Sunday, February 1, 2015

Belly Shack, Belly Taqueria, Half Acre Beer Dinner

I really like to go to special dinners hosted by various restaurants, not only because it let's the restaurant's kitchens the chance to explore and try different things which allows the diners to get to try things that may not be on the regular menu.  At these dinners diners also frequently get to try new beers and wines that may not yet be available to the public.  The thing I like about these special dinners though, is that frequently, industry people come to them, and it gives me the chance to meet some of the people that work behind the scenes and learn about things that might be in the works elsewhere.  I attended a beer dinner at Belly Shack for Half Acre Brewery recently called Belly Taqueria, which allowed the restaurant, which serves a fast food fusion of Latin and Asian cuisine, a chance to explore more of their Mexican side.  I really like Belly Shack and have been there many times.  I have even been filmed there (a quick shot of me eating showing the atmosphere of the place) when Chicago's Best was filming there for there Best Balls episode.  I am not sure how it has managed to be written up by me in normal circumstances.  The place is kind of small and has an Urban/Industrial Cool kind of look to it.  The place has cement floors and steel furniture with fake graffiti on the interior walls.  The front of the space is glass and the windows extend about halfway along the two adjoining sides.  There are four tops tables on either side of the room and a large communal table that will seat about 12 in the center of the room.  The counter for ordering is at the back of the room.  Under normal circumstances, people will place their orders at the counter, be given a numbered piece of angleiron, and find a place to sit.  The food is brought out as it's made.   For this visit, as there was a set menu, I didn't have to worry about ordering and I was seated at the communal table.  The beers we would be drinking were displayed at the front of the communal table actually next to where I was sitting.  We started things off with Half Acre's Pony Lager which was pretty good.  I am generally not a fan of lagers, because many have too little flavor for me. The Pony is modeled after a German Pilsener (as opposed to an American Pilsener like Miller high Life, PBR, or Budweiser) and was pretty flavorful.  After enjoying our first beer for a few minutes, our first course arrived.  It was a Beef Tendon Pozole with Pho Broth, Hominy, and Pork.  Neither Pho or Pozole are things that are served at Belly Shack, but it the combination falls right in line with what they normally serve.  The soup was warm, spicy, and very flavorful with a lot of meat and hominy to chew on.  It was very good and a nice start to the dinner. 
While the first course was served individually, the next several courses were served family style.  They were serving a lot of food, so I imagine that it made it easier for service.  The next course was the salad, which was actually sort of two salads in one. On one side was Chayote which is like a Mexican Summer Squash, and on the other side was Arugula.  A Poblano Peanut Dressing was served over both sides, although only the arugula seemed to have sliced peanuts.  Crispy Rice Noodles topped everything and provided a nice crunch.  It was fresh and flavorful with a little spice and lots of textures.
The next course was brought out on a large platter, but could actually be eaten easily without dividing anything up.  It was a sope, kind of like a thick tortilla with a rim.  It was topped with Braised Pork, Pineapple, Pea Shoots, and Kimchi.  Everything about this was good and it was one of my favorite dishes.  The sope was crispy and flavorful, the pork was tender, and the pineapple provided some sweetness.  The kimchi was both sour and spicy and the pea shoots provided a fresh vegetal flavor.

For our next course, we were served tacos that we had to build ourselves.  We were given fresh soft, corn tortillas, and on two separate plates we were given Nopales and Bean Curd on one plate and Oranges and Blood Oranges on another with Queso Fresco.  I built my tacos with everything, and while I don't regularly eat vegetarian tacos, I am not averse to having vegetarian food (especially since there was already a lot of meat with the meal), and the tacos were very fresh, and flavorful.

After all of this, we still hadn't gotten to the main course, this came next with a main course and two sides.  We were served some Roasted Chicken in Green Curry Mole Sauce with Dirty Rice, and Refried Lentils for sides.  This felt very Mexican to me despite the curry and the refried lentils instead of pinto beans.  The Asian ingredients added to the flavor of the dish(es), but it was so close to something that you would find in a Mexican household that I totally would have built this into a taco if there had been any tortillas left.

At this point, I was pretty full and I would have been happy ending things here, but the only thing left was dessert, and dessert was a must have.  We started out with Horchata, the sweetened rice milk flavored with cinnamon that is a favorite of mine.  I would have been fine with this, but it was paired with Churros with Soft-Serve Vanilla Ice Cream and Horchata Caramel.  They both went together very well and it was a great way to finish dinner.

I like both Belly Shack and Half Acre Brewery and will continue partaking in both.  The dinner was great and the food and drink were paired well, but the service and the company I had at the table was very good as well, and I predict that this will go down as one of my favorite dinners of the year.  

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