Wine

Standard Education – It’s All in the Details

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It would be difficult to overstate Eastern Standard’s contributions to Boston’s drinking culture. Since its opening nearly 10 years ago, the Kenmore Square bar and restaurant has helped set the tone for craft cocktails in the city by reinterpreting classic drinks through a modern lens, unearthing age-old recipes and techniques, and of course, creating innovative original cocktails with a broad array of quality spirits and fresh ingredients. The bar attracts top talent, serves as a launch pad for respected mixologists who go on to open their own bars, and remains a cocktail destination in a neighborhood better known for baseball and beer. So when Eastern Standard offers a day’s worth of seminars on topics like how to create original cocktails, make French pastries, and identify subtle aromas in wine, you’d be wise not to miss class.

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Now in its second year, “Standard Education” is a chance for food and drink lovers to go behind the scenes at Eastern Standard and pick up a few tips from the pros. Those looking to beef up their personal hospitality game had a series of four 60-minute interactive classes, appropriately subtitled “It’s All in the Details,” to choose from. The day began with a lesson on how to make “flawless” French macarons, taught by Eastern Standard pastry chef Lauren Kroesser, and continued with a class on creating original cocktails, led by beverage programs liaison Bob McCoy.

Figuring that drinking and learning isn’t a bad way to spend a day, I attended a couple of afternoon and evening classes and was happy to pick up a few pointers from some of the best in the business.

“Scents” Memory: Bridging the Gap Between Wine Aromatics and Grape Varietals Through Olfactory Exploration

I experience the most remarkable phenomenon every time I smell rosemary. One whiff of this fragrant herb, and suddenly I’m a kid again, standing on my cousins’ front doorstep on Christmas morning. My aunt opens the door, and the first thing I’m aware of is the unmistakable aroma of my uncle’s cooking. My uncle was a fantastic cook, and if there was anything that could compare with the thrill of tearing open presents and emptying stockings in front of the fireplace, it was my uncle’s Christmas dinner. The feast would be in the works when I arrived, and despite the countless aromas that must have been wafting out from the kitchen, the one that always stood out for me was rosemary.

As a child, I can’t say I had any particular knowledge or affection for rosemary; it was only as an adult, when I got into cooking, that I began to associate the herb’s aroma with a specific, vivid memory. But the scent of that herb, and the personal experiences that accompany it, are embedded deep in my psyche, and with just one sniff, I can summon the warmth of my aunt and uncle’s home, the unbridled excitement of Christmas morning, and the joy of spending the holiday with my family.

That’s what Colleen Hein, Eastern Standard’s wine director, calls “scents” memory – the power of a certain aroma to transport you to a time, place, or episode from your past. Her class was geared toward teaching us to appreciate the power and sensitivity of our sense of smell, build a “memory database” of different aromas, and learn to identify those scents and flavors in wine.

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Before class began, attendees had a chance to peruse an aroma kit arranged on a table at the front of the room. This collection is meant to help isolate certain scents and create a language for discussing and enjoying wine. The items range from the aromatic, like lavender; to nostalgic, like apple pie; to the unexpected – like a boot and a glue stick.

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After sniffing around the menagerie of aromatic articles, we moved on to the wine. Set before each attendee was a series of five glasses of wine – three whites, two reds, but no other identifying features. Colleen asked us to sniff each wine and jot down our impressions of the aromas. The goal wasn’t necessarily to pinpoint every flavor in the glass or try to guess what kind of wine it was, but more to respond to the aromas, identify what we could, and see whether the aromas triggered any images or memories for us.

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I can’t say I had any revelations, but I did manage to pick out a few scents among the wines, like apricot, pear, and tobacco. Given how animated some of my classmates got over their discoveries, though, I was beginning to question my nose’s effectiveness.

The second exercise served only to confirm my fears.

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Colleen passed around a series of five kitchen shakers, each filled with an aromatic substance that we were supposed to identify. I struggled to figure out the first scent, finally settling on “chocolate cake mix.” Turned out to be toasted brioche. For a shaker that contained lime, I offered the incisive comment “some fruit.” At least I was in the ballpark with that one, which is more than I can say for the container filled with green pepper and pencil shavings. My interpretation? “Wet something.”

