Several years ago, I went to visit Chicago to not only visit my friends there but also to check out a few outstanding restaurants in the Windy City. I do believe that when it comes to creativity and dynamic energy of New American cuisine, Chicago is on par with New York City, having such influential restaurants as Alinea (which to my regret I haven’t had an opportunity to visit), goosefoot (which belongs in the 9.5 KenScale category), Girl and the Goat, Au Cheval and a wave of newcomers like Smyth, Giant, Parachute and others that have made their names as the best new restaurants in America. For all its greatness, though, Chicago has not been equally successful in developing Asian restaurants despite Americans’ growing love for food from China, Japan, Korea, India and other countries with rich culinary traditions. One exception to this somewhat surprising deficiency is Fat Rice, which has won universal acclaim since its opening in 2012 with a very unique taste of Macao, drawing from influences from Portugal, China and Southeast Asia among others. I am typically skeptical of these fusion concepts for it is easier said than done to seamlessly blend disparate flavors and textures, but when I visited Fat Rice in Chicago back in 2013, I recall there were certainly more hits than misses. The issue during my visit was that I was checking out so many great restaurants so I probably lost a little perspective on the special things that the kitchen was doing. When the Fat Rice team decided to take residence at Chefs Club in Nolita where I consistently had great meals, I decided that it was time for a re-visit. I was very glad that my wife Jun and I made a reservation, for we were very satisfied with the high quality of dishes we had tried.
The flavor of Macao coming from the Fat Rice kitchen is at first hard to pinpoint in a few words. It is generally not as fiery as its Thai and Sichuan counterparts, but it certainly is not overly sweet. The bold flavor of each dish that you get here, though, was quite distinct and, more importantly, addictively delicious. Since Jun and I are partial to spicy dishes, we decided to go mostly with the ones on the menu with chili pepper signs next to them. For a starter, chili prawns with vinho verde butter sauce were a great option, with crunchy texture of prawns and the rich sauce (I suggest, like our server did, ordering a side of papo seco (a type of Portuguese bread) to dip on the sauce after finishing the prawns) working harmoniously together. Our consensus favorite dish was the spicy cuttlefish with fried rice. The dish was not quite as spicy as we had expected, but the complex flavor coming from multiple ingredients like tamarind, chili, and apple was wonderful. If this dish is available every week, I’ll certainly be glad to get my hands on it!
Since we didn’t separately order coconut rice on the side, we had to wait until the main dishes came to eat with the fried rice, and it was a very hard wait for me. For the larger dishes, I slightly preferred pork cheek vindalho with Eurasian achar (a type of Indian condiment) and charred scallion, which displayed a ton of punch in its flavor that was quite outstanding, although Jun thought the seasoning could be slightly moderated. On the other hand, the tamarind and fresh herb curry that came with beef shoulder roast was surprisingly too mild, and the entire dish tasted more like a French beef stew, although the beef’s texture was very balanced and worked well with eggplant and long beans inside the curry as well. For dessert, the chocolate mousse was not too sweet just for my liking (and Jun approved its delightful flavor as well) and adding gel made of madeira (a type of fortified wine in Portugal) was another smart touch that made this dish a winner.
Just like for previous residences, getting a reservation at Chefs Club isn’t too difficult thanks to its relatively large dining space, but when we visited on a Friday evening, it was nearly packed so I highly recommend booking a reservation first. There was full bar menu with Macao-inspired cocktails and Portuguese-heavy wine lists. Given the focus of the cuisine, we witnessed a nice mixture of diners with Asian descent who are familiar with some elements of the food they are eating and curious Caucasians who wanted to check out the secret behind Fat Rice’s fame. It was another successful series from the Chefs Club, and I highly encourage people to check out all the magic happening at the kitchen (the residence ends on October 5).
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 275 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 941-1100