Saturday, October 22, 2011

Urban Belly

Location: 3053 N California
Cost: $17 per person

When I was growing up my favorite food in general used to be soup. I would get soup no matter where my family went or what it was like outside. Even in the middle of August when it was 90 plus degrees outside, I'd wolf down that bowl of matzo ball.

Well now it's getting slightly cold outside, and it's at least socially appropriate for me to desire a big bowl of soup. My friend Amber was downtown and wanted to meet up for dinner. After some long deliberation about potential options we ended up picking Urban Belly.

Logistics
Urban Belly is one large room in Logan Square with four long communal tables. They've got a parking lot right out in front which helps since it's no cake walk to get to. It's BYOB which made any sort of wait seem to fly by. They don't take reservations, but our wait on a Saturday at 7:30 or so was only a half hour. The communal table situation allows for them to get creative with their seating.

Mostly it's a self serve order at the counter operation. You can get your own forks, knives, water, and chop sticks at a central bus boy stand of sorts. We didn't realize this for a few minutes and must've looked like jerks when we asked for place settings. So while we were waiting, there were all these open seats. We asked the hostess why we weren't being seated, and she said the kitchen needed to get caught up on takeout orders. Upon explaining that we'd rather wait and drink while seated, she let us sit down. The point here is that they were flexible.

The cost is pretty cheap, especially in consideration of the portion size. Dumplings were in the $7 range, bowls of noodles and soup were near $12, rice dishes were under $10, and sides were around $4. We basically got one of each category and had excessive amounts leftover.

The Food
The first thing we ordered was the Duck and Pho Spice dumplings. They had a delicate, crunchy wrapping, and it really tasted like duck meat soaked in pho broth. If anything the spices might have been a little strong. Next time, I'm going for the lamb and brandy dumplings (our neighbors got them, and they looked better). After that we got the specialty noodle dish which was Rice Noodles in a coconut curry broth with shrimp and scallops. The broth was sweet but had plenty of substance. There weren't a ton of shrimps or scallops, but the noodles were paper thin and delicious (not good if you reheat them for leftovers though). Then our Phat Rice came out. This was a fried rice dish that combined all of the other rice dishes into one, meaning that we got short rib, pork belly, pineapple, scallions, pea shoots, and Thai basil. This was some of the best fried rice I'd had in some time. The short rib doesn't really meld into the dish since you have to eat it off the bone, but the amount of key ingredients and overall savory quality to the rice made it a really wonderful item. Finally, for our side we ordered the Wrinkle Beans. These green beans were cooked just the right amount so as not to lose all of their crunch. They were clearly the house favorite side dish.

 The Duck and Pho Spice Dumplings

The Specialty Noodle Dish

The Wrinkle Beans

The Phat Rice

Overall
I was pleased with everything that came out at Urban Belly. My favorite thing was the Phat Rice, but that's not to say that we didn't slurp up most of that noodle dish. It was a bit of a schlep for me, but it was totally worth it. I already know what I'll order next time because so many other items looked good. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Urban Belly on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

  1. That specialty noodle dish looks awesome. I love soups and curries made with coconut milk. Yummy. Luckily for me, we have quite a few good Thai restaurants in Champaign-Urbana!

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  2. This place was great. The dumplings we had were so so. The noodle dishes were awesome! They had a ramen noodle special that was outstanding. Three of us went and way over ordered as we wanted to try various items.
    all of I s agreed on our favorite. It was a dish with lightly breaded sliced chicken with mangos and a fish cake" it was totally great. We were already full but ordered it and loved it.

    This is a must go to place!

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  3. We went to urban belly for the second time this evening. Again it was great!
    We had the kimchi and edanami appetizers. We had the phat rice. We had 2 bowls of the chicken, mango, fish cake. The broth is out of this world.
    As I am getting a cold it was an Asian alternative to chicken soup. Please don't tell my mother!
    I really like the concept of communal dining. We talked with the couple across from us the entire meal. They did not realize it was byob. I asked a staff member for 2 extra wine glasses and poured them some wine.
    As we did last time, we went to chef kim's other restaurant. They have soft serve with some very unique toppings. We had three. We had the cinnamon Carmel, the mint brownie and the bacon with choc chip cookie bits. A great finish to a great meal!
    We must have made an impression. The people that we met at dinner showed up 10 minutes later, as we had raved about the desert.
    Another great experience, with great food throughout. It is also always great to see the chef/ owner working the front of the restaurant.
    I want to eat a meal at his other place. Chef Kim has a great formula. His staff continues to execute all parts very well.
    Good there and enjoy!

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