This is the wine bar for which we’ve been waiting.
At WineDineWithUs, we have a penchant for these establishments. A trend that frankly began awhile ago in San Fran, spread to The City but then stopped at the East River. The few wine bars that eventually opened in the Hub were pedestrian – so-so, ho-hum, lackluster. We were so intrigued with the concept that we once journeyed to Manhattan for a weekend intensive of visiting every wine bar we though notable. It was hard work but worth it. An added bonus of the jaunt was that we were privileged to eat at the revered – but now shuttered – Tasting Table. But still we waited in vain for a good wine bar to enliven the local scene. Yet now that elusive establishment has appeared, located in that hotbed of creativity – both techie and foodie – Kendall Square, created within the footprint of the Blue Room.
Recently, I was favored with an invitation to attend a pre-opening “mock service” evening at Belly. And at long last, the wine bar wait was over.
The heart of a wine bar is its list of wines by the glass. Frankly, any fool with a wine rep can devise a wine list which will most certainly be uninspired, seeking to tap into the LCD – lowest common denominator – of taste. When I read the list of wines by the glass at Belly – curated by resident wine wizard Liz Vilardi, I was actually startled because the list was so startlingly wonderful. And envious – it was a list I wished I had composed. Some novices may find the list eccentric and lopsided; admittedly, it is Euro-centric and devoid of fruit bombs. Among the highlights of the list is a section devoted to the wines of Alois Lageder – in all, six of the maestro’s creations from the Alto Adige. Next up, a section of orange wines – white grapes vinified as red grapes – a total of five of these provocateurs. And finally the section that took my breath away, a selection of wines from all TEN of the Grand Crus of Beaujolais! By the glass! I felt right at home.
First off, though, I was torn between wine and the excellent cocktails. As cocktail culture is now ubiquitous (even in Boston!), the inclusion of a well crafted cocktail menu only adds to a bar’s ambience. The cocktail menu at Belly was created by Fanny Katz, General Manager of the bar and a graduate of the cocktail program at Drink. She suggested “The Silver Bullet” – gin, Kummel, lemon. Never having had Kummel – a liqueur flavored with carraway, cumin and aniseseed – and being adventurous, I said sure. The drink was wonderful! (I now have a new fave martini.) Fanny recommended oysters to go with the drink so I ordered a selection of both Wellfleet and Island Creek. She was right – it was a right-on match-up.
Also critical to a wine bar is the food offerings. At Belly, the menu consists of five sections – charcuterie, salumi, cheese, oysters, snacks. (Extreme carnivore selections are also available such as a rib-eye for two.) I asked Fanny to select an item from charcuterie, salumi and snacks. She chose well. My plate – or should I say board – was excellent. For the most part, charcuterie and salumi are made in-house at the Blue Room under the expert direction of Chef Robert Grant. Both my rabbit rilletes and lamb mortadella were outstanding. The rilletes had great layers of flavor but the pay off was the classical riff by Chef Grant by accompanying the rabbit with prune and Armagnac jam. And as for the mortadella, I should have asked for a pound to take home – it was that good. My snack was the bowl of white beets, beans and horseradish. I’m a sucker for beets – and these were perfectly cooked, full-flavored. Ditto for the beans – both garbanzos and red kidney. The horseradish was extremely subduded but the balsamic drizzle and chiffonade of greens made up for its absence.
And now for my favorite part of any repast – the cheese course. The cheese list here is curated by Stephanie Santos, cheesemonger at Central Bottle + Provisions. The cheeses are admirably displayed under cheese bells on a beautifully crafted table. In fact, the cheese display was my first stop upon entering Belly. The selections were excellent. Just how much cheese could I consume? In the end, my selections were the fresh house-made cow’s milk cheese, Rappleree – a washed rind stinker from Cato Corner Farms CT., and two outstanding English blues – Shropshire and Stichelton. All were excellent especially the blues which were “on point”.
So if you’re searching for a wine bar and are tired of the so-so, ho-hum and lackluster, consider Belly as your destination. Admittedly, I experienced the bar on a special evening. However, under the able and affable leadership of Fanny Katz and support from the Blue Room team of Nick Zappia, Liz Vilardi andChef Grant and Stephanie Santosof Central Bottle + Provisions, this spot is sure to garner raves and become a wine bar aficiando’s destination.
Belly One Kendall Square Cambridge MA 02139
617 491 0968