I am overjoyed to — oink — let you in on a little Eugene dining secret, oink oink.
Any guesses: oink oink oink oink?
There’s a new restaurant in town and it’s good!
We went to Belly restaurant in Eugene a week or so ago, and had a delicious meal. *This* is the food Eugene should be serving to its mewling masses. The concept is simple yet sophisticated: small plates and large ones. One page menu. French bistro techniques, local ingredients, each dish a balance of tastes, and nary a chicken tender in sight. Belly is *not* a knockoff of anything else, and it’s not a concept restaurant. It’s not dumbing down its shiznich. And best of all, the prices are right for slightly upscale, casual gourmet cuisine.
Located in the spot formerly occupied by Penelope’s Mediterranean Cuisine, across Fifth Street from El Vaquero, Belly is a small, intimate bistro crowned by a fab modern chandelier. Seating is available outside, which is where we sat on a beautiful evening, so I’m afraid I can’t wax poetic about the bar or ambiance inside. I can, however, tell you about some of the food.
The menu is simple, as I said, which means many of the things that appear can be made at home, but the chef is a great cook, so you may find he makes them better than you (certainly me). This is not fancy food. It’s more of the variety that is eaten over the stove, with your fingers, on a week night with a few friends who came over and ended up staying through drinks. And that’s fine by us.
We started with housemade blackberry-orange-strawberry sangria, a special that night, and gougères, cheesy bread puffs that could have been a tad puffier but were still yummy. Arriving soon thereafter: an achingly lovely julienned raw beet salad, tossed with cabbage and onion shreds, mint, parsley, and capers with a mild vinaigrette. Along side, and this is brilliant, was a generous scoop of crème fraîche. And another salad, which had a delicious crottin of goat cheese and pistachios, but who noticed that with the beet jewel box that came with?
After the salads, we moved on to green beans with blue cheese and butter and cashews. I was expecting a mound of steamed beans with watery butter melted over some blue cheese crumbles and a few cashew pieces. Instead, creamy green beauties were offered, unctuous with melted cheese and nutty notes. We also had the slow-cooked zucchini (formerly dba “mushy zucchini”), which was garlicky but not mushy.
Concerned we were not getting our pork on appropriately, we ordered the pork confit. Picture carnitas, but with poached cherries and a grilled wedge of polenta, and you with all your desire and fork. Shovel in mouthfuls of crispy, sticky, meaty pork shoulder sopped up in warm cherry juice, stopping only to clear your palate every few bites with pillowy corn cake. Yeah, that’s it. That’s it.
Retrogrouch needed more pork, so he moved on to one of the large plates, a delicious boudin blanc sausage. The large plates aren’t huge, but they do come with more of everything, and at least a couple creative sides. The sausage had slaw with boldly raw onions and lovely little brandy-wine-mustard macerated raisins. He felt that there were too many sweet touches with the pork, but he doesn’t really like fruit and meat combinations (the horror!) so don’t listen to him. There’s no accounting for taste.
I had a large plate as well, a rather strong fillet of salmon (silver or sockeye) marinated in escabeche, an acidic brew made of vinegar and bay leaves with spices. Accompanied by largely irrelevant roasted beets, green beans and cherry tomatoes (all flavors we had had earlier in the meal, and better versions thereof, so it would have been nicer to see something else) and a few strands of Italian kale with the rib in, which made eating difficult.
We finished up with a light, not-too-sweet house-made lemon chiffon tarte with blueberries and raspberries on the side. And since it was my birthday and our meddlesome friend tried to get the waitstaff to trot out that ditty commemorating the occasion, but thank god these people are not idiotic and shut down said friend with a quip and then we put him back in his cage so he couldn’t do more harm to innocent Eugene restaurateurs, I got a little lit candle in my tarte, and I made a wish that every single restaurant in Eugene would be this good.
Belly, 291 E. 5th., Tues.- Sat. from 6 p.m. for dinner. 541-683-5896.