Nestled in the foothills of the Chicago mountains, on the corners of Lincoln and California Avenues lies Woo Chon. Woo Chon is a traditional Korean BBQ place where almost all the patrons use chopsticks properly and drinks soju like a Russian death row prisoner drinks vodka. I found this place by accident many years ago in the first of the four times I have lived in Chicago. If you have never been here, I urge you to go. Nothing says “romantic charm” like a smoky restaurant connected by the side door of a shabby Korean grocery store. In case you are new to my writing style, that was absolutely dripping with sarcasm. Valentine's Day is the best time to go. You will probably have the entire place to yourself, so great service is guaranteed. But, if you do go there for Valentine's Day, you will probably have a very angry partner on your hands. As I was trying my absolute best to convince my first wife to divorce me, that's where we ended up. I mention angry partner because, well, mission accomplished.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would have an even angrier woman at me than the boiling wrath of Irish fury who was sitting across from me at the table. I mean, this night I had achieved the Everest of spousal fury. She is sitting in a dingy Korean BBQ restaurant when she was anticipating a really nice dinner. This is the same woman who told me if I ever ate kimchi not to expect any action later that night. In the last years of my marriage, I may have surpassed a native Korean in kimchi consumption. She thought she was punishing me, I was using it as a perfect excuse not to be close to the scariest woman in the world! Every time she would ask me in frustration why I was eating so much kimchi, I would always tell her "Stop being racist. I can't help it. It's in my DNA."
However, I digress. As we sit down, along comes the vision of darkness who would become my nemesis to this day. It started out nicely enough, but went hyper sour very quickly. This short, dumpy, older Korean waitress comes to our table. I don't think she was paying attention at first because she blurts out some Korean equivalent of "Hi, welcome to Bennigan's! My name is Rachel, can I start you out with some beverages?" The words coming out of her mouth sounded like she was being softly stabbed with a very dull rubber knife. Lots of grunting and noises that were probably words, but have absolutely no meaning to someone who speaks literally not one word of the language. So, I don't say anything, which at this point, I think she started to scan my face for telltale signs of mental disabilities. I look EXACTLY like someone who should have been responding back to her "2 sojus, make it quick, I'm on death row", but all she gets back from me is a terrified “I really wish I knew what you just said” look on my face. Then she turns to my wife, the Human Pain Valkyrie. The waitress, who later on I named Satan's Asshole, or Sasha for short, has now realized she is not a Korean woman. She is now faced with the worst fate any bad Korean server can ever experience: A retarded Korean and a white woman. At the same time.
Most Korean restaurants have pictures to help morons like me and non-Koreans who don't know anything about Korean food. Ahhh! But, Woo Chon is not the welcoming kind of place to invite outsiders. It's an insider's kind of establishment. So, no pictures on the menu. Thankfully, there were some English subtitles, but they didn't exactly make a lot of effort to follow any vocabulary I ever learned in English class. “Many legged fish cakepan,” I thought might be crab pancake? Turns out it was squid. Or, octopus. Or, cuttlefish. Something that as soon as you put it in your mouth you realize, "Houston, we've got a problem.” About twenty minutes later, Sasha storms off with what I think is an acceptable and cautious first time Korean dinner selection. HPV (you see what I did there? Because, I was starting to think I was never going to get rid of her) is sitting there seething and I'm just hoping this restaurant doesn't charge for second helpings of kimchi because I'm gonna set the record for most amount eaten in one setting.
Interesting tidbit about Korean cuisine that I learned the hard way. They use scissors as a dining utensil. A pair of scissors gets slammed on the table and I was thinking what clever multitaskers Koreans are to combine meals with arts and crafts. I'm about to start making my famous napkin snowflakes when I look over at another table and realize those scissors were meant to cut the meat. The other table was looking at me, starting to agree on the cliché “all beauty no brains.” A lot of head shaking and laughter was emanating from that table. Fine! No snowflakes for you!
How I know that there is no God is because: If He was a merciful deity, he would have made the food awful. A one time experience to be laughed about years later, right? Wrong. This food was incredible. I mean just amazing tastes and flavors. It was so fucking good! And I can cook the meat however way I want! Coals in the middle of the table that are almost as hot as HPV's temper! Literally, one of the best meals I have ever had. 55 little side dishes were being thrown down on the table at breakneck speed. I didn't even know what to try when one was put down and then almost instantly removed. From the Vesuvius Pompeii architecture dig arrive the oldest and rustiest forks I'd ever seen. But, the food was so good that it's worth the screaming I was about to receive as soon as dinner was over and we got into the car. It's worth Sasha's racist wrath of the Korean traitor who married a white woman and can't speak my biological tongue. Hell, it's almost worth getting in the car right now and driving 1200 miles for some bulgogi.
So, began Sasha's and my little war that lasted almost 9 years. I got divorced shortly afterwards. Do you know why divorces are so expensive? Because they're worth it. Ha ha ha. I jumped from the frying pan into the fire by quickly getting engaged to another Irish woman, a lovely lass from Donegal, who lovingly threatened me that I needed to make more money to keep her. So off to Ireland. Then back to Chicago. Off to Barcelona, back to Chicago. Off to Houston, back to Chicago. After breaking off the engagement and before I met my wife, I went through a period I like to think of as Derek's Man whore Days. And what better establishment to introduce all of these non Korean beauties? You guessed it, Woo Chon! I swear as soon as I walked in, Sasha would run back to the kitchen and check her Merrill Lynch 401k to see how long she had to put up with this shit. You invested in Enron, ho, you're stuck with me forever!
The last time I was at Woo Chon, I didn't see Sasha working there. I finally understood how Jerry must have felt when Tom wasn't around anymore. My tormentor was not there. See, yeah, I loved the food, but I came to enjoy seeing how mad I could make Sasha. A new, very nice server, by Korean standards, (which means she didn't spit in my food that I know of) served us and somehow the meal wasn't the same. I had hyped up this dinner to my current dining companion at the time, regaling her with war stories of past epic clashes between me and Sasha. So, no Sasha meant that I had totally inflated an entertaining and hostile dining experience.
I'm not sure what became of Sasha because no one speaks fucking English there and they didn't know I called her Sasha. And, hell would have frozen over before she would’ve asked me my name, or told me hers. I never thought I would miss her. If looks could kill I'd be six feet under face. I never imagined that such naked hostility would be thought of with a wistful, “Ahhh the good old days” vibe. Because of Woo Chon, I learned about Korean BBQ and how good it is. Because of Woo Chon, I became more open to experiencing things about my native land. Because of Woo Chon, I started to become proud of something Korean. So, actually and honestly, to Woo Chon, thanks for everything including Sasha.