Bel Ari Defines Modern Italian
The Leather District is an aesthetically distinct area of Downtown Boston; once home to 19th century Boston’s commercial leather industry, this space is now converted into industrial lofts and offices. Tucked into the ground floor of a brick row building at 107 South Street, Italian modern restaurant Bel Ari promises diners a unique Italian restaurant experience. Unlike most Italian restaurants, Bel Ari offers modern interpretations of Italian dishes from all over the country, incorporating the best flavors of each region. The restaurant bills itself as the perfect mixture of traditional and contemporary, not unlike the Leather District itself.
If there’s one thing Bel Ari excels at, it’s making a favorable first impression. The space’s black marble tables and large oak bar are juxtaposed with the soft lighting of hand-blown fixtures and elegant wall art, creating a sense of intimacy amidst the high ceilings and open floor plan. The first impression does not stop at the decor, either. Their fantastic wait staff are immediately on hand to introduce you to the menu and recommend drink options. I kicked off the evening with a fruity prosecco cocktail called the ‘tesoro’, whose simple bubbly sweetness foreshadowed the fabulous meal to come.
Bel Ari’s menu is separated into four courses: sfizi, antipasti, secondi, and dolci. In order to experience the full range of chef Robert Fathman’s expertise, diners are encouraged to try selections from each course. For my first course, I opted for the rosemary and orange marinated olives, which paired wonderfully with the restaurant’s fresh baked bread. After that culinary introduction, I chose prosciutto di parma, an Italian classic. Countering this salty meat with poached pear and arugula created an interesting balance of sweet and salty and put an unexpected but well executed modern twist on the dish.
While I contemplated choosing a pasta or pizza for my main course, I decided to find out how well Bel Ari crafted a modern dish, and ultimately landed on the grilled flat iron steak. Served only with a baked potato, grilled romaine lettuce, and gorgonzola cheese, this steak is meant to stand out on its own accord without the aid of any sauces or rich sides. What I received was a thick, juicy, perfectly grilled steak that surpasses that of any steakhouse in Boston. The gorgonzola enhanced the savory flavor of the steak, while the simple sides rounded out this well balanced entree. The plain appearance of the grilled flat iron steak belies its intense flavors and ensures a pleasant surprise for the diner.
As I am a glutton for anything chocolate, my final course sort of chose itself for me. The cioccolato is a chocolate torte served with a caramel white chocolate sauce and a side of cocoa nib gelato. Describing this dish as “the best chocolate dessert you will ever taste in your life” seems like a cop-out, but it’s an honest description nonetheless. The cake was rich and fudgy, the gelato a perfect salty sweet mix, and the sauce married the flavors of the two. Deciding to order only one serving instead of two might be one of my few regrets in life.
Bel Ari succeeds in blurring the line between restaurant and experience. Both its menu and its atmosphere exude the contemporary urban chicness that Downtown Boston residents crave while staying rooted in traditional Italian cooking and in the Leather District’s unique history. Many restaurants in the city can leave you satisfied; Bel Ari will leave you exhilarated.