There were many highs and a lot of lows in the Chicago food scene in 2012, but one thing’s for sure: We ended on a high note with the addition of Fat Rice. The Logan Square Portuguese and Chinese hybrid from the people behind the erstwhile X-Marx is a critical hit.
In Julia Kramer’s Time Out Chicago review, she emphatically opens with a demand: "you’re getting the arroz gordo. It’s a spectacle to behold, a paella-like thicket in which sausage, pork, clams and prawns are piled on a bed of rice–a dish worthy of sharing its name (which translates to fat rice) with the restaurant itself." The tea egg, one of the components of the arroz, is "fragrant and saturated with seasoning." She goes on to say that " the soul of the dish… [is] packed with nuggets of Chinese sausage and pickled raisins that burst with sweet, tangy juices." Kramer lauds the fact that the fusion newcomer "doesn’t taste like it: The food is natural and understated." Other parts of the meal that she enjoyed were the Balichang & Catfish, which, she says, were "a pot of unsung riches." She even feels that the wine is worth mentioning because it’s a "small, exciting, well-priced list." It’s rare that we hear Kramer dish such laudatory praise onto a new dining establishment, so this was a pleasant surprise. [TOC]
"Exciting Fusion at Fat Rice" is the title of Mike Sula’s semi-history lesson/glowing review of Fat Rice. He "…would like to thank the Portuguese for Fat Rice…" Sula, like Kramer, praises the arroz gordo, and says that "before the word fusion was met with reflexive eyeball rolling, the Macanese [folks from Macau] were putting seemingly disparate influences together in dishes like arroz gordo, the restaurant’s Portuguese namesake: a deep ceramic casserole stuffed with fatty slabs of roast pork, crispy chicken thighs, dense slices of Portuguese sausage, monstrous beady-eyed prawns, plump clams, tea-infused hard-boiled eggs, olives, chiles, and pickled peppers and tomatoes, all crammed in among rice fused crispy to the bottom of the bowl like the socarrat on a perfectly crafted paella." One of the few things that Sula didn’t like about Fat Rice, though, is the sheer number of choices on hand: "The only trouble is narrowing…options down." But even that’s not a total disadvantage to him. He relishes the fact that he has so many small plates options to choose from: "The sour chile cabbage is in fact indistinguishable from a good funky kimchi," and "the spicy-sour profile of a Thai som tam…[makes] it one of the most eye-opening selections…on the menu." Sula thinks the dessert hit the sweet spot as well: "For dessert there are fewer options, but no way to go wrong: a terrifically moist, but none too sweet pineapple upside-down cake is mellowed by sherry-vinegar caramel and drizzled with cream…" In his conclusion, Sula admits that he is "rarely as excited by a new place as [he is] by Fat Rice, and that’s a feeling that extends beyond the startling vibrancy of the food." [The Chicago Reader]
Authenticity of flavors seems to be the true test of a fusion restaurant in the eyes of Mike Nagrant, and Fat Rice has it in spades: "My admiration for Fat Rice doesn’t come so much from its uniqueness or its off-the-beaten-path vibe, but rather from its fearless pursuit of rustic presentations and authentic (by which I mean unfamiliar to Westerners) ingredients. In some ways, Fat Rice, which dabbles in pig tongue, sour cabbage and wintermelon, is as hardcore as anything you’d find deep in Chinatown." Wow, what a compliment. Unlike Sula and Kramer, however, he does not recommend the namesake dish, the fat rice bowl. He knows he "must have the house-special fat rice, a bowl brimming with a crunchy and soft mix of rice, plump head-on prawns, fatty wafers of grilled linguica sausage, clams in the shell and plump hunks of pork belly…[but] one of the clams is a bit fishy, and after a while it’s a chore to spit out the unpitted olives and cut the humongous pickled tomatoes and whole peppers also tossed in the mix." He, like Sula, enjoys the desserts wholeheartedly: "…A rice crisp… though it sounds like a Rice Krispies treat that’s had an unfortunate head on collision with a maki roll, the combo is a surprising and a satisfying sweet and salty mix." Well, we know what we’re ordering when we go to Fat Rice. [Chicago Sun-Times]