Pork belly, or Korean bacon, is beloved in the states, but it has yet to receive a temple devoted entirely to its worship. Enter Belly, a new restaurant in Williamsburg offering New York City’s first bacon omakase menu. This trailblazing concept is the brainchild of Advertising Executive Phillip Cho and Partner Anna Lee (a marketing communication strategy specialist), longtime friends with a passion for the porcine. The team seeks to show diners that Korean cuisine can be so much more than what’s found on 32nd Street in K-Town, and that an omakase does not have to be stuffy or exclusive.
It started as a series of laidback, bacon-centric dinners that Cho and Lee used to stage for their pork-obsessed friends, featuring quirky riffs on traditional home cooking and comfort food that they grew up eating. The pair soon realized that they were onto something, and numerous brainstorming sessions later, an omakase began to take shape and Belly was born. To execute their vision, they have brought on Executive Chef Brian Crawford, an industry veteran who helmed the food and beverage programs at The Todd English Food Hall and W Hotel Downtown NYC.
Located on the corner of Driggs and Grand Avenue, the space is casual and relaxed with a cement bar, wood paneling, white picnic-style tables and chairs, and large windows looking out to the Brooklyn streets. A set of fully-retractable wooden double doors leads to the a la carte dining area and ordering counter. There is also a window that opens up to the street for takeout. Downstairs lies BEATS Karaoke, a 12-room karaoke parlor that comes to life at 2pm everyday, available for private parties and walk-ins with buzzer drink service and byob (hard liquor only) for parties larger than six.
Though an a la carte menu is available, the star of the show is the 9-course bacon omakase offered only during dinner hours at the 10-seat bar and 10-seat communal table. It has been designed to bring diners on a journey, exploring different cuts, textures and preparations of pork. And though the menu emphasizes fun and experimentation, there is serious culinary technique applied behind the scenes.
It begins with a cold glass of draft beer or chilled sparkling wine and Balthazar Bakery bread with housemade creamy kimchi butter, a primer for the experience to come. What follows is a decadent riff on traditional soo yook: Bacon Carpaccio, thin slices of house-cured pork belly dressed liberally with seductive truffle oil, Himalayan pink sea salt, black pepper and shaved parmesan. The follow-up is Bacon Sushi, sliced pork belly theatrically torched and dotted with wasabi, warming Sichuan oil and house-cured ginger over sushi rice. Next, Pork Jowl is triple cooked (boiled, fried then grilled) to lock in moisture, placed atop a bundle of chive kimchi, and accented with a rich miso walnut sauce and pickled chili pepper.
Many of the courses are playful riffs on dishes common in other cultures; Fresh Pasta is made in-house and drenched in an unforgettable housemade creamy kimchi sauce with thick chunks of homemade pork sausage, pickled onions, diced chives, black pepper and shaved parmesan. The Chef’s Bacon Steak arrives as a filet mignon might at a Manhattan steakhouse, but with a simple cube of gochujang-glazed pork belly in place of prime beef, and grilled scallion stalks seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil, in place of asparagus. No steak knife is necessary here, though, as the expertly cooked pork is butter soft. Bacon Schnitzel features panko-breaded belly in a demi-glace atop a stripe of nose-clearing Korean yellow mustard, paired with blanched asparagus and pickled radish. Cho and Lee explain that this course is all about the balance between the crisp tang of the radish and heavy fry of the pork belly, a harmony that they absolutely achieve.
A fitting end to the savory portion of the meal is the comforting BELLYbap, the chefs’ version of bibimbap. A modern take on a childhood favorite of Cho and Lee’s, it’s the kind of dish that a Korean mom might prepare for her children; a bowl of steamed rice, fork-tender pork belly, eggplant, white kimchi, egg yolk and housemade soy sauce meant to be mixed together and devoured unabashedly.
The show-stopping culmination of the experience is the Hurricane Doughnut. Prepared in the traditional Korean shape, dough is twisted together and fried, glazed in a sweet kimchi icing, and sprinkled with chives and sesame seeds, served next to a dollop of secret ‘smoky’ whipped cream redolent of bacon fat. The combination of flavors is confounding but undeniably harmonious. It’s served with an unexpected star of the menu: a refreshing cold Korean plum tea with an understated sweetness from a traditional Korean fermentation process, made and bottled in-house.
For those who wish not to commit to the full tasting menu, an abridged, 5-course version of the omakase is served during lunch hours. There are also four a la carte items available all day in the dining room that are simpler, yet just as meticulously-prepared, such as 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 & 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, and the Slim Kim has pancetta-style pork jowl over glass noodles tossed with housemade chili oil, soy sauce, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds and pickled cucumbers.
Perfect for early risers and commuters, a small breakfast menu will be available later in the summer in-restaurant and at the street-side takeout window. It will include two sandwiches: Bacon, Egg & Cheese (house-cured American style bacon, jumbo egg, cheddar) and Sausage, Egg & Cheese (house-ground sausage, jumbo egg, provolone cheese), with coffee, tea and juice.
Guests who order the 9-course menu may also add (at additional cost) a wine, beer, soju, or sake pairing, crafted by Beverage Director Yannick Terquis (212 Steakhouse, Todd English Food Hall). Non-alcoholic options include the must-try housemade cold Korean plum tea, and two flavors of Sac Sac (pulpy Korean fruit punch).