In Soo Jung, circa 2002
In Soo Jung is no longer the proprietor of the University City restaurant that bears her name. In Soo
(8423 Olive Boulevard
) is under new ownership. The menu hasn't changed, but for countless fans of the Chinese-Korean restaurant, the experience will never be the same.
I don't go as far back with In Soo as many of you likely do, but it was one of the first restaurants with which my wife and I fell in love when we moved to St. Louis six years ago. The hot-and-sour soup, the kung pao chicken, the crispy eggplant: We loved everything we had there, and we knew that, if In Soo never learned our names, she certainly remembered our faces.
My favorite memory: As my wife and I were preparing to leave after lunch one day, I was rather carelessly dangling in one hand the bag containing our leftovers. "Straight bottom!" yelled In Soo. I frowned. She sighed, pointed at the bag and then positioned her hand, palm up, to support the bottom of an imaginary bag. "Straight bottom. Or all the food will spill over." She gave my wife a look as if to say, "How do you live with this fool?" and then broke into a big grin. To this day, if my wife or I says, "Straight bottom," we both crack up (and I might still blush a little).
's annual Best Of issue has awarded In Soo several times
over the years, but I think the best way to sum up the experience is a passage from a review
by former RFT
restaurant critic Jill Posey-Smith:
...the awe-inspiring In Soo, famed for her cantankerous micromanagement of the dining experience, swooped down to catch us in a mad welcoming embrace. Hugs were standard that evening, and the steady squeezing of long-lost regulars kept her too busy to devote herself to her trademark persecutions of the patrons. Astonishingly, she only yelled at us once (taking apparent exception to Stingray's having draped her jacket over her chair), but it was music to my ears; my crab-cake angst vanished instantly.
Let us now meditate on the Posey-Smith family motto: In Soo conquers all.
Their menu may be divided more or less into two categories, lacquery and savory. The reader will have deduced that by lacquery I mean sweetish and glossy; of these dishes there are an abundance at In Soo. They feature sauces -- thick, flirty tinctures with the resonance of porcelain glazes -- that sparkle like witty conversation. They are not inhibited, but neither are they debauched. Twinges of heat from chile pods check their insouciance just before it descends into depravity, with refined results.