I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We're Just Ordinary People: Part 2, Ventre Urbaine

go to UB, you'll leave looking
like this!
Historians theorize that Thomas Jefferson --inventor of the airplane, the french fry and the cuisinart-- first proposed the idea of bringing your own booze to restaurants during a diplomatic trip to France in 17871. Our third president's alcoholic legacy is very much alive today in the form of asian, italian, and contemporary dining establishments scattered throughout our shining city. It's only right that my first documented BYOB adventure take place at Urban Belly.

Since it opened in twenty-aught-nine food critics and regular folk alike have been FREAKING OUT over Bill Kim's hole-in-the-stripmall send up to communal dining and simple but sophisticated asian cookery. So, on a downright cold and rainy weeknight, I saw what all the fuss was about.

The menu at UB is made up of only nineteen items separated into four parts: dumplings, noodles, rices, and sides. I thought I should try one of each. Because I care.
1. Asian Squash and Bacon Dumplings were tart in a citrusy way that  none of us saw coming. The physical bacon was hard to find, instead only the essence of it could be smelled and tasted (in the industry, we call this "ghost bacon"2). The dumplings were tangy, oniony, and squashy-sweet. While I enjoyed these morsels, I do have one critique and that is they were too...soft. I wasn't expecting them to be crispy or firm, but I was expecting them to have some bodily presence on the plate.
2. Shrimp, Coriander, and Sweet Chili Lime Broth Udon was sweet (go figure), and salty and downright delish. It must be said that udon is probably my favorite thing in world after gummy worms and Pharrell's Miami Apartment, so I'm a little biased here. The adjective that comes to mind with this guy is seafoody. The broth has the strong briny character of a premium fish sauce and the shrimp and chili lime spice are best friends...with my mouth. Shiver me timbers this bowl was good!

3. Pork Belly and Pinapple Fried Rice was pure heaven. How could I resist ordering pork belly from a place called Urban Belly? I couldn't. There was a veritable pile of diced pork belly on top of this fried bowl of pineapple laced long grain perfection. At first bite you feel nostalgic because the smokiness of the pork belly reminds you of those backyard barbecues your grandpa used to host down South (what? was that not part of your childhood?)3. At last bite you're left feeling sad that it's all over.

4. Wrinkle Beans were so good I wanted them to be a main dish. They were so good that I immediately wished Lake Michigan was filled with them instead of water so I could go on day long deep-bean dives into their szechuany/spicy/garlicy depths. These were so good that I am convinced that if the Federal Reserve4 installed them as our currency we could kiss this recession goodbye. Unfortunately, I failed to get a good picture of them so you'll just have to make the trip to Avondale and see them for yourselves.

Many BYOBers opt to bring a six pack of their favorite beer to BYOBs but considering I've been drinking beer at Homeric levels over the last two weeks, I went with wine. When it comes to asian food I usually like a crisp, acidic white (like Albariño, or fragrant/peppery Viognier) but it being cold and all I opted for a red. 
With Asian? 
I know it seems counterintuitive but as long as you steer clear of fat, alcoholic tannin bombs like California Cabs and Merlots you should be fine. 
In theory you want something that has enough acidity to make the ginger, garlic, and chile sing while also having the right amount of tannins to keep the fatty proteins (think beef short ribs, pork belly, and duck) from going all Genghis Khan on your mouth. I chose a Shiraz (Australian for beer...Syrah), which tend to be peppery, berry-fruited and dense, and complimented most of the dishes I ate.

Brass Tacks
The food was good. The atmosphere was festive. But the best part is that that you don't have to be a rich russian guy to order a bountiful meal here. I'm tempted to use the phrase bang for your buck but I won't, because I respect you as a person. As far as the whole communal dining thing goes I can say that I actually enjoyed hearing my neighbors conversations, sharing my food with them and making outrageous statements to them like claiming that I was a food columnist for the Boston Globe (for the record, I'm not). All in all, Urban Belly left my urban belly full and content. Namaste.

1. I give Thomas Jefferson credit for most of the great things that have occurred over the course of human history, because I'm a patriot, that's why!
2. No we don't, and, also, what industry?
3. My childhood didn't look anything like this either, I just wanted you to feel nostalgic. Is that a crime?!
4. I'm not sure what part of the government controls currency, or debt, or recessions but Federal Reserve rolls off the tongue better than Mint or Treasury, so suck it political science majors.
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Urban Belly

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