Events

Fat Rice with Portuguese Wines

with Chefs Abe Conlon, Adrienne Lo and Professionel du Vin Craig Perman

Sunday, October 19, 2014 – Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunday, October 19 (40 guests)
Monday, October 20 (40 guests)

40 guests per night
(Part of our Dining Around the World Series.)

Review

Fusion Fête at Fat Rice

BY TODD ARKEBAUER, VICE-CHARGÉ DE PRESSE
PHOTOS BY JASON E. MUELVER

On October 19-20, 2014, over 80 members and guests of Chaîne Chicago experienced the critically acclaimed Macanese cuisine of Fat Rice with chef-owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo in the season’s inaugural Dining Around the World adventure. Paired with expertly selected, food-friendly Portuguese wines, the event proved to be an unforgettable exploration of what has been called the “world’s ultimate fusion cuisine.”

This two-year-old Logan Square eatery celebrates the gastronomic traditions of Macau, a former Portuguese colony now a Special Administrative Region of China. Macanese food melds cuisines from southern China and the worldwide Lusophonic community—Portugal and its former colonies in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia where Portuguese is still spoken today. Don’t expect to find restaurants like Fat Rice, however, throughout tiny Macau. Inspired by Chef Abe’s Portuguese background and Chef Adrienne’s Chinese heritage, the Fat Rice duo visited Macau four years ago and discovered that traditional Macanese food was disappearing with its eldest generation. Following this serendipitous journey, the partners (in life and business) opened Fat Rice to showcase their spin on this boldly flavored food and to preserve a dying culinary culture.

The reception to Fat Rice has been overwhelmingly positive. Bon Appétit magazine named Fat Rice #4 on its list of Best New American Restaurants 2013. It made the Michelin Guide‘s 2014 Bib Gourmand list, won Best New Restaurant 2013 at Chicago’s Jean Banchet Awards, and was recently named a Global Selection by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Among their many other accolades, Chefs Abe and Adrienne were semi-finalists for the prestigious 2014 James Beard Awards.

Wines for the evening were chosen by Professionnel du Vin Craig Perman of Perman Wine Selections, his boutique wine shop. Craig has travelled with the Fat Rice team throughout Portugal’s wine country, so he was uniquely qualified to select wines that paired impeccably with the Euro-Asian comfort food and share interesting stories from their winemaker visits.

Following a brief reception, attendees were seated in the casual, dimly lit eatery. An action-packed open kitchen provided for great theater, and rustic culinary collectibles gave the space a homey vibe appropriate for the family-style dining event. Bowls of pickles awaited hungry diners:  trumpet mushrooms with meaty strips of cold-smoked, soy-cured tofu; Sichuan-style sweet and sour eggplant with spicy peanut sauce; lemongrass carrots; radish bean achar; and pig ear furuso seasoned with mustard, chili, mint and soy. Casa de Saima Espumante, Reserva Bruto, Bairrada, 2012, a fruit-forward sparkler made in the Champagne method using Bical, Maria Gomes and Chardonnay grapes, paired beautifully with the diverse starters.

The next wave of appetizers included salada de bacalhau, a silky smooth salted and dried cod brandade accompanied by sliced papo seco, traditional Portuguese crusty rolls. A platter of razor-thin sliced jamón de jabugo de bellota confirmed its renowned reputation with melt-in-your-fat that imparted a creamy texture to the nutty, sweet meat. Almonds and mixed olives—including Moroccan Black, Cobrancosa, Madural, and purple Chinese—were also served. These dishes matched admirably with 2012 Quinta do Ameal, “Escolha” Loureiro (the “select” grapes of this varietal) from the Vinho Verde, a coastal region in the northwest known for its fresh, lively whites. This wine exhibited citrus and white peach notes that complemented the fish, and the subtle brioche and vanilla flavors from six-months of oak barrel ageing heightened the ham. 

Servers then presented skillets containing a ring of pork, shrimp and dill stuffed pot stickers bonded to a crispy crepe-like blanket, which added a nice textural element to each bite, as well as traditional boiled lamb dumplings. The accompanying umami-laden fermented black vinegar sauce with garlic, scallions and house made hot sauce was sinfully addictive. Guests also enjoyed a unique dish of dry-fried string beans with spicy minced pork, tiny dried Southeast Asian fish (peixinho frito), Goan preserved lemon and Chinese red chilies. This dish was Chef Abe’s lighter and more flavorful play on a traditional Portuguese dish called peixinhos da horta, basically tempura-style green beans. These courses paired with Filipa Pato “FP” Vinho Branco, Bairrada, 2012, a blend of Bical and Arinto made by the daughter of Luis Pato, a legendary winemaker in the Bairrada region. This refreshing, modern-style wine exhibited white peach and lemon flavors with hints of fennel that complemented the herbs and citrus flavors of the accompanying cuisine.

