Serious Eats: Chicago
Deep Fried Chicago: bellyQ
With three restaurants and counting, Bill Kim is juggernauting his way through Chicago. Playing with Asian and North and South American flavors and dishes with seeming abandon, he is singlehandedly reclaiming the word "fusion" for the good guys. Though billed as "Modern Asian Barbecue," I stopped into bellyQ to see how well he could handle a deep fryer. In two words: very well.
Nick already talked about the Thai Style Fried Chicken in its own right, but I was curious as to how it would do supporting a larger ensemble. The Almond Caesar Salad ($13.00) features said chicken, romaine hearts, blackened chickpeas, and a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese. The thickly breaded sweet chili sauce dunked chicken will leave you wondering why blackened and grilled ever became the Caesar salad norm, while the flash-fried chickpeas offer infinitely more character and flavor than your standard oily crouton. The housemade almond milk based Caesar dressing is rich and nutty, bridging the lettuce and fried chicken divide with garlicky panache.
Visually stunning but ultimately less successful are the Fried Tilapia Tacos ($14.00). Bright in color and acidity, the crunchy Asian cole slaw is sweet and spicy, and the avocado and chili mayo sauces would make even the worst Dragon Roll sing. But the fish itself, in typical tilapia fashion, gets lost among the other flavors. And the tortilla is just sort of there... no char marks from the grill or especially corn heavy flavor. A more assertive fish and a little attention to the tortilla would go a long way toward making these a repeat order.
The bellyQ French Fries ($3.00 for a side) are along the same lines as the ones served at Belly Shack, though the heavy handed spicing and longer fry time on these are definite improvements. And though they come with chili mayo and nước chấm for dipping, I'm a little ashamed to admit that the sweetness of regular old ketchup is the perfect foil to these spicy fries.
The Vietnamese Cinnamon Donuts ($8.00) were originally the result of an errant Chinese steamed bun falling into the fryer. When it rose to the bubbling surface like some sort of deep fried Aphrodite, the kitchen staff dusted it with plenty of sugar and Vietnamese cinnamon, topped it with huckleberry jam, and served it alongside a dish of vanilla soft serve. The result is easily the best donut I've had in recent memory: the crunchy sugared exterior yields willingly to the sponge cake-like center and the whole thing melts in your mouth before you know it. The sweet-tart jam and nicely salted soft serve are no slouches, either. And this may be the most ridiculous sentence I've ever written, but the coconut water based soft serve is an even better dip for togarashi fries than ketchup. If that statement isn't Bill Kim's approach in a nutshell, then I don't know what is.