Chef Andrew Lim riffs on his roots at welcoming River West newcomer Perilla.
Baby beets arrive topped with citrus, fermented strawberries, pistachios and goat cheese.
Andrew Lim’s parents, immigrants from Korea, wanted him to become a doctor. It was the dinner table, not the operating table, that turned out to be his destiny, but as executive chef-partner at new Korean-American restaurant Perilla, he’s caring for people in other ways.
On a recent Tuesday evening, Lim’s cozy River West restaurant, which opened in summer 2019 in the former San Soo Korean barbecue space, is packed with a diverse crowd. An older couple talks quietly at a two-top, while a lively group of college students hover over a long wooden grill table and a pair of off-duty parents feast sans toddler. The scene makes Lim smile, as it reflects exactly the sort of environment that he and Thomas Oh, a childhood friend and Perilla’s general manager and partner, aimed to create. “We want to communicate that, hey, we’re not that different from each other. We’re just people,” says Lim.
Likewise, Perilla’s menu is meant to be accessible, even for those uncertain about Korean food. Lim likes to say the menu is Korean-inspired, using a mix of both traditional and contemporary methods. Diners unfamiliar with the cuisine can ease in with dishes such as baby beets ($12) topped with bits of citrus, fermented strawberries and crunchy pistachios (traditional) along with toothsome hunks of goat cheese (nontraditional). Shredded sauteed Brussels sprouts ($12), cooked with anchovy brown butter, Parmesan and walnuts, also incorporate anchovies, an ingredient that lends umami to many Korean dishes.
Perilla’s take on an Old-Fashioned features soju and Apologue persimmon liqueur.
An unexpected bestseller at Perilla is the steamed egg ($10), a not-so-traditional twist on a Korean egg custard. Like a souffle, it rises high above the pot and is then topped with sesame and shaved scallions, then rushed out before it deflates. Meant to guide first-time guests through Korean cuisine, Perilla’s popular Feast menu, available for two or four ($70 or $130), offers choices from various sections of the menu and comes with rice, soybean paste, scallion salad and banchan. “This allows you to have a much fuller experience than you would if you’d just guessed your way through,” says Lim.
Any meal at a Korean restaurant must include grilled meat (don’t miss the marinated short rib), but here you don’t have to leave smelling like it, thanks to an innovative ventilation system that filters all cooking odors through a system beneath the tables. Lim, who was born in Chicago, visited Korea for the first time last year. He says his eye-opening trip inspired much of Perilla, named after a hearty Asiatic herb in the mint family that thrives in whatever soil it’s planted in—a little like the chef himself. “A lot of older Korean guests come in and say, ‘I’ve had this my whole life, but this is how I would have loved to have had it growing up,’” says Lim. “It’s validation that we’re doing something right.” 401 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312.243.3344
Photography by: Photography by Tim McCoy