There are wine bottles, or parts of them, everywhere at BISq — arranged in a distinctive mosaic behind the host stand, hung in a unique chandelier over the tucked-away bar in the back, sitting on tables as sturdy, deep-green water glasses, and, of course, in wine director Kai Gagnon's collection. The ubiquitous reminder of wine is a fitting pairing to the restaurant's charcuterie program, which is the aspect of the menu that excites executive chef Dan Bazzinotti the most.
"This menu is what I've always wanted," says Bazzinotti, who has been getting enthusiastic about charcuterie for the past several years at BISq's big sibling, Bergamot. The focal point of the menu, the "Bazz Hook Up Board," will showcase a rotating selection of five meaty items, two of which will typically be off-menu specials. "You're going to be the guinea pig," promises Bazzinotti, who can't wait to share whatever he's working on at any given time. The name of the board is a nod to how Bazzinotti would "hook up" regulars and charcuterie enthusiasts at Bergamot with various items he was testing out.
"It's going to be very personal because Dan's going to be right up there," owner Keith Pooler says. "People are going to be sitting right in front of him [at the chef's bar, affectionately dubbed 'Bazz Bar'], and he can convey that excitement to the guest. 'Hey, why don't you try this?'"
While the chef's bar is sure to be a prime seating option, there are also a couple of communal tables right up front, a banquette running along the right side of the main room, and a cozy nook in the back with a bar, a few tables, and a hidden television that'll only come out when necessary (think Sox games).
Here's a look at the opening menu, which Bazzinotti estimates is about 90-95% complete, so there may be a few small changes by tomorrow night, when the doors open at 5:30 p.m.
"We sat down and we figured out exactly how we would eat," says Pooler, regarding the format of the menu. "We get some oysters, some ceviche, and then we go to salads and bread and then maybe some charcuterie, and then we end up with plates — our pastas, our grilled meats, our fish, stuff like that." There are a number of vegetarian options available as well, despite the focus on charcuterie.
When brunch launches in a month or so — first on Sundays, and eventually on Saturdays too, if the neighborhood seems receptive — it'll be a similar concept, showcasing small plates. "You get up on a lazy Sunday and just want to go have coffee and not really worry too much about food," says Pooler. "I'll have a little of that, a little of this."
Another key piece of the menu is the Peruvian influence that runs through dishes like the tiger's milk with cancha, the grilled chicken livers, and the salmon tiradito. Bazzinotti's wife is Peruvian, and Bazzinotti wants to recreate some of the foods he experienced while spending time in Peru. "The Peruvian grilled livers are based off of street food," he says. "Who knows if they have permits or not, but the guys are just selling grilled beef heart and grilled chicken gizzards on the side of the road for cheap, and I want to recreate that. I think it's going to go over well with the guests." As for the tiger's milk — the cooking liquid from ceviche — legend has it that it's an aphrodisiac, or at least a good hangover cure. Whether or not any of that is true, it makes for a good starter, and Bazzinotti says it's a "no-brainer" to order it alongside oysters.
Bazzinotti and Pooler worked together at Lydia Shire's Scampo in the days before Bergamot, and their time there influences the menu as well, from the house-made pastas to the "sexy" scallions, a reference to Shire's insistence that the green onion be very finely julienned and thus "sexy."
On the dessert side, there will typically be two desserts, courtesy of Bazzinotti, who acknowledges that he's "not a pastry chef and not claiming to be," but he "can make good desserts." The first dessert will be a trifle that changes occasionally, but it'll always be served in Friendly's-style sundae glasses, evoking delicious memories of the Monster Mash Sundae. (Pooler's first restaurant job was at Friendly's.) The first trifle will involve liquid cheesecake, a chocolate brownie, mint, chocolate sauce, and cherries. The other half of the dessert menu will be a "dessert charcuterie."
If the sexy scallions and casual desserts aren't enough of an indication, BISq is supposed to be lively and fun. "One of the things we find at Bergamot," says Pooler, "is that you see the white tablecloth and everything else, and people perceive already that they can't come eat because it's too fancy. Oh, I can't show up in shorts and flip-flops. So we wanted to remove all of that [at BISq], remove all of the pretentiousness of eating, except for the eating part of it. The important things. The wine you drink, the food you eat." As such, the team stocked up on mismatched plates, a symbol of the "little bit haphazard, bizarre kind of approach" they have in mind.
"We're fun," says Pooler.
"Yeah, that's what we're here for," says Bazzinotti.
"Fun and passionate," says Pooler.
"We want everyone to come and have a good time, enjoy it," says Bazzinotti. "That's the whole point. That's the only reason that we're here, really."
BISq opens to the public tomorrow night (Saturday, May 30) at 5:30 p.m. No reservations tomorrow or ever (that's the plan, at least); just show up.