There was one shaker for which I couldn’t even hazard a guess, but since it turned out to be black olives, I’ll give myself a pass; I detest olives and rarely have occasion to smell them. I did manage to correctly recognize the smell of honey, but it’s safe to say I won’t have any winemakers asking me to help them pen descriptions for their labels anytime soon.

Aromanalysis action shot.

Aromanalysis action shot.

Despite my olfactory inadequacy, I found some measure of redemption in the third exercise, going three for five when asked to match the aromas in the canisters to the grape varietals in the wine. And when Colleen unveiled the mystery wines we’d been sampling, I realized I’d correctly identified one of them as a Sauvignon Blanc. (That doesn’t exactly make me the Sherlock Holmes of wines, since Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite type, but I’ll settle for a moral victory.)

So a career as a sommelier probably isn’t in my future, but my takeaway from Colleen’s class is that a wine’s aroma can be as important as its taste, and it’s worth paying attention to. Every person perceives aromas differently, but having a common language to discuss a wine’s character and complexity offers another way to truly share a bottle.

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Before moving onto the second class, I suppose I should attach a brief postscript to the aforementioned anecdote about my “scents memory” of rosemary. My uncle passed away about six years ago, but before he did, I made a point of telling him that his use of rosemary in his cooking triggered the warmest, most profound memory for me. And you know what he told me?

That he rarely, if ever, cooked with rosemary.

Maybe I was smelling the Christmas tree.

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Punches for Parties

Making a punch is an efficient way to serve drinks to your guests. Of course, punch has different connotations depending on your age and maturity level. There’s the kind of punch you see at kids’ birthday parties, a sugary mix of fruit juices and sherbet. Punches for the college sect are similar – just swap out the sherbet for a handle of vodka. Then there’s the traditional definition of a punch – a five-component beverage dating back to 17th century, when sailors in the British East India Company brought the concept back from India. You can probably guess which version you’ll find at Eastern Standard. (No, not the second one.)

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“Punches for Parties,” led by Eastern Standard bar manager Naomi Levy and held in the comfortable confines of the adjacent Hawthorne bar, offered a brief history of punch and a hands-on lesson in how to make a couple of recipes used at the bar.

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Dating back nearly four centuries, punch is a communal drink that pre-dates the standalone cocktail and requires five ingredients: booze, citrus, spice, sugar, and water. That’s a basic recipe with a lot of flexibility, and punch has been subject to near-infinite variations in its long history.

One creative and effective way to get two of those ingredients in there is by making oleo-saccharum. It’s fairly straightforward – according to Eastern Standard’s recipe, peel three lemons and one orange, and combine with six ounces of sugar in large bowl. With a muddler, you mash the peels into the sugar until the sugar is damp with the oil from the fruit. Then you let it sit for anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.

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While our oleo-saccharum rested for a bit, we watched while Naomi demonstrated the rediscovered art of making a clarified milk punch. Milk punch is an Eastern Standard specialty that has its roots in the 18th century and has enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent years. In the most basic terms, making a milk punch involves heating milk to 180 degrees; combining it with a mixture of booze, citrus, and simple syrup; letting it curdle; and then straining it until the punch is clear. Then it’s just a matter of convincing people who aren’t accustomed to hearing the words “milk” and “punch” used in the same phrase that it’s actually much better than it sounds.

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That shouldn’t be too hard with this recipe. While the process of making a milk punch can occupy an entire day (the straining takes a while), Naomi managed to speed things up for demonstration purposes. After lots of heating, pouring, and straining, this bourbon-based milk punch was astonishingly clear, with a silky texture and a remarkable blend of rich, sweet, and spicy flavors. A maple-thyme simple syrup added an especially nice touch. And since milk does a body good, you can always justify a second glass.

