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Chickpea fries with bagna cauda, curry and eggplant purée

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by Mark Stuertz | Photo: Jill Broussard | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | April 25, 2013

Belly & Trumpet is mildly subversive. It’s a slate of classic recipes revamped with brevity and stylized with a healthy heap of postmodern deconstruction. Or hip gone wrong.

Exhibit: Music. It’s a pulsating perversion of the classics: This Town by Sinatra (Mint Royale remix) and Peggy Lee’s 1947 rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” by Serbian DJ Gramophonedzie. The latter assaults the ear by clipping and machine-gunning the lyrical fragment “get out.” These vibes burrow through the brain like sonic earwigs, sowing their throbbing techno ovum into your thoughts and senses until you scream for mercy, corrupting your sense of culinary justice in the process. Or something like that.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of justice here. There’s venison heart tartare with tomato confit and crisp, dramatically perforated crostini. Crafted into a perfect square, the meticulously diced organ is woven with beige globules of foie gras—a layer of haute unctuousness to keep its Spartan viscera from frightening the Jimmy Choo set. Think of it as Paleo diet grub with an Escoffier sheen. Is it delicious? Damn straight.

But this doesn’t mean Belly & Trumpet is the carnivore’s Call of the Wild. The menu isn’t likely to feature typical game cuts. “As far as just pulling loins out of game, or like the typical cuts most people see, I don’t think that’s really what we’re looking for,” says B&T chef Brian Zenner, also chef de cuisine at Oak. “We’re looking to be like that next level of interesting stuff.” Think game offal.

Zenner teamed up with Rudy Mendoza, formerly of The Mansion Restaurant, to keep the B&T kitchen pulsing. They put their heads together to create gastronomic contortions.

Like perverted frites. Chickpea fries are arranged like a crisscrossed stack of lumber. They’re flanked by a thick sweep of eggplant purée laced with curry and a smear of bagna cauda, a warm dip from Piedmont composed of garlic, anchovies and lime juice.

There’s a warm salad of rapini, cauliflower florets, poached egg and white anchovy—a delicious interplay of contrasting flavors and textures highlighted by the cauliflower. Rich and slightly crisp, the bronzed florets are deep-fried. “The fryer is sometimes devalued,” says Zenner. “No one wants to hear that their cauliflower is deep-fried. But it truly imparts quite a bit of flavor.” Next up: lard hardcore (we hope).

But that’s the timbre of B&T. Billed as an energetic social space of sharable plates, the B&T quest is to create a “casual, approachable setting” where guests can try things with standard haute pedigree twisted into slightly deranged epicurean fever dreams.

Yet there is no discernible unifying thread. The one-page menu is a wandering portfolio of this and that, sporting everything from sea scallop with quail egg to delicious crispy skin branzini with artichoke and picholine olive purée, to game hen with a slab of foie gras.

There’s the prime hanger steak—a row of beef wafers that could easily hold their own in any big-dollar, Sinatra-drenched prime tenderloin-ery. Skillet-seared to an exquisite char crust, the rugged blackened rim sets up a slightly bittersweet tug-of-war with the rich, juicy ruby flesh within. It’s set off with a clump of crisp, tasty kale and a streak of peanut purée, nesting slices of pear poached in port and red wine.

Erected in the Old Bowery space by Richard and Tiffanee Ellman (Oak) and John Paul Valverde (Coeval Studio), Belly & Trumpet is a sleek space with drenching swabs of fuchsia and violet framed in black and white. The walls flinch with sinister images composed in digital and traditional media by London-based graphic designer Ruben Ireland.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dessert amongst the slightly creepy subtext. The skinless “microwaved” apple stuffed with goat cheese on a thick stripe of beet juice and honey and a scattering of hazelnuts is compelling. Zenner says the dish is his twist on the typical cheese plate. Think of it as the slippery slope to bacon-laced confections. And that’s a twist that can heal any wounds from a digitized Peggy Lee gunnery.

Belly & Trumpet
3407 McKinney Ave.

Tue.-Thu. 5-10pm
Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm

What’s in a Name?
Richard Ellman says he was trying to come up with a name that was fun, whimsical and food-related. After thinking hard, he jolted awake in the middle of night with Belly & Trumpet in his brain.

Imbibe the Vibe
Belly & Trumpet has a wine list that is as brief and broad as the menu. It straddles the globe with everything from a deliciously delicate Jovino pinot noir from the Willamette Valley (Oregon) to a gruner veltliner (Austria), to a assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece. But given the Tron bordello motif, you may want to opt for the sacramental Redemption Cup: Redemption rye, Pimms and ginger beer with tarragon, cucumber and lemon.

Dim Ditties
B&T dining prep: Consider an investment in good noise-canceling ear gear. The retreaded techno croons are fine on first contact, but they repeat in endless loops, visit after visit.