Deep Fried Chicago: Fat Rice Brings Macanese Food to Logan Square
Fat Rice, the highly anticipated brick and mortar restaurant from Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, opened late last year in Logan Square to generally high acclaim. Though originally slated to serve peasant dishes from around the world under the name "Flour & Bones," the pair instead decided to focus on Macanese, a fusion blend of southern Chinese and Portuguese cuisine.
Fat Rice's menu is one of those heavy-on-the-ingredients-light-on-the-cooking-method-descriptors. When I asked my server to point out the dishes with deep fried components, his concerned "dietary restrictions?" was heartening. Yes sir, but not in the way you're expecting. He was beyond patient, walking me through each and every fried aspect of the menu, and with his help, I was able to cobble together a completely deep fried meal.
The Pork & Shrimp Potstickers ($10.00) are unlike any I've ever had. The dumplings proper are herbal and toothsome, with a slick exterior and a nice fat to lean ratio in the filling. The show stealer, though, is in the presentation. Cooked using a hybrid steam/fry method (read about it here), the dumplings arrive to the table bottoms up with the crisp, connective, salty, lattice membrane front and center. The black vinegar garlic scallion chili sauce (with sambal and dried kimchi thrown in for good measure), is great on its own, but for some now-you-see-it-now-you-don't spiceness, stir in the included ghost chili sauce. The heat eases in slowly, but when it does...
Speaking of spice, our server felt wont to warn of the dangerously high levels in the Shaken Chili Whitefish ($15.00). In reality, the stir fry of breaded and fried fish nuggets and shisito peppers is relatively mild and respectable—unless you choose to bite into one of the red pill Sichuan peppercorns. Then the dish gets plain wacky. Just as your mouth numbs completely, the flavors intensely amp. The floral soapiness of the mild peppers is offset by the sharp fishiness of the crunchy fish, but if you want your mind blown completely, try a fermented black bean chaser. The dish never reaches the level of Lao Hunan's perfect take, but I'll be back regardless, if only for the complete loop it threw me.
The Caramel Catfish Claypot ($18.00) is a dish of contrasts. Flash fried and braised, the soft tofu and catfish yield willingly to the fork, while the carrot nubs and Thai eggplant quarters are cooked just enough to take off the raw edge. The salty, crispy shrimp puffs render the dish dippable, but the generous puddle of sweet caramel sauce make it ideal over the included coconut rice, especially on the cold, snowy night I tried it.
Said Coconut Rice ($3.00 as a side, or included with large entrées) is exactly as its name promises, no more, no less. The fried shallots that top the coconut scented mound add a pleasant crunch, though the first bowl was light on flavor and warmth. Thankfully, the second bowl was heavier on both.
Though the prices are a little high for dishes that are intended to be part of a multi-coursed, shared meal, I'm looking forward to delving deeper into Fat Rice's offerings. Along with a number of (admittedly not fried) clay pots, there's the eponymous dish, and a healthy smattering of pickles. Pass them amongst friends, and be thankful for the bountiful cuisines Chicago has on offer.