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After polishing off some milk punch, it was time to revisit our oleo-saccharum. Having sat for a half-hour, it yielded a sweet, citrusy oil, to which we added six ounces of fresh lemon juice. After stirring to dissolve the remaining sugar and removing the peels, we had a sweet mixture that would factor into the Eastern Standard Tea Punch (actually, we got to bottle ours and take it home while Naomi did the heavy lifting).

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This punch is a lot less labor-intensive than the milk punch and probably a little more approachable. It involves combining VSOP brandy, Appleton Reserve rum, Rooibos tea, the lemon juice and oleo-saccharum mix, and water.

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If you have any huge, industrial-cut, perfectly clear ice cubes kicking around, adding them to the punch bowl will impress your guests (and chill the punch, of course).

There was plenty of both punches to go around, so we all helped ourselves to a second glass while chatting among ourselves and pelting Naomi with questions. And I realized that this traditionally communal drink was doing exactly what it was intended to do – foster a convivial atmosphere and promote conversation among a group of strangers. Even after 300+ years, a good punch still does the trick.

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Approachability has long been one of Eastern Standard’s hallmarks. Its beverage program attracts plenty of cocktail connoisseurs with adventurous palates, while its proximity to Fenway Park draws game-day crowds that probably aren’t coming in for the milk punch. I imagine it’s a bit of a balancing act, but Eastern Standard maintains the broad appeal of a neighborhood bar and restaurant.

The staff’s willingness to interact with customers and share their expertise serves as another example of that accessibility. For now, Standard Education remains a one-day annual event, so class won’t be in session again until next winter. But you can discover something new anytime you visit.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Outdoor Seating, Part 5 – Cambridge

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I dropped the ball. After publishing an outdoor seating story in June, I promised a follow-up in July. But before I knew it, the steamy middle month of summer had come and gone. In a way, I suppose that’s indicative of this fleeting season in New England. But no excuses – it just means twice as much outdoor imbibing in August. So without further ado, we’ll hop on the Red Line and visit a few places in Cambridge. The city on the other side of the Charles is dynamic, unique, and characterized by endless variety. And each “square” in Cambridge has its own distinct rhythm and personality – there are neighborhoods with centuries-old roots, others that are up and coming, and some that are cultural trendsetters.

We begin in Kendall Square.

Belly Wine Bar

Since its 2012 opening, Belly has been defying the notion of what a “wine bar” should be. Instead of dark and serious, it’s bright and airy. In place of the typical cabernets and chardonnays are orange wines and, at the moment, a menu featuring two dozen varieties of rosé.

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That casual, playful attitude extends to the outdoor patio that Belly opened this summer. Like the interior, the patio is cozy and almost communal, with an eight-seat bar and a handful of bright red tables that sort of look like modern picnic benches.

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Overhead, strands of lights form an illuminated canopy when night falls.

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The food menu is as funky as the wine list, with an emphasis on small plates, charcuterie, and house-cured salumi. There are some bold options in the mix, like head cheese, duck liver mousse, and, pictured below, a pork and fennel terrine, accompanied by a spicy mustard. But if your palate isn’t quite that daring, the roasted shallot and walnut spread is heavenly.

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And the cauliflower with capers, pine nuts, and preserved lemon is fresh, crisp, and full of flavor.

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Wine may be Belly’s calling card, but the cocktail list is no less impressive. The Green Neighbor Policy might be one of the most vividly colored drinks I’ve ever been served. Despite its resemblance to a veggie-based smoothie, this mix of cilantro, rum, and lime is a simple, refreshing cocktail with a natural herbal aroma, well suited to a summer evening.

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And summer is clearly what Belly had in mind with the Hazy, Hot & Humid. This slow-sipping drink combines Amontillado (as in “The Cask of”), Cava, lemon, and mint.

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Nutty and full-flavored, with a bit of effervescence, it’s an impressive cocktail and an elegant way to beat the heat.

