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James Beard Foundation names Chicago's Fat Rice dish among faves of 2013

The bacalhau with olives, chilies and mint at Fat Rice. | PHOTO COURTESY Galdones Photography/Fat Rice

The James Beard Foundation, that oh-so prestigious gastronomic organization that selects the best of the culinary world in myriad categories each year, has just released its list of its FAVORITE food/drink of 2013. Included in their choices is the bacalhau (salt cod) at Chicago’s own Fat Rice, 2957 W. Diversey, that bastion of marvelous Euro-Asian artistry under the watchful eye of chef/co-owner Abraham Conlon.

“Recaps of trends and memes are all well and good, but we like to define a year of eating in more satisfying terms: the food that really delivered. Herewith, our favorite dishes of 2013,” the JBF website proclaims.

Here is how the JBF (the “Oscars of the culinary world) summed up Fat Rice’s winning dish:

The Bacalhau with Olives, Chilies, and Mint at Fat Rice, Chicago

“At Logan Square’s Fat Rice, owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo recast Macanese cuisine as “Euro-Asian comfort food,” cherry-picking the larders of Portugal, India, China, and Southeast Asia to craft a menu that feels at once novel and familiar. Some dishes, like braised sweet-and-sour pork belly with tamarind, pineapple, and chicharrónes and the signature arroz gordo, are riotous interpretations of Macau’s singular fusion. Others, like this bacalhau, are more to the point, but just as delightful. Conlon tops his housemade salt cod (a recipe passed down from his great grandmother) with chilies, mint, and smoked paprika, and serves the spread with papo seco, a traditional Portuguese bread that’s made with lard.” —Anna Mowry, Senior Editor

“The dish was just so delicious, but I also thought it was a great distillation of the philosophy of the menu,” Mowry said when reached by phone today. “You have this simple dish representative of Macanese cuisine, in fact it’s his great-grandmother’s recipe.”

Mowry, who visited Fat Rice in September while on a work trip to Chicago, said Conlon’s great-grandmother Beatrice would prepare the salt cod with garlic, olives, vinegar, parsley, a healthy dose of wild red onions and olive oil; Conlon took the recipe to a whole new level. The restaurant makes its own salt cod cured with sea salt and fresh thyme.

As part of a Sun-Times Starving Artist Coalition story earlier this year, Conlon discussed the multifaceted world of his menu creations: