West Loop, Korean, BBQ

bellyQ. Yummy in My Tummy!

Photo: Barry Brecheisen, Eater Chicago

Photo: Barry Brecheisen, Eater Chicago

Why have I not dined at bellyQ sooner?!? As “they” say, better late than never! Located on the west end of the Randolph Street corridor, also known as “Restaurant Row,” Chef Bill Kim’s bellyQ is welcoming, cool and sleek. A long communal table for those seeking a casual and convivial dining experience sits in the center of the bar space. Hibachi tables outline the dining room and offer guests the interactive option of grilling one’s own meal. Reclaimed wood tables populate the rest of the industrial dining room which features concrete, brick and steel accents. A chandelier made from reclaimed conveyor belts harkens back to the buildings origins as a pickle factory. The space is a neutral palette which allows the tasteful cocktails and flavorful dishes to shine.

Service is superb. Our patient server flawlessly managed our party’s time-constraints, food allergies and divergent tastes. Her knowledge of the food and drink menus, as well as guidance throughout the meal, made us feel at ease.  The Red Lotus cocktail, featuring sake, yuzu and basil seed, as well as the gin-based Twentieth Century, are both a perfect and refreshing start to the meal, while the martini-like Floating Sun is a great meal-time sipper. I could have subsisted on cocktails alone, but I would have missed culinary masterpieces of Chef Kim, a Charlie Trotter’s alum.

Chickpea hush puppies with shrimp togarashi and a kicky horseradish sauce were warm and comforting. Sticky lamb and mint pepper jelly melted into light and fluffy steamed buns. The kale and green papaya salad was a refreshing medley of sweet and smoky flavors. The pancakes, one featuring kimchi and double smoked bacon, and the other goat milk feta and spinach, which may have been the best dishes of the night, personify Chef Kim’s innovative cooking, highlighted by a dash of house-made Thai chili sauce that sits on every table. While the Thai style fried chicken required that sauce to give the sweet breading a necessary kick and the Wagyu Korean short ribs were more evocative of a fatty flank steak, the lemongrass salmon, served over white rice, cucumber slaw and fresh ginger, was a standout.

Michael Jordan’s partnership in bellyQ may make it a slam dunk, but it is Chef Kim’s thoughtful combination of flavors that make this Asian barbeque restaurant a true winner. Go for a cocktail or go for the buns; either way, do your tummy a favor and go to bellyQ.