Address: 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge

Website:http://www.bellywinebar.com/

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Moksa Restaurant

While waiting for a bus after a visit to our next stop, I watched with detached curiosity as a man weaved through a sidewalk full of pedestrians, attempting to sell shaving razors and t-shirts. And by “t-shirts,” I don’t mean short-sleeve outerwear with Red Sox logos or funny sayings – I mean packages of men’s undershirts. “T’s, razors” he kept saying, as if he were a scalper with extra tickets to a Bruins game. What’s more remarkable – within minutes, he actually found a buyer (no, it wasn’t me).

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Central Square offers more than its share of quirks. And as I’ve said before, it isn’t the most obvious neighborhood in Cambridge to put an outdoor patio. Aside from colorful characters selling toiletries and undergarments, Central is gritty, congested, and subject to a near-constant stream of traffic on Mass Ave. It’s also home to plenty of cool bars, restaurants, and music venues, of course; but for all its diverse, bohemian charm, nothing about Central inspires dining al fresco.

And yet somehow, Moksa manages to pull it off.

Nestled between the restaurant and the Central Square Theater, Moksa’s small, brick-lined patio is set back from the street and feels comfortably enclosed. There are about 10 tables with rattan chairs, and the atmosphere is surprisingly peaceful.

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I’m sad to report that mixologist extraordinaire Noon Summers, the beverage director whom I got to know on many of my past visits to Moksa, has left the Boston area for the perpetually sunny climes of Southern California. But her creative spirit still infuses the cocktail menu, with offerings like the Liberator.

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This potent, tiki-like drink combines Sailor Jerry rum, mint, chartreuse, and curacao. Garnished with orange and lime, it has some fruity sweetness, but the bitterness from the chartreuse keeps things nicely balanced.

There’s also a selection of seasonal drinks, like this sangria. Made with brandy, wine, and fruit compote, this take on the classic summertime libation isn’t too sweet, and the brandy adds a little depth.

Yes, I know, it’s indoors. But it was raining on one of my visits, so you’ll just have to imagine how this one would look out on the patio.

Yes, I know, it’s indoors. But it was raining on one of my visits, so you’ll just have to imagine how this one would look out on the patio.

In addition to the drinks, Moksa offers all-you-can-eat sushi every night from 5 to 7 p.m. I can’t say I’ve tried the sushi here, but the folks at USA Today have good things to say about it – they recently named Moksa one of Boston’s 10 best sushi restaurants.

As if craft cocktails and all-you-can-eat sushi isn’t enough, there’s at least one more benefit to sitting on the patio – it’s not too far from the sidewalk, so if you’re having a t-shirt emergency or need to get rid of some five o’clock shadow, you may be able to find a roving vendor.

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Address: 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Website:http://www.moksarestaurant.com/

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Charlie’s Beer Garden

Calling Charlie’s Kitchen a Cambridge institution is an understatement. This humble, beloved dive has been serving Harvard Square for a half-century or so, and one gets the impression that little about it has changed in that time. From the diner-like bar downstairs to the dark, second-floor lounge, this sturdy classic never diminishes in popularity, seemingly immune to food and drink trends or the shifting dynamics of the busy neighborhood it inhabits.

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Which is not to say that Charlie’s hasn’t seen some welcome additions over the years, and none has been more celebrated than the beer garden that opened in 2008. Tucked away behind the main building, Charlie’s Beer Garden is just as laid-back and divey as its celebrated interior. There’s a small bar with about 8 to 10 seats.

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In the main area are about 12 to 15 tables, most under protective cover to keep the sun at bay and the elements away.

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Charlie’s offers a surprisingly impressive beer list, with a decent draft selection and many more options in bottles and cans. Despite the variety, few beers appeal to me more than a Blue Moon when I’m sitting outside in the summer months.

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And while Charlie’s’ food menu is more expansive and creative than that of the typical dive bar, the double cheeseburger is a legend in its own right.

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In a region that has elevated the art of the burger, with restaurants offering creative nightly specials and publications sponsoring near-weekly “best burger” contests, Charlie’s’ burgers win few if any accolades. But in terms of consistency and longevity, few establishments can hold a candle to “The Double Cheeseburger King.” You can dress it up with all the accoutrements you want, but the original version is refreshingly basic – two hamburger patties with cheese, fries on the side – and wonderfully affordable at $5.25.

