Belly & Trumpet is slated to open its doors Thursday night, and the blogosphere is all abuzz with talk of the newest project from restaurateurs Richard and Tiffanee Ellman (Oak) and John Paul Valverde (Campo, Outpost). The quaint little house on McKinney Avenue that used to house haute dog concept The Bowery has been the subject of a full makeover, not to mention a serious injection of young culinary talent. Executive chef Brian Zenner hails from the Ellmans' Design District smash hit, Oak, while second in command Rudy Mendoza honed his talents over the last four and a half years at the hallowed Mansion on Turtle Creek.
So do you guys have an overall theme that you're going for with the menu?
Brian: No theme. Absolutely not. Global soul food, I guess? Peasant dishes from all over the world. Just flavors. Rudy and I came up with the menu together.
Rudy: Well, we came up with a dozen menus.
Brian: Yes, we've evolved through a lot of menus, from a bar concept with bar food all the way to a tapas menu, all the way to this where we're at now. It's only fifteen items -- we're not trying to be the Cheesecake Factory.
Rudy: We're definitely trying to use as much local stuff as possible. We're using some stuff from Tom Spicer, and we've got a bunch more places we'd like to work with, like Barking Cat Farms.
So Rudy, so you come from a four and a half year stint working under Bruno Davaillion at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, and Brian you did a year there as well.
Brian: Bruno is still the baddest motherfucker out there.
Rudy: And that was the toughest part of leaving over there, leaving Bruno.
What did working for him instill in you as far as lessons or values?
Rudy: Good work ethic. Working with different ingredients. Technique, technique, technique. Flavor. Lots of balls. Anything Bruno did was good.
Brian: If Bruno wants something to taste like something, it absolutely tastes of that. There's never any middle ground. If it's supposed to be something, it always delivered.
He's doing amazing things at The Mansion, but people don't really write about the food over there much.
Brian: They should. But you know, it's The Mansion, it's a pricey joint and it's never going to be the sort of hip hip spot. But day in and day out, that guy just produces.
Brian, so you're going to stay on at Oak as chef de cuisine, right? Sounds time-consuming.
Brian: It's very time consuming. It's quite a crunch but, mornings at Oak, nights at Belly & Trumpet. Small line, just Rudy, myself and another cook on the line. That's the crew.
So the press release talks about striving for a upscale-yet-relaxed feel, but how does that translate exactly in terms of service and atmosphere?
Brian: Way less formal than Oak. No ties. Less formal for sure, relaxed uniforms. I think we're going for a more eclectic feel with it, same as the food, where it's not gonna be fine dining service, but the plates could be considered fine dining. And portions will be smaller and I think the prices reflect that, but you're still gonna get foie gras, you'll still get duck confit. I think the most expensive dish we have is the Cornish game hen with foie, and that's like $21.
How many plates per person, just to give people an idea of the average check?
Brian: Two and a half to three. Probably five plates for a two-top would be ideal.
What's the bar situation?
Brian: It's a small bar, only about six or seven seats. Abe Bedell from Oak is consulting on the cocktail list. Matt Perry from Steel, he's worked with Abe before, he's gonna be I guess our lead bartender, and there's gonna be a signature cocktail menu. And then Adam [Kampf, general manager] is gonna handle up the wine program. Oh, and Sarah Green from Oak will be doing the pastries for us over there, which wasn't in the press release. We'll basically be buying our desserts from Oak. It's a small kitchen.
The decor in there looks like it's going to be pretty fun. Much bolder than the neutral colors at Oak.
Brian: It was an adjustment when we first saw all the colors, but once all the furniture was in we started to get used to it. But I think it goes along with the name and also the food — interesting and eclectic. More fun, more approachable, more hip.
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