BYOB at Urban Belly

It's birthday week for my wife, and we kicked it off with a trip to Urban Belly.  It is a small restaurant on the north side of Chicago (3053 N. California), located in a small strip mall, bookshelved by a landromat and a dry cleaner.  The space is small, but minimalist, with four large communal dining tables, track lighting, and Chinese and Indonesian decor.  Now on to the food.

The menu is a creation of Chef Bill Kim, formerly of Ben Pao, Charlie Trotter's, Le Lan, and co-owner of Soul.  It is comprised of dumplings, fried rice, and noodle dishes.  The service is unorthodox, but very efficient.  When you enter, I would recommend finding a spot at one of the communal tables.  Then, take a look at the menu, and figure what you'd like.  You can then go up to the counter and order from Chef Kim, and pay at the register.  Utensils and water are at a centrally located service station, so fill up with the H2O and chopsticks and grab a seat- the food comes rolling out rapidly!

The place is BYOB, and for the cuisine, if you don't go with beer (which is perfect), I recommend Alsatian varietal (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat) white wine from almost any global region would work.  They have the rich fruit, stone mineral, and slight spice flavors to mingle with the exotic flavoring of the food.  I went with Ponzi Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley, Oregon.  It is a great match because of the bright acidity and creamy pear and apple fruit.  Retails for $11.99.

We shared two dumpling dishes: the Lamb and Brandy, and the Asian Squash and Bacon.  The squash dumplings were amazing, as the soft and sweet squash jelled with the salty bacon and mandarin slices.  The lamb had great flavor, but was served over edamame, which was difficult to eat, as it was covered in sauce.  I would recommend either podding the beans, or serving them sans sauce.  We also shared the Short Rib and Scallion fried rice and the Scallop and Soba noodle.  The short rib was full of flavor, but it would've been nice to have a knife to cut for sharing (knives are not included with the utensils).  And the noodle dishes are huge and full rich broth.  They are fun to eat and more fun to share.  I also took an order of Pork Bolognese Udon noodles home and ate it for lunch the following day.  It is a dish not to be missed- it had both ground and diced pork, mushrooms, and black beans, with a ginger and cilantro slightly spicy sauce.

For dessert we decided to stop by Margie's Candies, alive and kicking on the corner of Armitage and Western for over 80 years.  They serve sodas, shakes, and sundaes, along with a limited sandwich menu.  The sundaes are absolute decadence- we shared a turtle split.  Three scoops of ice cream with bananas topped with whipped cream, nuts, and photocaramel, accompanied by a large serving of hot fudge.  It definitely has a light price tag- $6.50 including tax.  I highly recommend it as a great dessert date stop.  I also recommend hitting the gym the next day after an evening like this!