Thursday, September 23, 2010

urban belly

i've always wanted to try this petite restaurant located on north california avenue since last year: urban belly. i've heard a lot of good things about the food at this noodle shop owned by chef william kim namely for their ramen and their dumplings.


when urban belly was recently featured in bon app├ętit's restaurant issue magazine where they are listed as "delicious cheap eats in chicago", i was determined to go last weekend with ryan when he was here in chicago for a visit.  ryan was happy to comply and i was uber excited about our saturday night plan at urban belly :)




located in a residential area, one could miss the restaurant if they weren't paying attention. when we were driving to find the place, we drove past it and at a glance i thought it was closed because the outside was dimly lit. there were a small parking lot just outside the entrance and when we turned around, we saw that it was actually opened and had a considerable crowd on a saturday night. if you are wondering, urban belly is closed on mondays and open the other six days from 11am to 9pm.


walking into the shop, it wasn't quite what i expected. the decor was minimal and there were four large communal tables at each corner of the room with ample space to walk towards the counter at the back. there were some utensil and tap water stations around where you could get  yourself a drink of water. the way urban belly works is similar to corner bakery - you place your order at the counter, pay for your food, get your table tent/order number, and find a spot at the communal table and wait for the food to be served.


the menu at urban belly isn't extensive but is varied to keep most appetites satisfied. all their dishes are asian flavors with a twist. occasionally, they also offer a special dish that they would display on the board behind the counter if you wanted to try something else besides what they have in their regular menu.



seasonal kimchi ($4)
we started off with urban belly's take of kimchi. ryan and i are lovers of good kimchi and wanted to see how this fares against our favorite.


their seasonal kimchi was a mix of cucumbers and cabbage slices. my first bite of the cucumber was a hint of sesame oil and the chilli powder that was sprinkled over the top. then i slowly dug through the pile of cucumbers to get a piece of the cabbage which was at the bottom of the bowl which tasted more of the traditional kimchi.  when ryan had his first bite of cucumber, he was skeptical about the whole meal since it didn't taste anything like kimchi and gradually began to find the familiar flavors closer towards the bottom of the bowl. this mild kimchi is definitely a good introduction to kimchi for people who has never had kimchi before but has enough of the familiarity of flavors to satisfy some kimchi lovers.

urbanbelly ramen | pork belly, shiitake and pho broth ($13)


when the dish was served, my mouth started to water as i savor the aroma of the broth. when i took my first spoonful of the broth, i was taken aback by the deep, rich flavor of the soup which is accentuated by the shiitake flavor. it was warm, comforting and it felt homemade.. the pork belly was cooked right although i thought i could do with more meat in the dish. the slices of radish gives it the occasional bite that gives that difference in texture and keeps the dish interesting. the ramen was cooked well and was the right pairing for the soup... tasty :) 



rice noodle | hominy, kimchi and spicy pork broth ($12)


this dish reminded ryan of a good korean kimchi spicy soup that he would usually order at our usual korean restaurant but with a mexican twist from the hominy and the occasional chili flavor and spice. the broth itself wasn't very spicy but is delicious with occasional burst of kimchi flavor from the cabbage. the pork pieces which ryan wished had more of in the dish were moist and flavorful even on its own and has a distinct sweet flavor which added a sweet undertone to the broth itself. what i liked besides those elements were the slight doughiness of the rice cakes which i loved with the soup.


instead of fortune cookies at the end of our meal, they gave us complimentary chewy ginger candy which was quite different and i thought was yummy. it did saturate my mouth with ginger flavor which could be good or bad. hehe.


we both enjoyed our food immensely and wanted to return to urban belly again perhaps to try their other dishes. and that was exactly what we did the next evening for some dumplings and the wrinkle beans to go. there was a huge crowd and barely had space to sit when we got there at about 7:30pm. our order to go took about 12 minutes before it was ready which was a lil longer than i anticipated. 

duck & pho spices dumplings ($8)
we were deciding between this or the lamb&brandy dumplings but sadly they were out of the latter.


the dumplings were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside with ton of meat flavor and slight sweetness of the green onions. the accompanying sauce has a sharp tart and sweet flavor which went really well with the dumplings. liked it.

wrinkle beans ($4)
a huge favorite of mine. i am not quite sure why they call it wrinkle beans but it's probably a type of long beans but oh, they taste so good.



topped with fried sliced shallots, the long beans were all coated with flavor. although the beans were cooked down quite a bit, it still retained some of it's crunch. the flavors in this dish were reminiscent of some thai flavors paired with ginger, garlic and chopped sweet bell pepper. i also found some black bean paste somewhere in there. loved the combination of flavors. not quite sure how to describe it but it sure is very yummy -  a must try.

urban belly's philosophy: feed your belly from your heart. and they achieve that through seemingly simple asian dishes but with complex flavors, done right with their personal spin and yet somehow still manage to taste homemade :)

disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others

Urban Belly on Urbanspoon

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