In a Pig’s Ear

2008.Oct.07 Tuesday · 1 comment

in Restaurants

“You can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear.”

– Jonathan Swift, Author

New York City – Ever since Frank Bruni, the current restaurant critic for The New York Times had a pork belly epiphany, it’s become all the rage in one dining spot after another. But there had to be a starting point – not for the use of pork belly, which let’s face it, is simply uncured, unsmoked bacon, but for his epiphany. And the spot where, I gather, that occurred, was at Resto, 111 East 29th Street. In fact, this Belgian relative newcomer is, more or less, pig central. Indeed there are other things on the menu, but there’s no question that pork is king within these walls. And oh what walls – simple, unadorned by anything save a few interesting sconces, comfortable tables and chairs with no pretensions to be anything but, a nicely laid out bar specializing in more Belgian beers than you knew existed, and simple, hearty, delicious food. Let’s dive right into that, because there’s nothing else going on. [Closed]

We arrived on the dot for our 8:00 reservation to find a packed, raucous space and a clearly harried hostess who “hoped” that there might be a table for us in about 20 minutes… or so. We grabbed the last two spots at the end of the bar, ordered a round of cocktails, and took a glance at the menu. We figured we may as well get something in our stomachs – a pot of steamed mussels in garlic and orange zest accompanied by thick, slightly chewy frites in… a vase, more or less, with a good amount of mayo on the side. Other than perhaps a trifle shy on salt in the mussel broth, a delightful way to start the evening. A good half hour into the wait and it now being clear that no tables were to be forthcoming, we decided to stay at the bar.

Resto - crispy pig’s ear salad
The menu offers up a quartet of starters, all of which sounded intriguing, at least for the intrepid foodie. Let’s jump straight to the heart of the matter, because if you’ve read about Resto, you’ve read about… the Crispy Pig’s Ear Salad. My dining companion looked me askance, but I held firm, we simply must try it. A mix of greens, a perfectly poached soft egg, and yes, crispy bits of pig’s ears – basically substituting for lardon’s, or crispy bacon bits, in a traditional lardon, frisee, and poached egg salad. And no question, better for it. Easily the best of this sort of salad either of us had ever had. We were going in “courses”, more or less, and the salad was accompanied by another of the starters, the Bitter Ballen, which are pork and veal meatballs, deep-fried, which simply makes them more or less perfect already, and served up with a small tub of stoneground mustard to just add to the perfection. We’d decided to leave the Belgian beers in the hands of the bartender, a pleasant and quite helpful sort (who, thankfully, did not natter on as the previous night’s ‘tender had), who started us off with a couple of lighter ales – a Kasteel Tripel and a Grimbergen Blonde – the former light, slightly fruity, smooth, the latter a trifle darker, with a creamy note to it.

Round two and a tough act to follow. A bottle of Orval Trappist ale was split between us, nice and hearty, and a good foil to the two dishes now in front of us. First up, lamb ribs, spice rubbed and so tender as to fall off the bone, accompanied by a schmear of pickled tomato yogurt on the plate – all in all, nicely done. The one disappointment of the eve, the deviled eggs – served atop pillows of deep fried pork – think of those shrimp toasts that you get in, say, a Vietnamese restaurant, only make it out of pork and you have the general idea – but really, really salty – the deviled egg itself not so deviled, a simple sort of whip of the yolk that had little seasoning to it, all set back into the white. But no matter, one misstep and an easy one, no doubt, to correct.

Resto - pork belly with kimchee soubise
We moved on to a single main course to share, the famed and aforementioned pork belly – a trio of melt in your mouth slices with a nice dipping pool of “kimchee soubise” – a multicultural fusion if ever there was one – with a nice kick to it, and to accompany, a side of spicy diced turnips. A bottle of Malheur 12, which we’d selected outselves just because we liked the name and that it was from a place called Buggenhout, a name we like just as much – the bartender agreeing it would work well with the pork belly. It did, though perhaps was a little heavy, with toasty, caramelized notes to it. Still, no complaints.

We finished off with the apple pie, a whole small pie served up – far bigger than any one person would care to tackle – simple, delicious filling, flaky pie crust, vanilla ice cream – what’s not to love? And easy on the wallet by comparison to my previous evenings’ ventures, with tax and tip coming in at a flat $100, keeping in mind the number of dishes we ordered was… excessive.

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