Kelsey + Camera: Belly & Trumpet in Uptown

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Beet Involtini, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Arugula Pesto (photos by Kelsey Foster)

Maybe you’ve noticed, but Desiree Espada, my wing/camera woman has left us for the bright lights of New York City. For the first two months of her absence, I sort of panicked and cried myself to sleep every night. (I miss Desiree.) Then came the day I found Kelsey Foster, who does amazing, amazing work, and sparks flew. It was stars and hearts and the whole nine yards. We sent her to Belly & Trumpet in Uptown to capture its stunning beauty.

Belly and Trumpet
Belly and Trumpet insignia (left); comfortable outdoor patio (right)
The living room
The V-Day  living room

Owners Richard and Tiffanee Ellman are also responsible for Oak (D Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of 2012) and the soon-to-be-open PakPao. By inviting me to a dinner at Belly & Trumpet, their newest food baby, the Ellmans made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

And who would? Walking into Belly & Trumpet is like entering a 3-D Valentine’s Day card with all of its blue drapes, delicate chandeliers, pink walls, and plush velvet chairs. In other words, it’s gorgeous.

This is certainly no dude’s den.

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Chef Brian Zenner taking a break from his hectic schedule
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The patio, again (left); Texas cocktail

The menu is creative, Asian-inspired, and full o’ fun. The plates are meant to be conversation starters. “Part of the concept is a social environment,” says Tiffanee. “We wanted something that people could experiment with different flavors. Just like Asian-style. People order lots of things and share. These are small plates. Not tapas, but a little bit Portland-esque.”

My friend and I had the chickpea fries, which were stacked in a playful Jenga formation on top of the plate. They reminded me of tofu sticks, and the two sauces on the plate (a garlic-lemon-anchovies-eggplant sauce and a curry one) never overwhelmed the subtle chickpea flavor. It was fun to dip the fries separately into each sauce or mix the two together. Either way worked.

Chef Brian Zenner most recently left his post at Oak to focus on Belly & Trumpet and, presumably, help out with the new menu at PakPao, since he was born in Thailand and probably knows Thai food well. Whatever he’s going to do over there will probably do the same thing his artfully arranged dish of plump orange uni, nutty rapini, pickled tangy shiitake, and ringlets of small Thai chiles placed thoughtfully at the bottom half of each kampachi slice did for us: peak our interest. As the server poured a hot kaffir lime sauce over the medley in front of us, I saw the strangers seated next to us look over and watch with fascination.

I don’t know if you’d say that our goat-cheese-filled caramelized apple dessert was exactly “mind blowing”, like our server suggested, but the feathery horseradish and hazelnut halves added a surprisingly nice touch, and it did satisfy the sweet tooth without being too, too sugary. Tiffanee Ellman says that this is Zenner’s way of doing a “twist on a cheese plate, a different rendition of cheese and fruit.”

The only thing worse than leaving Belly & Trumpet behind is hearing the weird techno beats playing at Urban Taco next door. But I’m a fan of Markus Pineyro’s queso, so I guess it all balances out.

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Niman Ranch Pork Belly, Kim Chee, Daikon, Chicharrón
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Prime Hangar Steak, Kale, Pear, Roasted Nut Puree (left); living room, again (right)
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Hipster bartender in front of the bar area
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Chickpea fries (left); Guinevere cocktail with Effen cucumer, Bols Genever, lemon, and egg white (right)

Belly & Trumpet is also open for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.