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Resto


Sneakeater
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Resto is a new Belgian restaurant on E. 29th St., between Park and Lexington (the same non-neighborhood that Urena's in). It got a rave in the New York Magazine "Underground Gourmet" column -- and four out of five stars in the "cheap" category. I think this shows how useless and, frankly, idiotic the "two-tiered star stystem" is, but that's for a different thread. I do recommend Resto, for what it is, though.

Resto is fairly inexpensive. Few entrees exceed $20. The food is simple, but with sufficient attention to detail and technical skill to lift it above the ordinary. Kind of like what Little Owl does (but not as good as Little Owl). The kind of place you're happy to see.

They don't take reservations for parties of fewer than six. We got there at about 7 P.M. and had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated (they quoted us 45 minutes). When we left about an hour and a half later, 45 minutes seemed like a good minimum estimate of what people were facing. Given the paucity of truly good inexpensive places in this area, I don't think the crowds are going to disperse anytime soon.

To say that this is the best Belgian food I've ever had in New York is faint praise, but there it is.

My appetizer of fried veal/gruyere balls with a mustard dipping sauce was a treat. They were crisp but fairly light -- not leaden. My friend's appetizer of twice-cooked pork belly with endives was even better. The pork belly was sliced into thin strips, rather than served as the cubes we're used to. I don't know if it was twice-cooked the same way Chinese pork is -- but I do know that it was slightly crunchy, then soft, and tasty as hell.

My main of a beef-cheek carbonnade -- with French Fries IN the pot with the meat -- was a hit: rich, hearty, and interesting. My friend's chicken -- from a fancy supplier; the kind of chicken that has some flavor -- was excellent.

Great selection of draft Belgian beers.

They have a late-night menu, starting at 11 p.m., that I'm very eager to explore.

So, not as good as Little Owl. But different. Not as good as Blaue Gans. But MUCH cheaper. Better -- less wan and fussy, better realized -- than Klee.

A fine place that I will visit repeatedly.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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I may have just been on an off night, but the one night I went the food was shockingly poor. The food bore little resemblance to 'real' dutch (in the case of bitterballen) or belgian (rest of the menu) food, but aside from that, the cooking was just poor. All night after the meal I had the taste of not very good cooking oil in my mouth. I left with the feeling that the chef was perhaps average at best and actually knew little about belgian food as it should be.

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That's interesting. Did you go at a time when they were slammed with a crowd?

The reason I think it's interesting is that everything I had was something I could easily imagine being badly cooked: the meatballs could have been heavy and greasy, the pork could have been greasy, the carbonnade could have been oily and burnt. But none of it was. That was precisely what impressed me about this spot.

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Hi Sneakeater....the restaurant was about 1/2 full when we went.

The "meatballs" are bitterballen...they're not actually meatballs but a 'gravy' of sorts with (at least in Holland) veal and a crumb coating outside. They are supposed to be a light golden and not greasy. The ones I had were dark brown, almost a roux color, greasy, and not the right consistency. They tasted of inexpensive cooking oil.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been to Beligium more than a couple of times, but cannot claim to be an expert. (I also detest mayonnaise, and I can't imagine them with fries.)

Bruni's review has piqued my curiosity. Anyone been lately and care to comment on the food? Any Belgians out there?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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I'm not Belgian (my husband's French, which definitely doesn't count!) but we've all had the opportunity to eat "Belgian" in the past decade in New York, which gives at least some basis for comparison. I would say that Resto is the worst in this genre I've ever experienced -- more sophisticated menu, less competent cooking than Markt, the formerly satisfying (now dreadful) Brussels, etc. Our mussels were dry almost down the bottom, fries no more than ordinary, lamb ribs charred but not particularly crispy or smoky -- just charred. Nice service. Yes, the place was very busy (horrendously loud, with Kwak-swilling guys bellowing nonstop) but still....We walked out wondering what Bruni is on. Ergot? Blue Lily? Something mind altering.

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I'm not Belgian (my husband's French, which definitely doesn't count!) but we've all had the opportunity to eat "Belgian" in the past decade in New York, which gives at least some basis for comparison.  I would say that Resto is the worst in this genre I've ever experienced -- more sophisticated menu, less competent cooking than Markt, the formerly satisfying (now dreadful) Brussels, etc.  Our mussels were dry almost down the bottom, fries no more than ordinary, lamb ribs charred but not particularly crispy or smoky -- just charred.  Nice service.  Yes, the place was very busy (horrendously loud, with Kwak-swilling guys bellowing nonstop) but still....We walked out wondering what Bruni is on.  Ergot?  Blue Lily?  Something mind altering.

