Here’s the basic scan of the Urban Belly situation: “most of the local-eater-and-journalist set are drooling in their noodles and falling over their Twitter and blog-software interfaces and Yelp postings anointing it as the Second Coming.”
So sayeth Mike Nagrant, and he’s pretty much on target. So far Monica Eng, Mike Gebert, and Steve Dolinksy have all swooned, to greater or lesser degrees, over the fare Chef Bill Kim doles out — and that’s just the top of our Google Reader.
But Nagrant is the guy who knocked the wind out of Yats, and while his review of Urban Belly isn’t quite as gleefully vitriolic as his takedown of the West Loop Cajun newcomer was, we get a healthy dose of his skeptical palate. The balloon isn’t burst, kids, but there’s a little bit of deflation going on. The very first sentence skewers the kitchen’s offerings, and it doesn’t move too far from there:
Urban Belly … is decent Asian food for unadventurous pseudo-foodies and hipsters with money to burn.
Speaking of burns! He goes on to scrape off the layers of gloss that have built up on the Korean-ish noodle and dumpling joint, starting with the highbrow-goes-low origin story, moving along to parallels to NYC’s media-ubiquitous Momofuku restaurants, helmed by chef David Chang:
I’m guessing many of the food-obsessed have secretly longed for our own local Momofuku, so we could lord it over any and all comers that there’s nothing Chicago doesn’t own. Kim’s spot seemed the logical anointee. I’ve never been to Momofuku, but if Urban Belly is truly like Chang’s spot, then Chang’s success represents a supreme golden fleecing of American food media.
It’s not that the food at Urban Belly isn’t good. It’s that it’s just not great.
Like we said, this isn’t the evisceration that Yats received at Nagrant’s hand. But for a restaurant with such loftily hip aspirations as Urban Belly, mediocrity is far more damning than screeching failure. We get the sense from this review that Nagrant would have been more generous with his praise (or perhaps more forgiving of Kim’s kitchen’s flaws) if UB’s prices (and apparent pretension) weren’t sky-high. But Nagrant is forthright about how little he values atmosphere — your own mileage, of course, may vary.
[Photo: Lamb with brandy dumplings, via Sky Full of Bacon]