Ciao Bella Luna: One of Several

August 21st, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

A good chef doesn’t need to be a porker, but it’s hard to trust or believe one who’s skinny either. I like my cooks to like their food.

The new executive chef at Jamaica Plain’s Bella Luna, Jacob Zachow, has a hand like a ham and a smile you can trust. Bloggers at Tuesday evening’s food fest there left with a renewed or new affection for the Hyde Square pizza/bowling/club joint.

The short of it includes:

  • He’s been there for two months
  • He’s revamped the menu, leaving favorites and adding his gems
  • They’re there for months until they move to the Brewery Complex under the …FENREFFER chimney to a single floor
  •  If you liked Bella Luna’s food, expect the same and better. If you haven’t been, what’s the matter with you?

Jacob is very approachable. I learned among other thing:

  • He grew up in Cooperstown, New York, a relative hick even by even by our third-tier sized city.
  • He moved a couple of blocks from his Hyde Square kitchen and really likes JP.
  • He had previously been at the Mohonk Mountain House, where rich people play golf and dance stiffly.
  • That was across the Hudson from the Culinary Institute (CIA) where friends became cookies (and drank in New Paltz, where he was). We were able to compare memories.
  • He loves being at Bella Luna and getting a chance to do his own thing instead of the predictable.
  • He’s not afraid to add spice (consider his skewered shrimp with a biting mint pesto).

The manager, Carol Downs, was also full of herself in a gracious and informative way. I wasn’t all that polite and asked bluntly whether the previous chef had left in a huff or gotten pushed out. She said that no, he had been there three years, a pretty good tenure for the top guy, and was ready to move.

She too lamented the loss of the basement bowling alley when they move. They’ll add some games and have space for bands on their one-floor (much larger one-floor) central space. She’s aiming for the same ambiance.

I estimated 50 to 60 bloggers by my grouping of 10 count. That’s pretty good and  and more than we got for our first WR/Rozzie/JP fest. In our defense though, you had to buy your own beer at ours. Sadly too for this week, St. Gaffin did not show. While I didn’t know many of the bloggers at Bella Luna, several I did know asked me if Adam was coming. He and Steve Garfield (who did attend) are our idea of peer celebrities.

I confess my family has gone there for many years. Lackaday, my uxorial unit was ill and did not attend, and was thus unprepared to compare perceptions. However, she’s pleased that they have long carried one of our hot-weather wine standards, Muscadet. They had little kids’ food when we had little kids and adult spiced entrées for us. There was bowling in the lower level, and we’d catch music when bands that included friends played. We may live at the other end of JP, but this is our neighborhood too.

Both the Globe and the Gazette covered the capitalist tragedy-ette of the mini-complex feeling forced out by what they describe as an 85% rent  hike.  While there is a dispute over whether the restaurant carried the landlord or the other way around, the short of it is that Bella Luna got bumped out over a huge rent increase, it cut a deal with the Brewery complex, and there’s an extension to let them prepare the space and old landlord to find new tenant(s).

I’m sure the pleasant flacks for Bella Luna don’t want to know the business that is not of their business’ business. However, the freebie evening brought up:

  • My slightly sordid past of swag and freeloading.
  • Public relations and those who do it.
  • My shameless willingness to continue that legacy long after my journalism is over.
  • My fascination with my real avocation, cooking and eating.
  • Chefs I have known and related cooking stories.

In fact, this was savvy PR at its best. Like Deval Patrick and Barack Obama showed, a little attention to bloggers and occasionally recognizing them as community journalists is cheap purchase  of coverage. We each have our followings and provide coverage and credibility you aren’t likely to find in MSM, for whatever that’s worth.

I’ll deal with each of those and reference related topics’ posts as they go up here or at Friendly With Food. Meanwhile, here and at Marry in Massachusetts, I’ll post lightly or not at all for a week or so.

For more focused coverage, you can see a few pix at Steve’s Flickr feed. Andrew and I had a nice chat and he was quick on reporting at Changing Way. There are several foody bloggers there sure to post too.

And More Update:  Over at Cave Cibum, Pam has a short post and there’s another pic from one of the We Are Not Martha women at Better Than Cupcakes.

When they do, food will likely be up early and late. A bevy of young women (one even featured red sequined ballet slippers) served the noshes Jacob prepared. There were a couple decent wines (red overly chilled though) and two trendy drinks, a mojito/cosmopolitian variant and a Martinique (vodka, Cointreau, mango nectar, rose water and lime juice).

There was a bit of buzz early from a couple of us who had heard that the rush would mean they catered the blogger offerings. Not so…Jacob was everywhere.

My respect for him swelled as I peered over the kitchen bar to see his flying fingers. There was the tender morsel of pork on a non-greasy sweet potato chip with a corn salsa. The executive chef personally whipped out an office-desk sized tray of them.

I am much into presentation and Jacob seems to be too. While my chums at the CIA dissed garde-manger, I have always respected both cold foods and artistic display of all food. Watching Jacob work, I shall expect pretty plates on every visit.

We has black-bean based sliders with a great cumin, hot-pepper zip. There were a few crowd pleasing mundanities, like fried mozzarella, but in the main, food was like Oscar Wilde described ideal lovers, chosen for their good looks. The sustenance was both pretty and palatable.

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One Response

  1. Andrew says:

    Mike, thanks very much for the link, and the conversation at the party. I also got the impression that Jacob is one who loves food, and life,… and teaching, from the way I saw him interacting with some of his colleagues in the kitchen.

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