Restaurants , Barbecue West Loop
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 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason Little


 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason Little


 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha Williams

Spicy lemongrass chicken at BellyQ

 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason Little


 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason Little


 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha Williams

Long Goodnight cocktail at BellyQ

 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason Little


 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha Williams

Citrus ice with vanilla soft serve at BellyQ

 (Jason Little)
Jason Little


The authenticity police are having a field day at bellyQ. They ask: How do chef Bill Kim’s seafood pancakes and short ribs compare to the pajeon and kalbi at Hae Woon Dae or Chicago Kalbi? Answer: They don’t. Because although the food at all these places is rooted in similar traditions, I’ll bet few to none of the guests with whom I shared the dining room during my visits to this West Loop newcomer started the evening by asking their dates, “Would you rather go to a Korean barbecue restaurant on the Far Northwest Side…or bellyQ?”

BellyQ is loud and trendy, and the monologues of its exceedingly well-trained staff can be eye-rollingly scripted. That said, it’s a very good-looking room, designed with (blessedly) less of the wannabe-street effect that blights Kim’s Belly Shack and (again, blessedly) more of the earthy, pleasing minimalism that graces his first breakout hit, Urbanbelly. The place is of a scale and slickness that marks a surprising turn for Kim, who seemed to have put grand productions (Trotter’s, Le Lan) behind him.

Yet I see in bellyQ the influence of these years he’s spent dedicated to smallness: Though the menu is crafted like a small book, it’s not overwhelming; Kim is a tremendous cook but an even better editor. BellyQ could have had a far-reaching plated dessert menu; instead, it serves three variations on one truly peerless vanilla soft-serve, layered with tart, fruity shaved ice (huckleberry, passion fruit), lime-basil seeds or yuzu tapioca pearls. When you (and by you, I mean Kim) know that this cool-but-creamy, rich-but-refreshing delight is the perfect way for diners to complete the prior progression of bold, savory flavors, why leave room for them to make the error of ordering something else?

The same goes for the cocktails, crafted by consultant Peter Vestinos. There are only five, but each one is absorbing. Take the Indochine: It greets you with a big nose of Thai basil. You lean into it and there’s the fragrance of cinnamon. You taste it and it’s almost indiscernible—who among us has had the rumlike arrack spirit played against chai tea?—yet agreeable. It’s funny that bellyQ has chosen as its slogan “tradition, amplified.” Kim and Vestinos’s flavors seem less amplified than teased out. Amping something up suggests a brashness that is antithetical to what’s going on here.

For instance: Obviously, Kim could have made a seafood pancake in the traditional style (with the shrimp and squid baked into the batter) and ensured that, through proper technique, it wouldn’t fall prey to the dish’s tendency toward grease and mush. Instead, he chose to separate the seafood from the batter, serving a thin—almost delicately crisp—pancake with a lovely nest of ceviche of salmon and calamari on top of it. You gain—in subtlety, in sophistication—but you also lose a little: Unlike traditional takes, this is a dish to appreciate more than to crave.

This is, however, an anomaly. Thai-style fried chicken is habit-forming, the rare bird that’s remarkable not just for its crunchy fry but for the supremely juicy and flavorful meat that’s tucked inside the triple-battered exterior. There are a few tables by the windows where you can grill your own meats; I was never able to snag one, but the kitchen will prepare any of the meats for you (I trust them more than myself anyway). Though the thin, bone-in Korean short ribs were perfectly solid, it was the spicy lemongrass chicken that stole the show with its heady, even heat. Flakes of fried shallot give the intensely, absurdly fatty lamb ribs just the slightest bit of crunch: Torn from the bones and stuffed into steamed buns with crisp slaw and a dollop of Kim’s perfected sauces, the dish becomes pure gustatory pleasure. Journeys to the quiet corners of the menu yielded marvelous discoveries, like the lentil soup, a translucent, heat-backed broth filled with tender little lentils and diced silky tofu. And who could have anticipated that the warm, creamy spinach, tangled with bits of funky Chinese sausage and played against cool, acidic quinoa, would be one of the best things I ate here? This is a $4 side, and it’s as complex and intriguing (if not more so) than most restaurants’ best entrées.

Venue name: bellyQ
Address: 1400 W Randolph St
Cross street: at Loomis St
Opening hours: Sun-Wed 5pm-10pm (bar until 11pm); Thurs-Sat 5pm-11pm (bar until midnight); Brunch Sunday 11am-3pm
Transport: El stop:Green,Pink to Ashland. Bus:9,20.
Price: Average main course: $20
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  • Sunday November 6 2016 - Sunday November 6 2016
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3.7 / 5

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Jill F

I dined at bellyQ recently and partook in their several-course tabletop grill dinner for $60. It was a splurge, but I think you get a lot for the price. It started with a Greek salad topped with lamb to share. Then my friend and I ordered the meats and sides: pork belly, short rib and tuna, along with creamy broccoli and smashed sweet potatoes. I'll just say now that the sweet potatoes were my favorite dish of the night, oh man. I would go back for those alone. They were covered in some divine sticky sweetness. The meats come with a ton of vegetables on the side--some pickled and some for you to throw on the grill. For dessert we had some insane doughnuts topped with chocolate and peanut butter and soft-serve ice cream. Like I said, a pretty good value for the price.

I will say that the service could have been better. We did not have proper grilling utensils when we started grilling or enough serving utensils or eating plates overall. Oh, also, they have crazy great happy hour until 7 p.m. daily at the bar, with $5 drinks and snacks.

Madeline N

I'm not a huge fan of Korean cuisine, but I'll say that BellyQ has some of the best. Its a great trendy atmosphere with attentive staff and wonderful drinks, I recommend the macaroni and cheese!

Nick Kotecki

The macaroni and cheese dish here is completely unexpected, but the rest of the menu is equally as joyful and surprising. Don't expect a traditional Korean meal here, know you'll have a delicious one.