When I think "pork belly" and "East Passyunk," the shatteringly crisp master pig at Fond remains the classic to beat.

But I recently met another hunk of belly I can't quite stop thinking about, and it was just a few yards away at Izumi.

It's called "buta kakuni," and is chef Corey Baver's homage to braised Japanese comfort. The meat from Country Time Farm gets slow cooked with sake and stock for up to five hours to an absolute melting softness infused with ginger, lemongrass and sweet soy.

Served with its rich gravy over a creamy congee porridge made from dashi-steeped pulverized rice, which has the texture of a flavorful rice grits, it's the kind of soul-warming appetizer that can anchor a prosperous night of sushi and drinks.

–Craig LaBan

Buta kakuni pork belly with congee, $12, Izumi, 1601 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-271-1222; izumiphilly.com