ADDRESS: 1400 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607
10 years: that’s how long it had been since high school graduation. It’s amazing how fast time flies, and to mark the occasion, a group of my friends and I decided to meet up in the Windy City to commemorate the milestone. On our first night after everyone got into town, we ventured out from our Airbnb up to the W. Randolph Street area to find some dinner.
Our original plan was to hit up a place called Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, which had been recommended by our Airbnb host. But when we arrived, they said that they were booked full for another two hours (despite having multiple open tables in the dining room). It just so happened that while finding where Gyu-Kaku was on Google Maps, I had also noticed another Asian BBQ restaurant down the street. After a quick discussion, we decided to head over there, a Korean BBQ restaurant called bellyQ, to gauge the crowds. When we got there, it was still relatively quiet, so we were able to get seated almost immediately.
I was a really big fan of the décor after we first walked in. High ceilings, expansive “dining hall” style seating with a great view into the open kitchen, and quite a few earthy tones complimenting the color palette. Using a blend between metal, wood, and plantlife, there was a modern feel that blended with the Asian influences that reminded me of a zen garden. Stepping off the city street and immersing into that atmosphere was definitely a cool transition.
We were initially thinking about going the grill table route, where you would get a platter of meats brought out and you could cook it yourself. But after seeing the quantity of meats that we’d have to eat (and also not wanting to bloat ourselves the first night of the trip), some of us decided to go a different route instead. Called the “bellyQ Feast,” it allowed you to pick from a selection of dishes to construct your own meal and was actually recommended by our waitress. Going the Feast route would still end us up with seven dishes total, but each one was a smaller portion and also gave us the opportunity to try a larger variety of options available from the kitchen.
The kitchen wasted no time in plating up our first two appetizer plates, which arrived maybe less than five minutes after we put in our entire order. We first tried the edamame, which had been tossed in a fish sauce & chili oil mixture and helped to give a nice savory and spicy flavor when eating each piece. The only detriment, however, is that the sauce gets onto your fingers and began to stick when it dried up.
Next up was the hummus dish, served with rice cakes for dipping. The hummus itself was made from eggplant and black beans, garnished with some chopped scallions. It definitely had a very earthy flavor to it, and the consistency matched other types of hummus I’ve had in the past (which were mostly chickpea-based). The only thing I thought it lacked was a little more salt to help balance it.
With the appetizers finished, next up was the start of the entrée round, beginning with the lemongrass chicken fried rice and Korean Fried Chicken. Between the two, I liked the Korean Fried Chicken more, because of the flavor punch you get from just one bite of the chicken. Each piece was tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce, with some crushed peanuts to help provide a textural contrast when you eat it. The fried rice was definitely more on the reserved side, with the subtle lemongrass flavor cooked into the ground chicken.
To close out the entrée round, the waitstaff brought out two more dishes: Tea Smoked Duck Noodles and Lemongrass Salmon. I thought the noodle dish was only okay, and since ground duck that was used, it got a little bit lost amongst the wide flat rice noodles. The salmon, on the other hand, was right up there with the Korean Fried Chicken as one of my favorite dishes of the night. Each salmon fillet had a picture perfect sear, while the inside was still moist and flaky. The lemongrass flavor was present in each bite, but not at all overwhelming. The white corn grits that were plated underneath the salmon also helped to provide an earthy contrast to the richness of the salmon.
The final item as a part of our bellyQ Feast was dessert: Vietnamese Cinnamon Donuts. The plate came out with four square donuts, each with a sugar coating on the outside and topped with a berry compote. I’ll be honest that I was amazed I still had room for anything, given all the other dishes we had just gone through. But yet, there I was, cutting up a donut and downing the first piece. Light and fluffy on the inside, but yet still had the sugary crust on the outside, the donut was balanced and the berry compote’s tartness complimented the sugar coating very well.
If there was one thing that was consistent among all the dishes that we had during the evening, it was the fantastic plating. Visually, it was a great use of both color contrast and blank space on the plates; you can see for yourself in some of the photos below. As I’ve mentioned in a few other blog posts, I’m a big advocate of the notion that you eat with your eyes first, and the kitchen staff at bellyQ did a great job on that aspect.
Despite it not being the original place we were planning to eat at, bellyQ turned out to be a good alternate choice to help start off our weekend trip. The selection of dishes that we chose gave us a nice window to sample the diverse flavor profiles available on the menu. Coupled with a very pleasant dining ambiance, the restaurant is certainly one I wouldn’t mind returning to in the future.
Let’s now take a look at the bellyQ Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for bellyQ:
Food: 4 / 5
Across the six dishes that we chose, there were certainly some that rose above the others. Everything did taste fresh, however, with nothing processed. Maybe that’s how we didn’t feel stuffed despite the fact it was a lot of food!
Atmosphere: 4.75 / 5
Spacious dining area coupled with the “zen garden” aspect really helped to give off a relaxed ambiance to enjoy your meal.
Service: 4 / 5
Our waitress was friendly and very helpful to make recommendations on the menu, with it being our first time there. The remainder of the waitstaff would periodically swing by to also collect out the finished plates.
Price: 4 / 5
The bellyQ Feast ran right around $37 / person, which was not far off from where a Korean BBQ meat platter would have been ($42 / person). One utility of the bellyQ Feast was that it helped me know which dishes to dial into on a future visit.