Note: Bobby Hellen was the acting executive chef at Resto at the time of this visit. The “acting” part of his title was later removed. Since then, he has left the restaurant. The current chef is Preston Clark. Click here for a more recent review.
Resto has been on my to-do list for over a year, since Frank Bruni awarded an unlikely two stars in May 2007. Back then, the restaurant didn’t take reservations, and there were reports of waits up to an hour at prime times. Sorry Charlie, but I don’t like to eat that way. Time is too precious to squander an hour of it just waiting to eat. So Resto went on the back burner.
After the hubbub died down, Resto got wise, and put itself on OpenTable, so people can actually plan to eat at a particular time, rather than just hoping. Perhaps the bloom has withered a bit. We found it nearly empty at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening, albeit in August. It got busier as the evening went on, but at no point did it appear to be full.
Resto today doesn’t quite seem to merit the laurels Frank Bruni bestowed on it. However, that was when Ryan Skeen was chef; he has since moved onto Irving Mill. Perhaps I visited Resto too late.
The cuisine here is Belgian, a genre not well represented in Manhattan (Markt comes to mind), though it shares much in common with rustic French. The selection of 70 beers is admirable, if not overwhelming. The wine list isn’t long, and neither is the seasonal menu. There are five appetizers ($9–13), five kinds of house-made charcuterie ($9), four seasonal entrées ($16–28), four classic entrées ($15–24), and four side dishes ($6–8).
In the context of these modest prices, a six-week-aged prime ribeye for two at $140 seems incongruous. So does an $85 tasting menu. We were curious, but gave both a pass.
Lamb Niçoise ($9), a home-made lamb sausage, had a nice spicy kick. My girlfriend loved the Crispy Pig’s Ear Salad ($12). Loaded with greens, beans, chicory and a soft egg on top, it could easily serve as an entrée. And yes, those really are pigs’ ears, fried crisp and scattered about the bowl like croutons.
I couldn’t exactly say the entrées misfired, but they were pedestrian. Wild Striped Bass ($28) was chewy and overwhelmed with red peppers. Steak Frites ($24) featured hanger steak, nicely done, but the fries were mushy.
The décor is plain and bare-bones, but service was prompt and friendly. We had many questions about the menu, and the server provided helpful advice with much enthusiasm.
Resto (111 E. 29th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Gramercy)