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Best Restaurant to Die in the Past Year St. Louis 2009 - In Soo

Sad to say, but several excellent, unique St. Louis restaurants could have occupied this space this year: Revival, McLozzi Deli, the Pitted Olive. Yet the RFT has always had a special place in our heart for the University City Chinese and Korean restaurant In Soo and its long-time owner, In Soo Jung. What distinguished In Soo from the legion of Chinese restaurants in the area? The food, of course, each dish the Platonic ideal of your craving: The hot-and-sour soup was exactly as hot and sour as you needed to defeat what ailed you, the kung pao chicken exactly as crisp and fiery as you had dreamt. You learned to love not just the sweet or savory or spicy satisfactions of your favorite Chinese dish, but how the little details — the perfect ring of chopped scallion, just enough dried red chiles to break your brow, pot stickers browned a rich walnut hue and no darker — added to the experience. Above all, though, what distinguished In Soo was In Soo herself. She ran the dining room in her own inimitable fashion, something like an amalgam of Carol Brady and Margaret Thatcher, showering regulars with love but criticizing regulars and newcomers alike for how they held their chopsticks or bags of carryout food ("Straight bottom!"). Once she offered a friend a pressure-point scalp massage to ease a hangover headache. (It made the headache worse, but it's the thought that counts.) In Soo Jung and her family sold the restaurant to new owners at the beginning of the year. The place is now Asian Kitchen. It joins the dozens of Chinese restaurants in the St. Louis area. Some we like; some we love. But if none of these can replace In Soo in our hearts, we at least know that when we visit them, we will hold our chopsticks correctly and take our leftovers home in a bag held upright, one hand underneath for support, just as In Soo Jung taught us.

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