Saturday, October 31, 2015

Belly Q

I have met Chef Bill Kim on many occasions and have had and liked his food at many venues and many occasions.  I have been to his Asian Latin Street Food Fusion Restaurant, Belly Shack, his Pan-Asian Noodle Shop, Urban Belly, and have seen him at several benefits and special dinners, but I had not been to his premiere restaurant, bellyQ, a higher end spin on Korean Barbecue, until recently.  Admittedly, when it opened, I was a little upset because it took the place of a favorite restaurant of mine, one sixtyblue.  I like Bill Kim's food and the former Chef, Michael McDonald, moved on, so I got over it.  When I went to belly Q, though, I definitely still saw one sixtyblue.  If the same building is going to be used for two different venues, you will definitely see similarities.  With bellyQ, the color scheme was different, using tans and browns, the ceiling is unfinished, and the furniture is different, but the location of the kitchen, dining room and lounge are in the same place.  There are also grills located at the front of the restaurant so diners can grill their meats the way they might want them.  I came during happy hour and they had appetizer specials if you dined in the lounge, so that's where I ate.  I sat in a very comfortable high backed leather arm chair and used a side table as my dining table.  I started things off with a cocktail called a Kill Bill, Vol. 1 which used Sudachi Shochu (a Japanese distilled liquor using sudachi, a tart citrus fruit from Japan, and molasses), Passionfruit Drinking Vinegar, Mezcal, and Aloe.  It was tart and smoky with a little sweetness at the end and was very good.
For my appetizer, I went with a dish called Lamb Buns.  What I expected was a Bao, but that was not what I got at all.  What I got were essentially build your own sandwiches.  The buns were fluffy on the inside, but they were crispy and browned on the outside.  The Lamb was ground and grilled and served with Spiced Yogurt, Cucumber, Onion, Mint, and  Peppers.  It was spicy, very good, and kind of reminded me of something you might find in Greece or the Eastern Mediterranean.
For my entree, as this is a barbecue, I decided to go with my usual for barbecues and ordered Baby Back Ribs with Housemade Hoisin Barbecue Sauce, Green Onions, and Bacon Crumble.  The ribs were super tender and the hoisin barbecue sauce was sweet and spicy with a tang at the end.  While I am sure the ribs spent some time next to some flame, I have to think it spent most of its time in an oven.  Most meat that has spent significant time in a smoker, while it is tender, it has some texture to it, and the meat has some pull on the bones.  These ribs were fall off the bone tender and there really wasn't a pink ring on the meat.  It was pretty good, but it really wasn't something that you could compare to smoked ribs.
The side I ordered with the ribs was a combination of a barbecue standard and a Korean standard, Warm Kimchi Potato Salad. In addition to the Fermented Cabbage and the Potatoes, the salad included Horseradish, Onion, and Cilantro.  The potatoes were mild, but that was more than made up by the pungentness of the cabbage and the spiciness of the horseradish.  The combination referenced both barbecue and Asian food well without reducing influence of either group.
At this point, I was finished with my savory dishes and I would have normally expected my waitress to bring me a dessert menu.  I had looked at the dessert menu online and I noticed a lot of dishes included ice cream.  Several looked interesting, but I wasn't going to make a decision until I actually saw the menu.  My waitress/bartender did not bring me a dessert menu though.  What she did do though, was to come to my table, tell me I looked like I needed a dessert, and brought me a dessert that was not listed on on the dessert menu that I saw online.  She brought me what she told me was her favorite dessert which was a Bread Pudding topped with White Chocolate Mousse Ice Cream, Oatmeal, and Soy Salted Caramel.  If that wasn't good enough, she said that it was on her.  It would have been really good as it was, but free it was even better.

I really enjoyed my meal here.  Even without the discounts, the service was very good as was the food.  I really enjoyed myself and will be sure to bring friends.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

River Roast

As odd as it sounds, when considering a new restaurant, the name is a major consideration.  There is a restaurant that opened up last year on the Chicago River and had some bid names behind it (Restauranteur, Tony Mantuano and Chef, John Hogan).  Despite the chefs and their backgrounds, I found the name of the restaurant, River Roast, to be one of the most uninteresting names they could come up with.  Since it has opened, I had heard a lot of good things about the food, and I had had several of Chef John Hogan's Terrines at various benefits which were really good, but I just couldn't get past the name.  The restaurant is located on the north side of the Chicago River, and in fact, has a great patio view of the river.  While the entrance of the restaurant is at street level (obviously) the dining room is downstairs at river level.  We were not on the patio, but we were at a table inside that overlooked the patio.  The wall facing the patio was all glass and looked like it could be opened on warm days (The day on which we visited was definitely not warm, but there were still a few brave souls sitting on the patio).  Our table, like many of the tables in the place was a 4 top hi top and while we did manage, it was really too small for the amount of food that we ordered.  It could have folded out to make a bigger table, but as I said, we managed.  While Chef Hogan is known for his charcuterie, we started things out with a couple of things that were definitely not charcuterie, a Scotch Egg with Pickled Red Onions and Pickled Mustard Seed, and Shrimp and Crab Toast.  I really like Scotch Eggs and this one was done exceptionally well.  It starts with a boiled egg, this one was soft boiled.  It is then wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried.  It has a crispy crust with well cooked sausage and a flavorful egg in the middle.  The mustard and onions added some tartness to the dish which was very much enjoyed.  The Shrimp and Crab Toast was a mixture of finely chopped shrimp and crab with Avocado served on some nice crispy wedges of toast.

