Although some Portlanders see a dark shadow over the newly opened Belly, which resides on the corner of Northeast Fremont Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the same space as the short-lived and stigmatized Terroir, the restaurant is as earnest and promising as they come.
Belly chef-owner Cameron Addy has cooked in several notable Portland restaurants, including Giorgio's, Caprial's Bistro and Papa Haydn, while wife-owner-manager Linda Addy most recently managed Salty's on the Columbia. The roster: fresh/local/seasonal dinner and Sunday brunch.
Bamboo tables and wicker chairs, deconstructed wine barrels, and a framed photo of humble russets set the scene in the 60-plus-seat dining room, while a long wooden bar faces the exposed, spotlit kitchen where Addy and his crew turn out nuanced American fare.
Dungeness and king crab smatters the menu at the moment with simple preparations that allow these sweet meats of the sea to shine. The king crab salad ($12) mixes chilled crab, buttery avocado, paper-thin radish and minced onion with a citrusy avocado vinaigrette, alongside a pile of fresh-picked, unadorned watercress. It tastes like summer—the perfect pitch of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. Another tasty crab starter, the egg salad "sandwich" ($9), tops a thin slice of grilled baguette with creamy, chive-studded egg salad and hunks of chilled Dungeness.
If your appetite is solid, follow a starter and precede your entrée with pasta. The "loaded potato" gnocchi ($9/$14) is one of the best. The light and puffy gnocchi, served with perfectly browned hunks of bacon, sliced scallions, crème fraîche and grated white cheddar, is pasta's flavor equivalent of sweet and silky creamed corn. The braised-pork ravioli ($12/$17) is also good with brown-butter sautéed corn, cipollini onion and cherry tomatoes, but would be better if the pork weren't pureed to a pâté consistency.
Tasty entrees include pan-roasted sockeye ($22) with corn-kernel-studded polenta and sautéed green and wax beans, and grilled culotte steak ($22) topped with a puck of bordelaise butter, and served with simple russet fries. The brined pork chop ($19) is a favorite. It's juicy, well flavored, topped with a slightly sour, but mostly sweet plum butter, and served with spaetzle and red chard. The tender 2-inch-thick chop hardly needs a steak knife, but the sausage-studded spaetzle would have been better with less of the cumin-rich meat and more of the free-form noodles. Pass on Belly's blah burger ($9). The bagged bun is dry and flavorless, the patty good but nothing special, and cheese and tomato are add-ons at a dollar each, bacon two.
Know-no-stranger service, helmed by Linda Addy, is unobtrusively attentive and charming. Specialty cocktails are top-shelf (reflected by price: $8-$11), incorporating local spirits such as Trillium Absinthe Supérieure and Clear Creek Distillery's Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir; desserts are good if you have room; and Sunday brunch is worth the trip with offerings such as Dungeness crab fritters ($12) and duck confit hash ($11).
To offset grumbles about Belly's inhospitable locale, arterial intersection and lack of street parking, there's a small lot behind the building just off Northeast Fremont Street. Fingers crossed that Portlanders don't recognize the bounty that is Belly too late.
3500 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 249-9764. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday. Brunch 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$-$$$. Moderate-Expensive.