When you've got a longstanding restaurant with some extra space whose potential isn't being maximized, partitioning it off and re-branding it as an entirely new concept is kind of a genius idea. I'm surprised more places haven't thought of it yet. That's what they've done with Belly Wine Bar, the new Kendall Square spot that pulls a little from the owners' other two endeavors, The Blue Room and Central Bottle shop. The somewhat precious room maintains the rustic charm of the Blue Room, but imbues it with a much lighter, more elegant aesthetic, with bright wooden high tops and a marble bar. Owner and wine director Liz Vilardi says she was inspired by a trip to the Alto Adige Region of Italy. The wine estates there, she says, gave her the idea to build "a crisp, modern space inserted into a historical context. In this case, a 19th century American mill building."
The end result feels like a delicate wine and cheese reception at an art gallery in an old repurposed industrial loft -- but in a good way. Cheese, as well as cured meats, and lots of hard-to-find and lesser-served wines, are decidedly the focus here. "Belly is what you get when you combine traits from her siblings -- local, seasonal and inspired food from The Blue Room and carefully curated cheese and wine from Central Bottle," says Vilardi.
That includes 30 wines by the glass and some 140 by the bottle, focusing on European producer-driven wines, which, Vilardi admits, "can often mean unrecognizable varietals, regions or producers." They're meant to be heavy on value and fun, however. "I've always encouraged guests to venture out of their comfort zone and try delicious, interesting and well-priced wines. The list at Belly is a little more 'out there' -- more orange, more quirky, more geeky, more off-beat -- while also paying homage to the classics."
What to try
The menu here was a little bit hard to find an entry point into, and somewhat overly cute, although the staff is exceptionally knowledgeable and happy to help. You might try a Morgon Côte du Py, served chilled (like most of the Beaujolais), that's like biting into a cold burst of dark fruit. "Very few people get to have more than three or four Cru Beaujolais in their lives, let alone at once," Vilardi says. "We have all 10 and I think trying a few of those is a must."
How about cocktails?
Although wine is the leader here, the cocktail menu from Fanny Katz -- formerly of Menton and B+G Oyster, is impressive, broken down into venerable, lesser-known classics, each paired with a modern update, like the "before" Improved Mezcal Cocktail, made with Vida mezcal, Maraschino, Herbsaint and Angostura bitters, and the "after" Shut Up and Drink, made with Vida, Luli Chinato, Green Chartreuse and grapefruit bitters.