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Even if your mood isn't somehow elevated by the 11 varieties of dumplings to be had at Ttowa, you have no chance at all if a certain hyperkinetic waitress suddenly bursts into "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" in Korean as she goes about her tasks. That was the scene last Friday night, after three of us tooled up to Morton Grove to find this tiny and very worthy spot utterly deserted and said waitress appearing utterly unconcerned about it.
Ttowa is hardly the only Korean restaurant around town that exhibits a high degree of specialization, and these dumplings, or mandu, can be highly specific themselves--a few of them differ only in preparation, whether steamed, panfried, or deep-fried. My favorites here are the simple steamed mandu that come with a delicate wrapper so translucent you can see the filling inside. The combination gul mandu, (pictured) comes with three pork filled varieties: kimchi, gogi (stuffed with vegetables and japchae) and yetnal (with tofu and vegetables). They're a terrific value at $6.99, as are the wang mandu, fat pork, vegetable, and japchae meatballs encased in a steamed bunlike exterior ($5.99). Less successful are the deep-fried maewun mandu, not unlike fried ravioli, with a sweet-spicy sauce; these are either understuffed or the filling has somehow contracted in the roiling hell of the deep fryer.
Ttowa also fries chicken, and anticipating something similar to the irresistible varieties pushed by places like Great Sea and Crisp, we tried a combination of plain battered fried chicken and yangnyum, dressed in a sweet, spicy sauce. These weren't quite up to the level of the dumplings, but they tipped our bill over the $20 mark, which meant we were eligible for a free extra order of dumplings--a winter special. We tried a steamed, sweet red bean paste number called potjjinbbang. Like the wang mandu, these are substantial, and come a half dozen to an order. A little bite goes a long way.
We missed a few others: there's a tofu- and vegetable-stuffed "Wellbeing mandu" for vegetarians, and three dumpling soups, as well as a selection of popular non-dumpling-based Korean dishes such as kimchi fried rice and bulgogi. The small, house-made panchan selection is outstanding, particularly some lovely, fresh bitter and spicy dandelion greens.
And as I said, the service here is superfriendly and enthusiastic. If you're a non-Asian who demonstrates even a rudimentary facility with chopsticks, you'll be treated like a particularly amusing and talented houseguest.Ttowa Dumpling House, 5844 W. Dempster, Morton Grove, 847-967-0066