A Second Helping for My Urban Belly in Chicago
As a food critic, one of the great luxuries of the Internet is that you're no longer confined to the precious space of print. As such, you don't have to make decisions about which restaurant openings to cover or whether you can revisit a spot at the expense of a new spot. In theory, there's room to cover whatever you want.
That being said, while I try to go to a spot at least twice before reviewing it, there's still the chance you hit two off nights, or the restaurant hasn't hit its stride, and what the restaurant is now is not what it will become.
Lately I've found that to be truer than ever. The latest case is Bill Kim's Urban Belly. Kim was a Charlie Trotter acolyte who went on to helm a couple of acclaimed high-end kitchens in the city, and then, like David Chang in New York, put all that away to open up a casual friendly dumpling and soup spot.
After hitting Urban Belly twice in its first six weeks, I'd suggested that, with a little bravery, you could find as good (or better) Pho or ramen from mom-and-pop ethnic spots around the city for almost half the price. And at the time, it was true.
But since then, I've been to Urban Belly a couple more times and it's really become something special. The Pork Belly ramen noodles were much silkier, their broth punchier. The crab udon was sweeter and spicier. While I always loved the dumplings, I've grown very fond of the foie gras dumplings offered on Wednesdays. But the most pedestrian of all the dumplings, Asian Squash and Bacon, are now my favorite. The richness of the squash and bacon is cut with cooling citrus that explodes in your mouth. They are unequivocally the best dumplings in Chicago--and Urban Belly is now, in several senses, worth the extra dough.