Friday, April 30, 2010

Adventure Chicago: Food and Heart Collide at Urban Belly

It's not often that you find a restaurant without a “fast food” label that's easy on your wallet, delicious, and gourmet. Sure, cheap, yummy eats lurk around every corner in an urban sprawl, but "complex" is an adjective not normally used to describe fast food. On the opposite spectrum, most fine dining experiences that dole out the latest in haute cuisine are not approachable for more than one reason. Chicago’s Urban Belly, however, rises to the challenge, seamlessly melding together the intricate and complex with the affordable and honest—a task that is not easy, to be sure.

Nestled in an easy-to-overlook, kind-of-dingy strip mall on Western Avenue, Urban Belly is a welcome surprise, even in a city that has some version of Asian fare located on every block. Owned by chef Bill Kim (who recently opened the much anticipated Latin-Asian Belly Shack), Urban Belly’s philosophy is communal dining + good eats = a full stomach and content heart. There is no denying that Kim not only accomplishes this, but makes it seem effortless.

Don’t let the unwelcoming façade fool you—once inside, the environment is incredibly inviting. The dining space is small, minimalist, and warm. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and gracious. Urban Belly serves up comfort food Asian style—homemade dumplings, noodle dishes, soups, and sides.

Start with any of the house-made dumplings in unusual combinations such as lamb and brandy or squash and bacon. The dumpling dough has a homemade quality that I have not experienced from a traditional pot sticker. The main entrees, which are noodle-based, are all under twelve dollars and enough for two to share if you also order a starter. They come in a large bowl filled with broth or sauce combined with a variety of interesting, fresh ingredients. The wheat soba noodles with bay scallops and oyster mushrooms in a Thai basil broth were really terrific, but the Asian Bolognese special was the show-stopper of the evening: Thick, udon noodles served with mouth watering salty ham, black bean puree, and cilantro, combined perfectly with heat and Asian spices. It was simply to die for. All dishes are made to order—patrons order from the counter and are served at a communal table. Bring your own wine or beer, as Urban Belly is B.Y.O.B.—that beats the over-priced mediocre cocktail any day.

The cuisine at Urban Belly is the perfect balance of complex flavors meets the approachable and the room itself is modern and relaxed. Next time you are in Chicago, be sure to check it out—your stomach and your soul are sure to be fed.

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Brad Johnson May 4, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

Missed you guys so much! You are the best!

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About Mod City Mom

After becoming mothers, sisters Sarah Romine and Leah Weyandt wanted to marry the activities and interests that they experienced before motherhood with their new found lives with children. This was not always an easy task—traveling to obscure places, shopping at off-beat boutiques, and sipping lazy-afternoon cocktails doesn't always fit neatly with parenthood. Stemming from their frustration, they meticulously searched, and continue to search, for activities, establishments, and entertainment that they take pleasure in and their families benefit from. The result? Mod City Mom.

About Sarah

Sarah is a passionate cook, fashionista, writer, actor, and mother. Like all actors, she ended up working at many-a-restaurant to make ends meet and shopping at countless bargain boutiques to maintain her sense of personal style. Her culinary journey, love affair with fashion, and desire to remain true to herself after becoming a mother are the inspirations for this site. Sarah lives with her husband and two sons in Chicago.

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A polymath wannabe, Leah loves books, films, music, cooking, and travel. After co-starting a writing and editing shop in 2002, Leah has spent her spare time frequenting her favorite cities, hangouts, and haunts. Her obsession with finding the new, innovative, and quirky is the impetus behind this site. Leah lives with her two sons and husband in North San Diego County.
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