Every time a new restaurant opens in my hood (west loop) I get so excited and it reinforces my neighborhood allegiance.
I ventured to Belly Q about a month after it opened; walking in with little expectations other than the positive reputation Chef Bill Kim has from his other restaurants (Urban Belly, Belly Shack). For all those thinking what’s with all the belly’s … well Kim says “Life starts from the belly, from the mother’s womb, Everything starts from there, so it’s a very caring and nurturing image I wanted to portray.” This comes from an interview he had with Chicago food critic Phil Vettel.
The place itself is huge for a Randolph Street foodie location… room for more than 200. The larger tables are the ones bordering the restaurants and it is those tables that have their own grills, the tables in the center of the restaurant (where I were sat) do not have grills, and all food is grilled from the kitchen. The restaurant is sleek with nice Asian accents (slate, bamboo, etc).
Kim calls Belly Q a “modern Asian barbecue”, I don’t know what this means exactly but for my meal, honestly it was 50/50. I hate saying that when it comes to Bill Kim, I love his style, but my belly didn’t leave overjoyed. That being said, I’ll start with the good:
The sake: our server made a nice recommendation, and was what I wanted. Clean, smooth and refreshing. Definitely a nice (though pricey) sake list. Sorry – I don’t remember the name.
Wedge salad. They recommended you eat this with your hands. It is literally 4 pieces of a wedge with a tangy creamy orange colored mystery sauce, some dehydrated blacked chick peas, almonds and some parm. Simple but delicious.
The spicy lemongrass chicken. I try not to make a habit of ordering chicken when dining out, but lately the chicken dishes I have seen look quite appealing. This was probably the most succulent chicken I have had and the lemongrass was present but not overpowering, which can be very difficult to do. I tried to overlook the fatty pieces of the chicken as that is more of a traditional south Asian style of cooking
On to the not so good:
The kimchi pancake. The pancake itself was more of a flatbread, chewy pancake, where I was expecting more of a thin crepe pancake, based on the pancakes I had throughout Vietnam. Additionally, the kimchi was a little too fishy and missing that traditional fermentation, though as a disclaimer, I have sensitive palate for fishy food and again, definitely more traditional flavor is south Asian cuisine.
The duck and broccoli. This may be biased, based off of the out of this world duck I had at Ruxbin, but the duck here was truly sub-par. It was pretty fatty, though a little expected. What was not expected was the chewiness; I would guess it was on the very overdone side.
Bottom line, I wanted to love Belly Q, but a simple ambivalence is the best I can do.