[All photos by Conor Rose]
Omakase, in my mind, is a cream-of-the-crop, all night sushi course-after-course event with every kind of fish imaginable, only reserved for the most special of occasions and/or people who can afford an extravagant dinner experience, but when Belly started offering bacon omakase, the game changed. An outpost of their original restaurant in Williamsburg, Manhattan’s Belly is a seemingly unassuming stand tucked in the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Market. At the helm is Executive Chef Johnny Wooh, a man constantly creating and directing tasting dishes in an experience that is fun, non-exclusive, experimental, and obviously, delicious.
A small menu is available if you want to grab something a la carte, but the star here is the bacon omakase. The menu and number of courses are decided on a whim, depending on how Chef Johnny feels and how he’s jiving with what can be most appropriately referred to as the audience. If you can imagine all the ways pork can possibly be prepared, you can watch those thoughts come to life at Belly.
We jump right in and start off with two types of sushi – the first, topped with crispy bacon and green heirloom tomato in a contrast of textures; the second, topped with a thin slice of pork belly, browned with a blowtorch and topped with freshly grated wasabi. Our wine glasses were replenished throughout the meal, with pours of all different wines seemingly coming from out of nowhere, and Chef Johnny reassuring us that there was endless wine.
Pork plates rolled out at a brisk pace, ranging from simple to dressy, always with the meat as the star. Tender, melty pork belly was grilled right in front of us, first served on its own, then another serving, topped with scallions and gochujang. There was chicharron with a horseradish sauce, served with a side salad and a secret spicy-sweet-tart dressing that I will spend the rest of my life trying to recreate. Then, a melt-in-your-mouth bacon carpaccio, dressed with a homemade pickle and dusted with a special-ordered spice mix involving parmesan and black truffle.
The structure of omakase dining at Belly allows Chef Johnny to tinker around and experiment. “This is my lab, my home,” he says. There are only four seats at the booth, and the meal stretches to around 90 minutes, so he only sees between 16-20 people a week, allowing for Chef to get to know his patrons, and making the meal more of a personal experience than just a regular night out to eat.
Still, the dishes keep coming. There are two different types of pork mandu (Korean dumplings) – one steamed, one fried. We had a crispy pork katsu, served with a maple infused soy sauce, then bo ssam from a 10-week old baby pig, served with a honey-red bean paste that was mixed in front of us. Individual ribs, with meat falling straight off the bone once it reached our mouths. Then, my personal favorite, fried rice topped with loin meat. An unusual dessert rounds out the meal, a fresh slice of green heirloom tomato drizzled with something sweet and salty (balsamic and honey? Soy sauce and honey?).
Upon hearing two of the night’s patrons had never experienced soju, Chef Johnny gave us all a sip of the Korean drink, and leaving us all with the following tidbit: “I can usually drink two bottles of this and walk home in a straight line.” After this, plus the meal we just had, we have a feeling Chef Johnny approaches everything in life the same way – without abandon, with everything he’s got, and always with a lot of fun.
Belly Gansevoort is located at 353 W. 14th St, NYC, NY 10014. For more photos, click here. This meal was provided by Belly Gansevoort. All opinions are our own.