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BOWLED OVER Fat Rice’s signature dish, Arroz Gordo ($48)

Getting in the Mix

by Lisa Shames | Men's Book Chicago magazine | November 26, 2014

“Fusion” is sometimes considered a bad word. We blame those terrible ingredient mashups of the late ‘80s (roast-beef sushi rolls, anyone?). These days, however, some creative Chicago chefs are tapping into their own cultural backgrounds, passions and professional know-how to create cuisine hybrids that are personal, fun and downright delicious, no matter what you call them.

Fat Rice
Before Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo opened Fat Rice two years ago, we had no idea what Macanese food was. Now we can’t get enough of this tasty blend of ingredients and techniques from Portugal, India, China and Southeast Asia. “This melding of cultures is what we focus on,” says Conlon, who does intense research to make sure he gets each dish right. Case in point: The Logan Square restaurant’s signature dish, Arroz Gordo, an intricately layered clay bowl full of jasmine rice, chicken, sausages, prawns, clams and peppers. “For us, understanding where you’re coming from to know where you’re going is huge,” says Conlon. 2957 W. Diversey Ave., 773.661.9170 

At this charming West Town restaurant, owner-chef Carlos Gaytan borrows freely from his Mexican heritage and French culinary training. But don’t expect to see Frenchified tacos or enchiladas. Rather, you’ll find a seasonal menu full of unique ingredient-focused dishes, such as seafood mousse tamal and rabbit pibil rillettes. For his take on foie gras, Gaytan uses flavors reminiscent of a traditional mole, including chocolate, ancho chiles, cumin and cinnamon. A tequila-based marinade adds some smokiness, and we’ll drink—er, eat—to that. 1529 W. Chicago Ave., 312.850.0288

Spanish may be the official language of Peru, but influences from both China and Japan are all over this South American country—and that goes for the food too. For the restaurant’s nikei tiradito— “a sister to cebiche,” says Peruvian-born chef Jesus Delgado—seared tuna is combined with lime juice, passion fruit and chiles. Ay caramba, indeed. 118 W. Grand Ave., 312.222.9700

It was famed Chinese chef Susanna Foo who first opened chef Bill Kim’s eyes to the possibilities of melding the cuisines of various Asian countries with local and regional ingredients. Since then, he’s been doing just that and more, first at Urbanbelly, followed by Belly Shack and now BellyQ. Exhibit A: This dish of roasted tuna with coconut grits, marinated vegetables and a funky shrimp dressing, his lightened-up riff on the traditional Southern staple, shrimp and grits. “The world has gotten a lot smaller for all of us,” says Kim. Tastier too. 1400 W. Randolph St., 312.563.1010

This quaint new Avondale restaurant from husband-and-wife chefs John Clark and Beverly Kim has already earned plenty of praise for its inventive spin on Korean-American food. Standouts on the ever evolving menu include hand-torn noodles with Sichuan-spiced lamb, baked potato bread, summer squash and shiitake mandu (Korean dumplings), and tempura-battered sesame leaves, an afterschool snack Kim’s mom used to make for her (some kids have all the luck). “Our goal is to not overthink the food and let the flavors shine,” says Kim. We think they’re onto something. 3500 N. Elston Ave., 773.654.1460

Mott St
While the menu at this Wicker Park restaurant may effortlessly wander all over the globe—Spain, Greece, Italy, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, India and Mexico are all well-represented here—chef Edward Kim’s intention is closer to home. “We just want to be a great Chicago restaurant in Chicago,” he says. Kim’s wonderfully quirky dishes, such as General Tso’s lamb sweetbreads and kimchee empanadas, show he’s succeeding. Of all the shouldn’t-work-but-do ingredient pairings here, perhaps the most striking is found in the stuffed cabbage, which features layers of crispy sushi rice, tender braised pork butt and napa cabbage sitting in a light kimchee broth. “We’re trying to dig deep,” says Kim. “We believe good food is universal.” 1401 N. Ashland Ave., 773.687.9977