Williamsburg’s Belly borrows the Japanese multi course omakase concept to highlight the glory and diversity of Korean bacon
by Nat Colman • photos by Annabelle Lee
Omakase, in Japanese, translates to “I’ll leave it up to you,” and is most often heard on these shores with respect to a unique brand presentation at sushi restaurants, in which a series of selections is largely or entirely left to the chef. Typically, the sequence begins with smaller dishes, and evolves into the heavier and more complicated. A relatively new arrival to city environs, you’ll see omakase in places like Kura on St. Mark’s Place, Sushi Dojo on First Avenue, and Sushi on Jones in the Bowery, and it is unquestionably gathering steam.
Executive Chef Philip Cho and partner Anna Lee have applied the term in a novel way, in an attempt to describe the delicacy, diversity, and deliciousness not of roe, torii, or octopus, but of…pork belly (aka Korean bacon). The result is Belly, a just opened establishment at the corner of Driggs and Grand Avenues, with a combination of à la carte menu and a performance art like nine course bacon omakase. The intent is to convey to diners that Korean fare can be much more than the cooktop at table presentations seen up and down 32nd Street in Manhattan’s “K Town.”
“It started as a series of laid back, bacon centric dinners that we used to stage for our pork obsessed friends,” the partners explained. “They’d be riffs on traditional home cooking and comfort food that we grew up eating. Before long, we realized that we were onto something, and some brainstorming sessions later, an omakase began to take shape and Belly was born.”
To execute the vision, Cho and Lee brought on Executive Chef Brian Crawford, who helmed the food and beverage programs at The Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel W Hotel Downtown (both in Manhattan).
Belly’s interior presents a minimalist and relaxed layout, with a cement bar, white picnic style tables and chairs, large windows, and wood paneling (along with a set of interesting and fully retractable wooden doors leading to the à la carte dining area and ordering counter). There’s also a window that opens to the street for take out, and downstairs is BEATS Karaoke, a 12 room BYOB parlor that’s available for private parties and walk ins (K Town fans will appreciate the synergy at work here, as karaoke plays a vital role in Manhattan’s Korean restaurant row).
Available only at the 10 seat bar and 10 seat communal table, the omakase is designed, according to Cho and Lee, “to bring diners on a journey exploring different cuts, textures, and preparations of pork.” They recommend beginning the experience with a cold glass of draft beer or sparkling wine, accompanied by homemade liver mousse with Korean yellow mustard and pickled onions on white sourdough bread essentially an amuse bouche. Next comes Bacon Sushi 2.0, pork jowl dotted with wasabe, lime, and salt over sushi rice, followed by Chicharron de Belly (thick cut pork and a maple soy glaze with market greens), then Grilled Bacon pork jowl accompanied by salted shrimp garlic aioli and topped with katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna) that actually moves about slightly as it’s placed on the hot pork jowl.
A number of the courses are riffs on dishes common in other cultures. The Spicy Pulled Pork Taco, for example, features pork shoulder with red chili, ginger, garlic, and lime, while the Ricotta Cheese Ravioli is stuffed with pork belly and pork butt and accompanied by scallions, pork jus, and pickled red chili. Sausage Arancini, meanwhile, features short grained Arborio rice filled with house cured sausage, deep fried and served with a creamy kimchi sauce. The savory sequence’s finale is Belly’s interpretation of Surf & Turf in this case pork belly with the catch of the day on top of a Miso Beurre Blanc sauce, and served alongside honey butter potato.
That leaves dessert, and for the omakase, that means Housemade Mille Crepe Cake, with layers of apple compote, the house’s “secret” smoky whipped cream, and topped with bacon chips. Until that last moment, we’d happily contented ourselves with a certainty that the best meat inclusive dessert on the planet is Viviane’s (in LA) Black Truffle and Foie Gras Bread Pudding, but Billy’s combination of sweet and savory is at once perplexing, mutually complementary, and amazing. It’s served with a refreshingly cold Korean plum tea (made and bottled in house), with an understated sweetness that leaves palate space for contemplation.
Those not quite ready to tackle an experience of such breadth can select from an abridged, five course version, served during lunch hours. There’s also an à la carte section, available day and night, that includes the Belly Sandwich (housemade gochujang glazed pork belly with pickled cucumbers and Korean coleslaw on Balthazar bakery bread) and the Bohemian Wrapsody, a grilled wrap filled with salt and pepper pork jowl, mixed greens, white rice, pickled cucumbers, and red chili pepper, with housemade miso walnut sauce. Two bowls round out the offerings: the Get in My Belly! features pork belly braised in housemade soy sauce over white rice, Korean coleslaw, potato salad, and a fried egg, while the Slim Kim is pancetta style pork jowl over glass noodles tossed with housemade chili oil, soy sauce, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and pickled cucumbers. Early risers can select from a new small breakfast menu available both in restaurant and at the street side takeout window. This will include two sandwiches: Bacon, Egg & Cheese (house cured American style bacon, jumbo egg, cheddar) and Sausage, Egg & Cheese (houseground sausage, jumbo egg, provolone cheese).
219 Grand Street / 888.777.0087