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The slogan for Bill Kim's latest restaurant, BellyQ, is "Tradition. Amplified." But Mike Sula finds the food at this Randolph Row redo surprisingly muted, its "modern Korean" showing little of the cuisine's muscle, heat, or funk. The few meats available for tabletop grilling come in small portions unlikely to inspire "the sort of primal, gluttonous fire party" you'll find at traditional Korean barbecues like San Soo Gap San or Hai Woon Dae (don't look for late-night hours, either). The much-ballyhooed "tea-smoked meats" are gorgeous but bear not a whiff of tea leaves, and Kim's rice-flour pancakes, a riff on Korean jeon, are drier and less chewy than the ideal, with nothing to hold their toppings (kimchi and bacon, goat cheese and fried noodles) in place.
There are also some salads, hot pots, and little bites such as deep-fried boneless chicken thighs, but brighter than these are Kim's sauces, particularly the soy-and-vinegar-based "Seoul Sauce" and the powerful "Belly Smoke, both of which are available in bottles at BQ2Go, the quick-service lunch counter in back. Another bright spot is the beverage program, designed by Peter Vestinos and including wines on tap, sakes, shochus, and a short cocktail list that yields some dramatically good drinks. It's all served up in a loud, cafeteria-like atmosphere with an open kitchen and a karaoke room featuring portraits of local rock stars—that is to say, chefs.
In this week's Cocktail Challenge, Karl Fernandez of Old Town Pour House tackles Parmigiano Reggiano, devising the Cheese Course, made with "P.R." ice cream, Grey Goose la Poire, Stoli honey vodka, a drizzle of balsamic, and a slice of grilled pear wrapped in prosciutto. Next up is Gina O'Brien of Rockit Bar & Grill, working with soy sauce.
On the Bleader: Mike Sula's parting shot at Bonsoiree version 2.0, which will close on Saturday; Julia Thiel's highlights from the Independent Spirits Expo; cheap eats at Lito's Empanadas; and a West African peanut stew, made with the Ghanaian hot pepper sauce shito.