30 October 2009
A Restaurant Review
(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)
I've decided that since I live in a city that's renowned for its restaurant scene, I'll let you know whenever I try a new place or revisit an old friend. We don't eat out often, but when we do, we do it up right. It's difficult to make a truly bad choice here, that's how many accomplished chefs we have right now, and I'm loving every minute of it.
The other day was my friend's birthday. Weeknights are awkward, but we decided to have a go. She had to pick up my Cool Niece at day care at 4:30 p.m., so we decided that I would pick up some takeout and drive to her place for dinner. No problem. Except our favorite takeout joint Yes Thai is closed for renovations. The food there is amazing, truly wonderful thai food that concedes to American tastes only by offering varying levels of spiciness in a few of its dishes. However, they were closed, so there was much sighing and a little whining while we tried to figure things out.
As my friend was heading out of the office, she called me and mentioned Urban Belly a place that's relatively new and has had consistently wonderful reviews. We hadn't been there ourselves for a couple of reasons, the main one being that they don't take reservations so there's a perpetual lineup. It's not a place conducive to eating with a 2 1/2 year old, even if we did come early enough to get a table. Plus, call me cranky, but there is no goddamned way I'm going to stand out in the cold for an hour or more waiting to eat. Neither do I appreciate a bunch of people staring at me while I'm eating and audibly groaning when I order some tea at the end of my meal. I simply will not do that.
They do takeout, though. Wonderful marvelous BEAUTIFUL takeout. I ordered a couple of different dumplings to start. One was squash and bacon, the other was duck. While I was ordering, the lady that took the order apologized for not having the regular duck and said that they had substituted foie gras..... I was on that like white on rice.
(Note: I am a dedicated carnivore. I LOVE the foie. I am a friend to the pig - as long as it's prepared correctly. I see baby lambs and think "Yum". I don't care if it's politically correct or not, I sincerely don't care what anyone thinks of that, and I will probably mock unmercifully anyone who takes me to task for it. It's a non-issue and I don't want to hear about it.)
I also got a couple of noodle dishes, some gorgeous melt-in-your mouth spare ribs with rice, and wrinkle beans that were....perfect. The dumplings were pure heaven - nice clean flavors and perfect texture. The short ribs were small bites that were perfectly seasoned and tender. I ordered two noodle dishes, because this is their specialty and it's what they do best. One was a ramen noodle with pork belly, shitake mushroom and pho broth, the other was soba noodles with bay scallops, oyster mushrooms and Thai basil broth.
We put the Cool Niece to bed and ate in silence. That's how good everything was. I suspect that the rest of their menu is just as wonderful. You could just close your eyes and point and no matter what you landed on, it would be wonderful. There are very few places that either of us would say that about. On most menus there are things that occasionally fall flat. You don't, for example, order the chicken in a restaurant that specializes in fish, and for good reason. Most of the time when people try that, they end up watching enviously as their dining companions moan their way rapturously through their dinners and kicking themselves.
The chef at Urban Belly doesn't do that. It's a short menu. There are no "consolation dishes" for the picky types that want something generic to eat because they're familiar with it. When you eat there you know that you will get the best possible iteration of every dish they make, and it's enough. If you come to the City of Wind, consider it a destination, even if you can't get a seat.