Another birthday whizzed by and now that I'm settling into my early thirties the thrill of late night drinking binges or ranging dance parties just doesn't have the same "fun" factor that it did in my twenties. Especially now that I'm a mom I've enjoyed several late nights out with two too many glasses of wine, but the reality of waking up early in the morning with a hangover to take care of Liam sometimes isn't worth it. It's more obvious now that the only decent way to celebrate a birthday is to enjoy a really (really) good meal - so that's what we did.
When Chef Bill Kim's third restaurant bellyQ opened up in the West Loop I was ecstatic that he finally had a place that I didn't have to drive 15 minutes to get to. As a fan of Urban Belly and Belly Shack, I knew that bellyQ wouldn't disappoint. Having scrambled last minute to make a reservation and book a sitter on a Saturday night, I was fearful that there wouldn't be good times available but to my surprise a reservation 2 weeks out gave me a perfect seating of 7:45pm.
The vibe in the restaurant is so unlike any of the Kim's other restaurants, trendy, sceney and a little intimidating, but very cool. As a parent I loved that there was space to get around each of the tables and we even noticed a few people that had infants with them. We were pleasantly surprised that such a place is so accommodating to infants, equipped with high chairs and all.
As soon as we sat down, I dove straight for the drink menu (obviously I had priorities). I love that their signature drinks were unique, but not overpowering with sugary syrups and what I loved even more is that there was a page entirely dedicated to cold un-filtered sake. In fact the place doesn't serve hot sake, so there was even more reason to love this place. I decided to order the Red Lotus and as someone who hates signature drinks, this one has to take the cake. It's clean, crisp, and is the perfect drink to clear a palette.
The menu is designed to share everything and having a husband that likes to eat it's tough to do that, but the portions were big enough that he was willing to let me snag some bites off his plate. We ordered the Thai Style Fried Chicken, Kimchee and Spinach with Chinese Sausage to start. Both were a perfect taste of what was to come. The chicken was boneless with a nice balance of sweet and spicy, while the Spinach had such deliciously intense flavors because of the coconut milk.
For our entrees we had the Tea Smoked Duck Breast and the BellyQ Beef. Both dishes were massive and full of flavor. With duck I'm used to having to dig for good hunks of meat, but this dish had a big portion of boneless breast and was served with steamed buns as well as a spicy hoisin bbq sauce. I'm used to having this dish at a traditional chinese restaurant and let me tell you, this version gives the others a run for their money. The BellyQ beef was served with a huge portion of rice and vegetables, and if you like Korean Bulgogi, you're sure to like this.
As if we weren't full enough no birthday dinner is complete without dessert. We shared the Vietnamese doughnuts with homemade soft serve and this was the best way to end the meal. The huckleberry jam balances perfectly with sweetness of the doughnuts and it was the best way to end the meal. Well that and a glass of beer. :)
Either way the meal and experience was one that I would want to re-live over (and over). As I imagined, bellyQ didn't disappoint and at the rate Chef Kim is opening restaurant, I can only hope he has a South Loop location in the works.