Resto111 E 29th St, 212-685-5585 Price range: $30-$45 Rating: 4L's
It’s not such a feat to open the best Belgian restaurant in the city — humble Petit Abeille, effete Markt, and afterthought Café de Bruxelles are the only competition. In fact, this modern take on Belgian cooking — sure to become a neighborhood favorite once the Uptown crowd loses interest — doesn’t hew to ethnic preconceptions. Think Spotted Pig instead of Tea & Sympathy. But Resto achieves something more impressive still: Getting the increasingly waist- conscious denizens of New York to eat a deviled egg perched on a slab of deep-fried pork jowl ($8).
Start with a beer while you relax into dark wood and stainless steel-accented space. The list is appropriately immense. If you’re a Belgian beer novice, ask the waiter for a hand or just pick one with a funny name, like Corsendonk. I had a goblet of Lucifer, a sinful — I’m sorry — amber brew whose balance of hops and malt obscures a high alcohol content, and is far superior to the metal-tinged bottled version.
If you aren’t game for the deviled eggs, which taste just as delicious or nasty as the above description implies, the can’t-miss appetizer haunting my dreams is basically haute shawarma: Lamb Ribs ($10) brazenly spiced, their prodigious crunchy fat cut with yogurt sauce and pickled tomato. Crunchy Lobster Croquettes ($14) were chicly paired with pea shoots and puree, but frying obscured the sweetly lush essence that makes lobster prized. It could as easily have been imitation crab.
Full already, a pair of entrees provided a brief second wind. Beef Carbonnade ($19), a traditional beer stew, was made with beef cheeks, the sinewy, robust anti-filet, cooked to barely hold together, supported only by a sticky glaze of almost completely reduced sauce, adorned with two batons of mustard-slathered carrot, the only vegetables in the dish. That is, unless you count the frites (improbably yummy French fries) at the bottom of the carbonnade’s cauldron, soaking up stray sauce. A large pot of extremely fresh Mussels ($18), their liquor spiked with curry and coconut, were also paired with a silver cup of frites and runny homemade mayonnaise.
Doing my duty, I had the Liege Waffle ($6) for dessert, which happened to be the lightest course: crunchy, thin, not terribly sweet. Dipped in crème fraiche anglaise, a fine, if thankfully not fitting, end to a night of refined gluttony.
Should you go? Depends if the above made you queasy or famished. Resto delivers a meal fit not for a king but for Falstaff — and he had the right idea wearing that robe.