Finally, diners feasted on Fat Rice’s eponymous dish.  Arroz gordo is billed as “the celebratory dish of Macau…a bountiful, home-style, layered rice dish that is usually prepared for family and friends on special occasions.” The visually stunning presentation arrived in a ceramic pot overflowing with tender boneless curried chicken thigh, Chinese flavored barbequed pork (char siu), linguiça sausage, colossal head-on chilli prawns and littleneck clams over jasmine sofrito rice, its socarrat crust reminiscent of perfect paellas. Delicioso! Raba-raba, a salad of seasonal greens, green papaya, mushroom and esmargal (mackeral chutney), provided a light and refreshing contrast. Matching wine with the explosive sweet and savory flavors of the fat rice may have been challenging, but Craig was up to the task.  Gravato “Palhete” 2005, produced from vines over 60 years old in the Mêda region of northeast Portugal, blended six varieties of white and red grapes. On its own, this wine was rather lean, but when paired with the fat rice, it gained complexity and body from the red grapes and an aromatic intensity from the whites that worked delightfully with this showstopper.

Attendees were then treated to a new dish from Fat Rice’s fall menu. Pato de cabidela, a well-known Macanese stew, united Gunthorp Farms duck cooked in its own blood and red wine (molho de sangue) with taro dumplings, sliced lotus root and a dash of sesame seeds.  A delicata stirfry with tomato and basil accompanied the duck, the ribbons of squash cooked perfectly al dente. Pairing with the duck was the flagship wine of Quinta de Mouro, a small family estate located in the southern Portugal’s sunny Alentejo region, which produces wines that tend to be fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol than other Portugal wine regions. The 2007 Tinto, blending primarily indigenous Aragonez and Alicante Bouschet varietals with some Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon, was dense with black fruit and oak flavors and fine tannins that complemented the rich, dark-meat dish.

Finally, Chef Adrienne presented her celebrated pastéis de nata, caramelized egg custard puff pastries made with “love and secrets.” Dessert was paired with Fonseca 20-Year Tawny Port, the evening’s only offering from the Chicago Chaîne’s wine cellar. This finely balanced tawny displayed wonderful richness and a balance of raisiny fruit and honeyed almonds that provided a perfect conclusion the memorable meal.

The Fat Rice story is wildly improbable. Partners discover an obscure, disappearing cuisine that has been melding the food of their respective heritages since the mid-1600s; halfway around the globe their culinary passions are then channeled into a venture that both preserves and advances these gastronomic traditions; and the result is a universally celebrated restaurant. Chaîne Chicago was privileged to explore the Macanese cuisine of Chefs Abe and Adrienne. With Craig Perman’s Portugese wine pairings, the culinary journey was a thrilling fusion fairytale with a very happy ending!

Invitation

Cher Confrères and Consœurs:

Our next function will be a departure from traditional Chaîne dinner events in format, atmosphere and venue.  It will be in a neighborhood eatery in Logan Square.  It will be casual, the dining room is an extension of an open kitchen, service will be communal, comfort food - in short, homey, warm, nostalgic, fresh and without pretenses.  Just like being at home with a professional chef!

Event Price: $160pp

But do not let its informality and humble surroundings deceive you.  Food magazines and reviewers across the nation have sung the praises of Fat Rice.  The waiting lines have been legendary.  Its cuisine (and the culinary credentials of the duo behind this joint) is impeccable.

Chef/Partner Abe Conlon (CIA, Hyde Park) and GM/Partner Adrienne Lo describe their “baby”: 

“Drawing influence from the Euro-Asian unions of China, India and Southeast Asia’s colonial past, the food at Fat Rice combines home-style comfort with exotic lesser known ingredients and flavors.  Influences are rooted in the travels of the Portuguese and countries they touched over the past 500 years.  Fat Rice is the celebration, preservation and evolution of these past happenings, embracing the traditions of old and presenting them in a new light on a menu of hearty curries, handmade noodles and wood-grilled meats – all hot and spicy and served in a family-style setting. . . . Fat Rice may seem progressive but it’s old.

“At Fat Rice our dishes are lovingly prepared with PEANUT OIL, olive oil, SOY, animal fats, TREE NUTS, PEANUTS, onions, garlic, EGGS, DAIRY, capsaicin, fin fish, fish sauce, WHEAT and wheat products, CRUSTACEANS (shrimp, lobster and crab), BIVALVES (clams, mussels and oysters) and there is PORK in many items. . . . . “

Many have long wish to dine at Fat Rice but have been deterred by its “No Reservation” policy and daunting waiting line.  Well, despair no more!  Partners Abe and Adrienne have graciously made an exception for Chaîne Chicago.  They are granting us exclusive and unhindered dining access to their “home” for two consecutive nights.  They will serve us their favorite dishes to match an all-Portuguese wine selection curated by our own Professionnel du Vin Craig Perman.