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Ttowa Korean bistro lives up to its name

Cinnamrice pancakes are served with scoop green teice cream red bean sauce. TtowKorean Bistro ArlingtHeights is subject restaurant review photographed

Cinnamon rice pancakes are served with a scoop of green tea ice cream and red bean sauce. Ttowa Korean Bistro in Arlington Heights is a subject of a restaurant review, photographed on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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161 W. Wing St.,
Arlington Heights
(847) 749-4493;

Prices: Appetizers, $5-$10; entrees, $9-$18

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Try: Discover Korean
cuisine, one bite at a time. Start with a seafood scallion pancake, try a sushi roll from the kimbap bar, then branch out to sizzling stir-fried squid or the traditional bulgogi (marinated rib eye).

Tips: Reservations accepted. BYOB; no corkage charges. Conversation-friendly. Carryout. Catering. Lunch specials.

In a bite: Ttowa brings authentic Korean cuisine to Arlington Heights along with a friendly, knowledgeable staff adept at working with newcomers to the cuisine.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor

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Ttowa, the Korean bistro that opened recently in downtown Arlington Heights, bears a name that translates in English as “come again.” And after one visit, that’s exactly what we’re ready to do.

Decor at the 48-seat restaurant is low key. It’s the food that takes priority. Executive Chef Dong Ju Park’s menu — a mix of traditional and contemporary dishes — keeps in mind newcomers tentatively exploring the cuisine as well as devotees well acquainted with what it has to offer.

If the seven-month-old Ttowa has a familiar ring, it’s because Park previously ran a similarly dubbed establishment (Ttowa Dumpling House) before pulling up stakes and making the northwesterly move from Morton Grove.

Look for staples like mandoo, or mandu: dumplings stuffed with pork, beef, shrimp or chicken. Think Polish pierogi, Japanese gyoza or Chinese jiaozi. Diners also get to sample all manner of kimchi, a Korean mainstay of seasoned fermented vegetables that sometimes pack a built-in spicy kick.

In addition, the menu offers a selection of bite-size kimbap, the Korean twist on Japanese sushi. Diners will find basic rolls such as spicy tuna, yellowtail tuna and California that go for $4 to $6, while specialty maki ($8-$14) include beef or pork belly. You can’t go wrong with Ttowa’s signature kimbap: steamed white rice with bulgogi (sirloin), carrot, spinach and fish cake — all contained in a seaweed wrap.

Entrees are sizable and, priced from $9 to $18, budget-friendly.

A recent meal started with a shared order of a dinner-plate-size seafood pancake known as hae mul pajean, served with a homemade soy dipping sauce. Every bite offered a savory taste of squid, scallion and shrimp.

Accompanying entrees was a bowl of mildly seasoned pork bone and potato soup (gam ja tang) that proved satisfying with its bits of meat and napa cabbage. Assorted kimchi also joined the party; the small plates included pickled cabbage, radish, cucumber and bean sprouts.

At our table, two main courses passed with flying colors. A tablemate’s richly flavored bulgogi (the term means “fire meat”) featured grilled thin-sliced marinated rib-eye. This Korean staple came with mashed acorn squash, asparagus and rice.

For me, the piece de resistance took the form of an order of sizzling stir-fried squid. Reputedly one of the most popular spicy dishes in Korean cuisine, ojingeo, as it is known, was served on a hot iron platter. Chile sauce imparted an extra burst of flavor on the calamari, carrots and zucchini while subsequently raising my internal thermostat. One complaint: too much time on the burner compromised some of the squid’s tenderness.

Two further options included braised beef short rib and spicy grilled chicken. But a diner at a nearby table heartily offered an unsolicited recommendation of the pork belly, one of his favorites. Bo ssam (char-grilled braised pork belly) serves two diners .

Ttowa has only one dessert, but it’s a winner. It consists of a cinnamon-accented rice pancake called ho dduk. A scoop of green tea ice cream and a swirl of sweetened red bean sauce puts an ambrosial finishing touch on this treat.

Alcohol isn’t sold here, but diners are welcome to supply their own beer or wine. Alternatively, there’s a good selection of flavored teas.

Tom Witom is a local free-lance writer.

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