In a city steeped in history, this is one tradition that never gets old.

Address: 10 Eliot Street, Cambridge

Website:http://www.charlieskitchen.com/

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We’re rapidly approaching the midpoint of August, but there’s still plenty of warm weather ahead (right?). For your reading pleasure, I’m hoping to do one more installment of the 2014 outdoor seating series before the end of the month. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Belly Wine Bar

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When I think of a wine bar, I envision something dark, stuffy, and deadly serious. A very fru fru bar, maybe in a hotel, with servers dressed to the nines and displaying a thinly veiled air of condescension. I see lush burgundy rugs, table lamps, maybe leather sofas and fancy cocktail tables. It would probably have a French name, like Vin Cache. Maybe that’s an unfair assessment, born out of how infrequently I find myself in wine bars. But let’s face it – wine is sophisticated. If a bar devotes itself to wine, I’d expect something very polished. A small plate of grandiloquence and a full carafe of pretension.

But when a wine bar decides to call itself “Belly,” assumptions are best left at the door.

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“We wanted it to be playful,” said the bartender, of the unusual moniker. “Like the wine list, which is kind of out there.”

Wait – a wine bar wants to be playful? Not highfalutin? And what’s with an off-the-wall wine list – can’t I just come in and order a glass of Merlot?

I imagine you could. Belly has something on the order of 120 wines, so I’m sure they can accommodate your blandness if you insist. But at a bar that strives to be anything other than ordinary, why would you yearn for dullness?

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From the people who brought you the Blue Room (right next door) and Central Bottle (just down the street), Belly Wine Bar opened this week in Kendall Square and is everything you wouldn’t expect a wine bar to be. Forget dark and staid. Belly is a bright room that balances a funky, modern look with a casual, laid-back feel. Of all things, what you’ll probably notice first is the wild black-and-white pattern of the tiled floor.

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Hand-painted by an Italian company that had never before shipped an order to the United States, the tiles would be an assault on the eyes if not offset by a plain, dark brown ceiling with wooden beams, and complemented by the warm, white and light-green color scheme. Cool stonework and exposed brick on the walls contribute to a comfortable, earthy atmosphere.

If the wine bar I envisioned earlier was akin to a fancy den, Belly feels more like a kitchen – it’s small, and in addition to the warmth and brightness, a long, rectangular table with 10 chairs occupies the center of the room, with three smaller tables and few round ones on the far wall.

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A table in the back artfully displays the cheeses that any good wine bar would offer. The bar itself is square with nine seats and an elegant, white marble top.

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I stopped in on Belly’s opening night at about 5:30 and again the night after. Opening night started off quietly – just one or two customers and me. But you could tell it was something special; I felt like I was sharing in a culminating moment that followed untold hours of preparation and anticipation. I got to meet the owner, Nick, who runs Belly with his wife, Liz. He’s a very nice guy whose enthusiasm was as obvious as it was contagious – there was almost an unbridled glee among the employees. No fancy waiters in dark suits here. Just some casual people who are pretty excited about opening a wine bar.

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The quiet start gave me a chance to talk to the bartender, Fanny, a veteran mixologist and oenophile who was only too happy to expound upon Belly’s wines, cocktails, food, philosophy, and pretty much anything else I asked about. And it’s a good thing, too, because I opened the menu and barely knew where to start. Belly’s menu consists of wine, cheese, salumi, charcuterie, and words that are hard to pronounce. The wines are organized not only by color but under offbeat headings like “Rocks in Your Mouth” and “Size Matters.”

Now I love wine, but I’m no connoisseur, so I asked Fanny to suggest something. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she opened with a curveball – “Do you want red, white, or orange?”

Orange? Dude, we’re talking about wine, not Crush soda.