For our next selections, we went with Golden Gobbets, which were Crispy Fried Chicken Nuggets served with Honey, and Hogan's Charcuterie, which was the Chef's choice of Charcuterie.   The Golden Gobbets were served in a square basket lined with kraft paper (I imagine to soak up the extra grease) which sat on a board with a jar of golden honey.  They were crispy and tender, and had a great fried chicken flavor that had sweetness added when the honey was added.  The chicken was very good, so the honey was really unnecessary, but it did add to it when used lightly.  The charcuterie plate was a thing of beauty.  It contained 5 "cuts" of meat, Breseola, a dried and salted beef sausage, Head Cheese, a terrine containing scraps from the head of a calf or pig and set in aspic, a Pheasant Terrine, a Duck and Fig Terrine, and Pickled Veal Tongue.  In adition, it was served with Toasted Bread, Cranberries, Cornichons, and two types of mustard.  It was great.  The meats had a variety of flavors and textures and were good with or without the accompaniments.
After all of this, we got on to the roasts, the main courses which, while on three boards, were brought out and sliced on a single tray.  Most of the roasts were for two people, although one, the 8 oz serving of Roast Beef served with Horseradish, Jus, and a Popover, was an 8 oz serving for a single person.  We also ordered a Rack of Pork, which was served with Cider Vinegar and Apple Smoked Cornbread, and Branzino, a Roasted Fish served with Mediterranean Chips, a higher end spin on Fish and Chips.  We also ordered a side of RR Potatoes which were pan fried and crispy and presented in the pan.
The Roast Beef was rare and tender, the popover was tall and fluffy, and the horseradish and jus, added a nice finish to the meat.
The Rack of Pork was presented sliced with the Cider Vinegar already added and the bones to the side for anyone that happened to want to gnaw on a bone. There was some cider vinegar left for anyone that thought that it needed more, but it was very good as it was.  This may have been my favorite meat.  The cornbread was sweet with the slightest hint of applewood smoke.
The fish was presented as a whole  breaded fish on a skewer.  We ended up eating it, basically, by pulling pieces off.  While it was mostly deboned, we kind of had to watch it with small bones around the head and tail.  It was very good.  The meat was tender and flavorful and I actually surprised myself a little by working on the head after everyone else had finished with it.
While we did have a lot to eat, not having dessert was not an option.  On the dessert menu was Ice Cream, Pudding, a selection of Bundt Cakes, and a Dessert Terrine, what I saw though was the Fat Elvis, A Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with a Peanut, Pretzel, and Graham Cracker Crust and topped with Pretzels and Dried Bananas.  The peanut butter and chocolate were actually in separate layers, with the chocolate on the bottom having the consistency of fudge and the creamy peanut butter on top.  It was a great pie and a great way to finish the meal.

While I really liked dinner here, the food was great, as was the service and the great view, if I were to return here, I would make sure to have someone with me because their food is made for sharing and for the most part, it really isn't conducive to dining alone.    

Thursday, October 15, 2015


There are a lot of Italian restaurants in Chicago and while it may not be obvious if you look at my blog, I love Italian food.   There is an Italian restaurant in Lincoln Park that I have had my eyes on for years called Vinci, and recently things fell together in such away that it was to my advantage to go for dinner.  Vinci is located down the street from Steppenwolf Theater and are a pretty good choice for a pre-theater meal.  It very much has an old school look with hanging lights, candles, and walls that appear water stained (they aren't, it just seems that a lot of Italian restaurants go for a look that is very weathered and worn).  The menu is divided into Antipasti, Pizza, Pasta, Secondi, and Dolci.  If yoou tried to order something from every section though, you would be beyond stuffed.  For drinks, they have a nice selection of Italian Wines, as well as beer and cocktails.  I started things off with a pasta that was actually listed in the Antipasti section, Baked "Roman Style" Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms, Shallots, Cream, and White Truffle Oil.  Unlike regular gnocchi, which is made from potato, Gnocchi alla Romana is an earlier style which was made with semolina flour, butter, egg, and Parmesan Cheese.  It is much lighter and fluffier than the gnocchi that I am used to and it had a light cheese crust.  The mushrooms had a hearty flavor which was added to with the truffle oil, with the gnocchi though, it was lighter and very good.
Because I ordered a pasta as my antipasto, I thought that ordering more pasta would be both redundant and heavy, so I looked at the secondi and chose the duck.  When I am eating out, I try to order dishes that pair well with each other.  I wasn't seeing fish and seafood as going well with the gnocchi, and I generally don't order chicken when I eat out because I eat it so often at home.  That left duck, lamb, and pork.  While I am sure thaey all would have been good, duck was the first one that I noticed and besides, it's my favorite.  The Duck was grilled and served with Tuscan Kale, Polenta, Oyster Mushrooms, and a Balsamic reduction.  The duck was cooked medium rare and was very good,  I am not a huge fan of kale, but I will eat it despite its reminding me of stiff spinach.  The polenta and the mushrooms kind of reminded me of the first dish, and the balsamic reduction added a sweet and tart flavor to everything and capped off a very good dish.
There were some nice looking things on the dessert menu even if it was mostly occupied by the classics of Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Gelato, and Cheesecake.  I would have been happy with any of these, but when the dessert special was described to me, it wasn't on the menu, I knew what I had to have.  It was an Amaro-Soaked Almond Cake with Honey Vanilla Gelato and garnished with a Mint Leaf.  The cake was as moist as a tres leches cake with a lot of almonds and a slightly bittersweet flavor provided by the amaro (I neglected to ask what they used).  The honey vanilla gelato was sweet and simple and a great ending.  I really enjoyed my meal here and would happily include it as a choice if I'm looking for old school Italian food.  The food was very good, the service friendly and helpful, and the space had a nice design including the fake wear.         

