Resto: True to Reality Casual Belgian
Gramercy/Murray Hill gastro powerhouse and pioneer in the ‘gastro pub’ trend, Resto pulls out all the stops on authentic Belgian cuisine, marrying a tantalizing selection of Belgian beers with downright tasty meat, cheese, and fried potatoes. Hidden amongst townhouses in the culinary wasteland that is Murray Hill, Resto is humble, both in appearance and in personality. The facade is easily missed and the interior is simple with few design flourishes (or foibles). The service is friendly, efficient, and supremely apologetic for even the slightest waits or missteps. However, don’t mistake this potential winner for New York dining’s Miss Congeniality for engaging in any sort of culinary overcompensation. For the most part, the food is straight from comfort food heaven: deliciously fatty, well-seasoned, and executed with precision and care.
The focus is on meat (particularly pork), cheese, and potatoes. So, in essence, everything that’s good and right in the Western world. Chef Christian Pappanicholas brings spirit and flavor to traditional Belgian dishes, turning such delicacies as the boudin noir tart with cheddar cheese crumble and pear caramel into a house specialty sought after by regulars and critics alike. At Resto, french fries or ‘frites’ become exciting, served in a ceramic cone with nine side sauces, each one more delicious than the last. My personal favorite would have to be a three-way-tie between the Sriracha mayo, the yogurt cumin and roasted garlic mayo, and the sweet chili.
Unable to pass up the $35 prix-fixe for New York Restaurant Week, my party of 3 collectively passed over the veal belly and sky-high burger for the more restricted 3-course options. My coworker and I both started with the Bibb Lettuce salad, and let me tell you, that is no ordinary weak sauce salad. Crispy fried onions, a salty sweet mustard vinaigrette and a fresh head of Bibb lettuce all came together to make a savory salad that even junk food lovers would find delicious. A European herself, our guest went straight for the country pate, which she unfortunately found dry and bland – definitely not up to snuff for a billed ‘authentic’ restaurant.
For the main course, I opted for the sea scallops. Impossibly plump and juicy, the scallops were meaty and paired with an addictive leek puree and walnut vinaigrette. My coworker and our guest both devoured happily the crispy lamb shoulder with smoked tomato and Anson Mills polenta. While the lamb dish was terribly presented (what happened to artistry? or even just pleasant presentation?), it satisfied in flavor and texture – crispy, savory, and tender!
For dessert, we tried all three options: the pistachio financier, the liege waffle, and the trio of Belgian chocolates. The pistachio financier was definitely the stand-out. A moist, sweet and tangy cake, it was everything a light and fluffy dessert should be. The liege waffle was good, but not as good as you would expect from a purely Belgian establishment. Fluffly and soft, it lacked a bit in flavor and the accompanying chocolate was too bitter, even for a dark chocolate lover like myself. The trio of Belgian chocolates was just plain boring. The dark chocolate was so hard I thought I had broken a tooth, and the dark chocolate orange bit was just not my cup of tea. Surprisingly, the milk chocolate with nougat was by far the best option – creamy, soft, and sweet.
With an active bar scene, tasty and fresh comfort food, and a truly impressive beer menu, Resto will please those looking for a casual and comfortable place in the ‘hood to enjoy good grub. It’s not fancy, and it’s not complicated; yet, it charms with interesting and flavorful cuisine, almost overly friendly service, and a fresh vivacity that plastered a smile all over my face. Check out this spot for drinks with beer-lovers, a boisterous dinner with friends, or a hearty Sunday brunch meant to cure all hangover ills.