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Sure enough, Belly offers a selection of “orange” wines. I learned that orange wines are dry wines made from white wine grape varieties that have spent some time soaking in the grape skins, giving the wine an orange hue and contributing more tannins. The result is a white wine with a bit of red wine character – or, as Fanny said, “white wine for red wine lovers.” Fortunately, I love both. She suggested a Radikon “Slatnick,” 2009; and sure enough, it did almost taste like a white/red hybrid. More body than I’d expect from a white, but less bite than a red.

Accompanying my wine was a small dish of taralli – traditional Italian wine biscuits. Fanny told me they’re prepared similarly to bagels (boiled before baked), which makes them light, buttery, and highly addictive. They made for good munching while I pondered my next wine.

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After my orange wine, it was time for some red. Again relying on Fanny’s good judgment, I got a Joseph Drouhin Brouilly. It was a big tasting wine, with shades of raspberry and blackberry. I also detected the unmistakable hints of a wine buzz.

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Now what would wine be without cheese? (Honestly, I’d have to say it’s pretty good even on its own, but I digress.) From what I’m told, the cheeses are curated by the cheesemonger at Central Bottle to match the wines. The eight cheese varieties are not listed by name, but by “character,” with options like “Fresh,” “Earth,” “the Blues,” and “Funk.”

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Bring on the funk!

In this case, “funk” was a whole milk cow cheese from Connecticut. It was delightfully sharp and perfectly complemented by fresh raw honey, fruity jam, and two types of crostini – one savory, one sweet.

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With red and orange under my belt, it was high time for a white. Fanny asked if I wanted something clean and crisp – qualities one would normally associate with a white wine – or something funky. I’d already gone the funky route with the cheese, and I figured there was no turning back. So I funked it up with Montlouis Sur Loire, Weisskopf “Le Rocher des Violettes,” 2009. I liked it; definitely an unusual flavor and mouthfeel for a white. In place of the oaky flavor you might expect was a certain minerality…which I guess is why it fell under the heading “Rocks in Your Mouth.”

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Now if Belly’s wine options strike you as a little unorthodox, wait until you see their food menu. You can choose from “snacks” like blanquette of rabbit offal (oh hoo hoooo! nice try, but I learned my lesson after the haggis incident, thank you very much), marrow bones, and pate de campagne, to name a few. The “salumi” section offers morcilla fresca, duck breast, and soprasetta, among others. And there’s “charcuterie” like rabbit rillettes and foie gras terrine.

I started with a snack, a word that does little justice to what I chose – lamb bacon and eggs.

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Ever seen bacon and eggs look like that? I didn’t think so. Made from lamb meat and topped with shaved egg yolks, the bacon was crispy, light, and delicious. A red wine would seem to be the best match here, but I was surprised by how much the white I was drinking brought out the flavor.

Admittedly, beyond duck breast and foie gras, I wasn’t all too familiar with the rest of the menu. So I again turned to Fanny (hey, at least I picked out the snack on my own), who suggested something from the charcuterie menu…

Head cheese.

The term alone sounds pretty gross, even if you don’t know what head cheese is. It quickly goes from gross to disgusting once you find out.

Despite what any logical person may deduce from the name, head cheese is not actually cheese. That’s a rather unnerving bit of trivia, is it not? Because let’s face it – when you use the word “cheese” to describe something that is not in fact cheese, you’re usually not talking about something good.

No, head cheese is jellied meat made from the head of a pig or cow. Oh, but it may also contain parts of the animal’s tongue, heart, or feet, so you might get a little variety. (I could explain this in further detail, but I’m afraid you’d stop reading.) Fanny acknowledged “there’s definitely several different textures going on in there,” but reassured me that “it’s not brains or anything.” Yeah, there’s a ringing endorsement.

I’d like to pause here and raise my glass, a bit wistfully, to the good old days of, say, a few months ago, when the raison d’être of this blog was highlighting the better qualities of a given bar and saying a few words about whatever beer and cocktails I had when I was there. I’m now in my third consecutive week of trying meats that society has by and large rejected. I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I got off track. Eating tripe, haggis, and head cheese isn’t winning me any awards or even garnering me any praise. No, all I get is people sucking in their breath, shivering, and scrunching up their faces like an audience watching an incredibly gory slasher film. I suppose it’s a good thing I derive such a deep sense of satisfaction from that reaction; otherwise I might have to get back to basics.