Tough to tell. Business has probably picked up since the Bruni review, and the kitchen may not have been prepared for the volume. Also, I'm guessing you visited only once, and you may have caught them on a bad day. Bruni is obligated to pay multiple visits before rendering a verdict. We ordinary citizens normally don't give restaurants a second chance.

But I thought Bruni's reasons for liking the place, and for awarding a rather generous two stars, were rather flimsy. There's certainly no evidence that he's any kind of expert on Belgian cuisine.

I also thought that Bruni missed an opportunity to do a double-review of Markt and Resto: same cuisine; adjacent neighborhoods; both either new, or new to their current locations; and neither one important enough that it really demanded a review to itself.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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Given the four-star Underground Gourmet review in New York magazine, I'd say Resto probably is important enough for its own review.

Now goodness knows why it merits this kind of praise from multiple sources. I went there late-ish Friday night for a tete de cochon sandwich and frites, both of which were pretty darn mediocre. (And I have a hard time understanding how a bunch of slices of pig's head topped with mayonnaise can *be* mediocre!) The beer selection is underwhelming given that the reviews seemed to tout it (has Bruni even been to BXL, let alone Spuyten Duyvil?), and the atmosphere so-so.

Do these guys just have a really good publicist?

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Now goodness knows why it merits this kind of praise from multiple sources. I went there late-ish Friday night for a tete de cochon sandwich and frites, both of which were pretty darn mediocre. (And I have a hard time understanding how a bunch of slices of pig's head topped with mayonnaise can *be* mediocre!)

Let me take a guess: bland?

Thanks for the report!

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Now goodness knows why it merits this kind of praise from multiple sources. I went there late-ish Friday night for a tete de cochon sandwich and frites, both of which were pretty darn mediocre. (And I have a hard time understanding how a bunch of slices of pig's head topped with mayonnaise can *be* mediocre!)

Let me take a guess: bland?

In one!

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Now goodness knows why it merits this kind of praise from multiple sources. I went there late-ish Friday night for a tete de cochon sandwich and frites, both of which were pretty darn mediocre. (And I have a hard time understanding how a bunch of slices of pig's head topped with mayonnaise can *be* mediocre!)

Let me take a guess: bland?

In one!

Unfortunately, I've found that blandness plagues many an otherwise worthy "tête" product. :sad:

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I'm not Belgian (my husband's French, which definitely doesn't count!) but we've all had the opportunity to eat "Belgian" in the past decade in New York, which gives at least some basis for comparison.  I would say that Resto is the worst in this genre I've ever experienced -- more sophisticated menu, less competent cooking than Markt, the formerly satisfying (now dreadful) Brussels, etc.  Our mussels were dry almost down the bottom, fries no more than ordinary, lamb ribs charred but not particularly crispy or smoky -- just charred.  Nice service.  Yes, the place was very busy (horrendously loud, with Kwak-swilling guys bellowing nonstop) but still....We walked out wondering what Bruni is on.  Ergot?  Blue Lily?  Something mind altering.

I completely agree with you....it just amazes me that Bruni (or others for that matter) swoon over this place. My only belief is they've never been to Belgium or Holland (I mention Holland as at least one menu item--Bitterballen--is from the Netherlands) and had the real thing.

My visit there was before his review, and the kitchen was not swamped at all--probably 1/2 the tables were occupied.

That said, I stopped by Markt on Saturday for a beer and a croquette and it was quite tasty--the 'real deal' like you'd find in Belgium.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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I checked out this place yesterday and have to say that Bruni must be on coke to rate this place with 2 stars. Here are my comments for the dishes that the Mrs and I shared.

frisee au lardon - came with only 3 small cubes of lardon.

bitter ballen - the taste is there but a bit small. Even a munchin is bigger!

lamb & nicoise - perhaps the best lamb sausage I ever had.

tete de cochon - a good combo of the use of curry, pickled onion and aioli - too bad it's a bit skimpy on the meat.

beef cheek carbonnade - very tender and rich from the demi-glace and dubbel. It's almost perfect if wasn't over salted.

I will probably go back there just for the mussels and frites.

Leave the gun, take the canoli

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  • 2 months later...

Love this place! We had:

- The devilled eggs on pork toast: seriously bland, not sure what all the hysteria in the various media is about this dish

- The bitter ballen: expertly fried, and on their own a bit bland but redeemed by excellent aoli

- a special salad of utterly perfect ripe heirloom tomatoes, onion, and bacon from someplace in Vermont so incredible that it would easily convert the most radical kosherite

- The mussels with guanciale, chili flakes, onion and garlic: perfectly fine and correct

- The carbonnade: oh yeah, baby, though in contrast to Azianbrewer I thought this could use a hair more salt

- The burger: kinda miniscule (at first I thought it was a slider), and with one of those mushy supermarket buns which I realize most people consider to be de rigeur but I prefer something hardier. The meat however was excellent and beautifully grilled.

