown

We've eaten curry, cumin and fish sauce in Chinatown, but until Ahjoomah's Apron arrived, never kimchi.

The new Korean BYOB is the neighborhood's first, and an exemplary source of fermented cabbage and gochujang (Korean chile paste) close to Downtown and the South Side.

Ahjoomah's menu reads like a greatest-hits compilation of Korean cuisine. But there are no tabletop grills in the sleek, bright restaurant. Kalbi ($18) and bulgogi ($11) emerge from the kitchen caramelized and juicy, accompanied by rice and a half-dozen light, fresh panchan, the small side dishes that accompany the meat.

Though satisfying, the grilled meat pales in comparison to the brightness of stir-fried pork belly and kimchi ($9), a composition that achieves that elusive balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet. Thin slices of meat and curls of cabbage are flecked with sweet, spicy chile paste, with green chiles and scallion greens punctuating the dish's rosy hue.

You'd do well to add a Korean seafood pancake ($8) to the table too, its springy wedges packed with shrimp, mussels and squid, ready to be dunked in chile-flecked vinegar-soy dipping sauce.

We'll be returning soon to try two new Chinese-influenced noodle dishes appearing on the menu imminently: zhajiangmian, chewy wheat-flour noodles with sauce made from fermented soybean paste, and jjampong, seafood-noodle soup.