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fork - Founder's Beer Dinner

I like going to beer dinners for several reasons.  First, it usually allows the chef to get creative and work outside his normal menu.  Frequently, the brewery will bring in limited run special beers that are not widely distributed, so I can try something that I may not normally get to try, and finally, I get to see how well they pair the food with the beer.  I went to a beer dinner recently at Fork who worked with one of my favorite breweries, Founder's Brewing Co.  The dinner was four courses paired with four beers, three of which were limited release beers.  I like the beers that I have had from Founder's.  It's fun to see what they might do with small batches when they can be a little more creative.  We were seated in the same room we were seated when I came for brunch.  In fact, I may have been seated in the same place.  I think the art in the room had changed since I last dined there though.  We started things off with a Single Hop Pale Ale called Mosaic Promise (made with Mosaic Hops) which was paired with a Passion Fruit Poached Pork Loin Carpaccio with Pineapple Pearls (Pineapple Poached Cous-Cous), and a Pickled Onion Papaya Salad.  It was a great start, the beer had a bitter start, but it was actually kind of light and it paired well with the tropical flavors of the pork.  The presentation of the pork was very colorful, the pork was tender, and with the pineapple and papaya flavors, it was very light.

The next course and the beer that it was paired with paired amazingly well.  The beer was brewed for Grand Rapids Artprize, a very large regional art fair in held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Founders is from.  The beer was a Kolsch called Spectra Trifecta that was brewed with Ginger and Chamomile.  A Kolsch is generally a summer style with a light and bright flavor with a dry finish and I generally like them.  The chamomile added a floral flavor and the ginger added a spicy finish that was still pretty dry.  While it wasn't bad, I can honestly say that I couldn't really get into the floral flavor and I probably wouldn't buy it on my own.  While the beer didn't really excite me on its own, it worked amazingly well with the course that it was served with.  It was a Chamomile Braised Pork Belly served over Ramen Noodles in a Lemongrass Broth with Ginger Chips.  There were also the typical vegetables that you would find in a Ramen: Zucchini, Peppers, and Carrots.  The floral flavors were here as well, but didn't overwhelm the pork.  The lemon grass gave it a slight tart flavor and the ginger chips were crisp which added a counterpoint to the tender pork and noodles and provided a spicy endnote.

The first two courses and their corresponding beers were fairly light.  The third course and beer definitely went the other way and was much heavier.  While the first two courses were served in pilsener glasses, the next course was served in what was basically a rocks glass.  The beer was KBS - Founders Breakfast Stout aged in a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel (Heaven Hill).  It is a very heavy Imperial Stout with an ABV of 11.2%, an IBU of 100, and strong flavors of bitter chocolate and coffee as is relatively common in a good stout, and this is a good stout.  The food that it was paired with was a Coffee Rubbed Pork Shoulder with a KBS Mop (a barbecue glaze made from KBS and the juices from the pork shoulder) and Vanilla Roasted Root Vegetables including Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes.  The meat had a light crust from the coffee and the mop.  The meat itself was fork tender and was very flavorful.  The vanilla in the vegetables provided both a complement and a counterpoint to the bitter coffee flavor on the shoulder and the beer and it all worked together well.

And then came dessert.  As you may have noticed, all of the courses up until this point featured pork.  Using pork in a dessert dish does not seem intuitive, but it was done and done pretty well.  Dessert was a Caraway Creme Caramel, a very buttery flan, served with Guanciale (Pork Jowl Bacon) Toffee Cookies.  Bacon is basically the dessert of pork and Guanciale has a more intense bacon flavor as well as being pretty sweet, so using it in a toffee in dessert makes sense in afterthought.  The cookie went well with the buttery flan.  Red's Rye, an IPA, is not an intuitive choice for a dessert beer, but the hoppiness brought the sweetness out of the toffee and it all worked well together.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food was good and creative and the beers paired together very well.  Fork is planning on doing a monthly beer dinner, I may have to attend, if I am available.