In a Nutshell: Fat Rice takes “fusion cuisine” to soaring heights with its delectable Macanese dishes. Portuguese flavors take center stage as the tiny peninsula was a Portuguese colony from 1557 to 1999. And in a bit of culinary good fortune, Macau’s proximity to mainland China naturally allowed Cantonese recipes to also influence their cooking. Along with a nod to India, Fat Rice demonstrates the food wonders that can occur when fresh ingredients are unusually, yet thoughtfully, combined.
Ambiance: Fat Rice operates in a small space which blends modern touches (an industrial bar area, gray-washed wood) with colorful, rustic touches (bright Asian ceramics, cherry red wooden chairs.) The bar overlooks the well-lit bustling open kitchen so an individual table on the left side of the restaurant is the best option for those looking for a more intimate evening. For groups (though they ask for no parties larger than 6) or those with a preference for communal dining, there are also large tables in the “main” part of the restaurant. Word on the street is that they’re looking to carve out a more intimate waiting area in the near future as there is virtually nowhere to accommodate a line. In the summer, sidewalk tables also help to expand seating beyond the limited winter capacity. Overall, the space is relatively sparse but certainly not boring.
Service: On both occasions I’ve been there (about a year apart), they’ve had memorably friendly and helpful service. With the menu featuring such a range of portion sizes (bites, sides, shared small plates, traditional entrees and large multi-person dishes) and ethnic influences, the servers are pros at assessing your hunger and flavor preferences to arrive at a perfect amount of food customized for your taste buds. Together with the kitchen staff, they do an excellent job of sequencing the courses so that everything is perfectly paced. Additionally, we never felt rushed, even on busy weekend nights. Tables can be booked through OpenTable and if wanting to dine during prime hours, it’s best to make a reservation a few weeks in advance.
Beverages: For a smaller beverage list, it might be one of my favorites in recent memory. Whether it’s beer, wine or cocktails, it’s clear the staff carefully chooses each and every selection to compliment their dishes. For example, during my last visit, they featured Off Color Brewing’s Apex Predator; bursting with tropical fruit notes, this is a perfect accompaniment to Macanese cuisine. Cocktails are bright, refreshing and balanced- neither too tart or too sweet. And for those who love Spanish or Portuguese wine, you’ve hit the jackpot- their entire list is comprised of varietals from the Iberian peninsula. Drinks are at very reasonable price points as well- wines by the glass and cocktails both range from about $9-$13.
Food: Accolades are certainly not everything but I’ll say this– I think it’s ridiculous that Fat Rice has not earned a Michelin star. They have, however, earned a couple of other notable awards that help certify the level of deliciousness that Fat Rice is cooking up: recently, they took home top honors at the Jean Banchet Awards (Chicago’s top culinary awards) with the 2015 Restaurant of the Year. They also ranked 4th on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant list in 2013. For the money, it is one of the most interesting menus in the city. Just to confirm, the signature dish is absolute heaven. The fat rice is literally teeming with goodness: sausage, prawns, clams, chicken thighs, pork, duck, olives. It substantially serves 2-3. And while the namesake dish is certainly worth ordering, even the simplest menu items are amazing. The last time there they featured a seemingly unassuming “stir-fried okra” side. I ate every last morsel of that dish- it was perfectly cooked and delicate yet bursting with flavor. With an a menu as sizable as theirs, the biggest drawback of Fat Rice is having food envy from the array of other dishes at surrounding tables.
The Devil’s in the Details: From the intuitive service to the expertly crafted beverage list to a menu full of culinary surprises, this Logan Square gem excels in all areas. Book a table and bring a few friends to help try as much of this delicious menu as possible. And hopefully 2016 will be the year of Michelin for a well-deserving Fat Rice.
Photo credit: Mark Much (restaurant shot, featured on Eater.com); Bill Addison (food shot, featured on Eater.com)