But enough with the melodrama. The head cheese was, believe it or not, really good!

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The exterior was crispy, and as advertised, the meat inside had a varied texture. It was served with crostini and a small bowl of mustard and vegetables, and the flavor reminded me of pork belly.

Of my three recent adventurous meat orders, this is the only one I’d look forward to getting again (the tripe at Tres Gatos would be second, as long as I was splitting it with someone; the haggis would be a very distant third).

Anyway, while awaiting the arrival of the head cheese, I figured I needed a little liquid insurance in case it was as bad as it sounded. Aware that Fanny’s cocktail knowledge probably exceeded even her wine smarts – after all, she personally designed Belly’s cocktail list – I told her I was a Manhattan fan and was looking for something in that neighborhood. She recommended the Vieux Carré, a classic cocktail that originated in New Orleans. Belly’s recipe was traditional and faithful – Old Overholt rye whiskey, Pierre Ferrand Ambre cognac, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Bénédictine, Peychaud's bitters, and Angostura bitters.

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Outstanding. This wasn’t the first Vieux Carré I’ve ever had, but it was without question the best. Each sip was packed with flavor, yet it had a very simple, smooth finish.

Belly’s list of specialty cocktails is small but, like everything else here, creative and playful. I couldn’t resist ordering the Silver Bullet. No, not that Silver Bullet. Belly’s Silver Bullet is a simple mix of gin, Kummel, fresh lemon juice, and perfectly crushed ice.

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For so few ingredients, this was intensely flavorful, which was probably the result of the Kummel. I’d never encountered this liqueur before; its caraway/cumin flavor gave the Silver Bullet a truly unique character. It was almost like a very sophisticated lemonade that you had to drink slowly. Very slowly.

Things were picking up when I was leaving, and there was a bigger crowd when I stopped in on the following night. As can be expected of any newly opened bar or restaurant with an unorthodox menu, I saw customers walk in with a sense of quiet curiosity and maybe even hesitation. But on both nights, I noticed that tentativeness gradually giving way to the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses.

Again – not what I’d expect of a wine bar.

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Last Call

Belly aims to be unusual, but it does so with a natural grace. From the décor to the wine to the charcuterie, everything here is deliberate – but none of it feels contrived.

It’s rare that I sit at a bar and rely solely on the bartender’s food and drink suggestions, but I felt completely comfortable doing so. And Fanny, with a genuine enthusiasm for her craft, seemed more than willing to impart her knowledge. I doubt Belly will ever be as quiet as it was in those first few hours, so maybe I won’t get a chance to do that again; but I feel fortunate to have had the experience.

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Belly isn’t cheap, but if you’re going out for an evening of wine and fancy cheeses, you probably weren’t planning on an inexpensive night anyway. The wines vary in price, but you have the option of a two-ounce pour or a five-ounce. The smaller pours range from $3.50 to $14, and most are $5 or $6. The full pours I got were $9, but again, that’s highly variable depending on your selection. The cocktails were $11 apiece, which is fairly typical for drinks of that sort. The snacks, salumi, and charcuterie are anywhere from $5 to $14, so if you are watching your wallet, you’ve got some flexibility.

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Belly is an invitation to adventure, and only a fool would decline. If you’re a wine lover, you’ll probably revel in the unconventional offerings. If you’re more of a casual wine drinker, you’ll likely come out knowing a lot more about wine than you did when you went in. And if you know nothing about wine, or if the food is wholly unfamiliar, then it’s an opportunity to experiment in an environment that is anything but intimidating. The staff are very friendly, happy to explain everything on the menu, and eager for you to try the intriguing options they’ve clearly worked hard to offer you.

Address: One Kendall Square, Cambridge

Website:http://www.bellywinebar.com/