The frites are not at all what I recall from my childhood in Brussels, more like American steak fries, and a bit over salted even for my saline-heavy tastes. Still they were excellent and a perfect foil to all three of our mains, and the house-made mayo that came with the mussels order was terrific.

Dessert was a warm, crisp, nutty waffle with creme chantilly, simple and a nifty way to end the meal. We shared a terrific bottle of a young, chewy Spanish mourvedre, don't ask me what. The wine list could definitely use a handful more options under $40.

Still, overall, I loved this place and would happily go back if I was in the area. If the food didn't quite merit some of the hysterics generated in the press, overall it was very good, and at $62 a person with tip (covering three bar drinks, a bottle of wine, three apps, three mains, and a shared dessert), is absolutely one of the best bangs for the buck I've had in a long time (Landmarc isn't this cheap). The slightly oppressive music level was instantly reduced when we asked, the service was terrific.

Food, glorious food!

“Eat! Eat! May you be destroyed if you don’t eat! What sin have I committed that God should punish me with you! Eat! What will become of you if you don’t eat! Imp of darkness, may you sink 10 fathoms into the earth if you don’t eat! Eat!” (A. Kazin)

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I'm eager to go back, especially since I've heard the food has improved since my last visit. Candidly, last visit, no self-respecting dutchman would have given the bitterballen a 'thumbs up' and the frites were fair by American standards but unacceptable by Belgian standards. Still......I so want them to succeed. I'll try again in the hopes maybe things are a bit better.

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the frites were fair by American standards but unacceptable by Belgian standards.

Agreed: the fries, in American steak fry mode, were quite good, but not at all what I would call Belgian frites, unless there's been a serious metamorphosis in Brussels as to what constitutes a frite, which, from what I recall of the Belgians, I highly doubt.

Food, glorious food!

“Eat! Eat! May you be destroyed if you don’t eat! What sin have I committed that God should punish me with you! Eat! What will become of you if you don’t eat! Imp of darkness, may you sink 10 fathoms into the earth if you don’t eat! Eat!” (A. Kazin)

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  • 1 month later...

finally got around to eating here (Resto is just not near anything...):

really liked it. bitter ballen are good (how could they not be?!). the poularde was excellent. so was the burger.

the beer selection is excellent and serving a glass with the appropriate insignia for each beer is a nice touch.

if it wasn't in Murray Hill I'd probably eat here all the time...as it is, it's still a perfect winter go-to.

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really liked it.  bitter ballen are good (how could they not be?!).  the poularde was excellent.  so was the burger.

Takes me back to my time in the Nederlands. I have to say, I've had bad bitter ballen before. I prefer a meatier texture than the ones that are just baby-food gooey on the inside (except one version that featured foie gras, which I enjoyed smooth). Did they use beef or veal, or a combo?

Mustard on the side?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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  • 4 weeks later...

went back last night just to snack. gotta say that I don't quite get why only Sneakeater, myself or ewindels (plus the Bruni) like it.

it's really good. those lamb ribs are darn tasty. so are the sauces with the frites. so are the house made sausages.

no, it's not "authentic" Belgian food....at least not all of it. more like "Belgian-inspired" with some semi-authentic dishes strewn around (the bitterballen, the waterzooi, the carbonnade, the moules)...but it blows Cafe Bruxelles or Markt out of the water in terms of being good...I really don't care how authentic it is.

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went back last night just to snack.  gotta say that I don't quite get why only Sneakeater, myself or ewindels (plus the Bruni) like it.

it's really good.  those lamb ribs are darn tasty.  so are the sauces with the frites.  so are the house made sausages.

no, it's not "authentic" Belgian food....at least not all of it.  more like "Belgian-inspired" with some semi-authentic dishes strewn around (the bitterballen, the waterzooi, the carbonnade, the moules)...but it blows Cafe Bruxelles or Markt out of the water in terms of being good...I really don't care how authentic it is.

Very funny...I was there that night, too (with a group). My third visit. Totally agree with your comments, and can report that the chef, Ryan Skeen, is also capable of even more. On my birthday, he prepared a 9-course dinner especially for me that featured iterations of many menu items that had been modified (for the even better!) to the format. Sort of a "best of" with more refined plating and a few good experiments in terms of presentation, saucing, etc. He's got a way with porky goodness.

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