Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling to chronicle what's happening in North America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in North America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
What's the latest must-try restaurant in Chicago? I'd name the understated charmer that opened in May in Avondale, a swiftly gentrifying community on the city's north side. Top Chef Season Nine contender Beverly Kim and her husband, Johnny Clark, wade into the next-gen fusion fray with persuasive originality. Their place looks low-key, with a familiar, comfortable mix of brick and light woods and a bar-cum-communal table that runs more than half of the restaurant's length.
The menu at first seduces with a similar folksiness. Most customers begin by ripping into Kim and Clark's irresistible version of bing, the Chinese flatbread, given a steakhouse makeover with baked potato dough, bacon, scallions, and sour cream-enriched butter smeared on the side of the plate. Snack-size portions of kimchi, pickles, and watermelon radishes marinated in soy and sake attune the taste buds to Asia.
But the mingling of cultures in larger plates is more deliciously inscrutable. Translucent curls of zucchini and summer squash cover a giant square variation of a mandu, Korea's meat-filled dumplings that aren't so different from Eastern European pierogi or kreplach. A slick of Lebanese labneh underneath bridges the culinary traditions that stretch the breadth of the ancient Silk Road trade routes. The scent of pristine basil leaves scattered over halibut rises up from the plate like summer captured and aromatized.