Most restaurant names these days are hopelessly cryptic: Atera, Battersby, Reynards, The Goodwin, Governor, and so on. They could be anything. What are you to make of a Murray Hill restaurant called Resto? The name, shorthand for “restaurant,” leaves all options open.
How refreshing, then, that the folks behind Resto opened The Cannibal next door. Aside from the blankety-blank steakhouse, has ever a restaurant declared its meaty intentions more openly? Aside from a few token salads and side dishes, The Cannibal is a tribute to carnivory in all its forms—okay, all but one.
The early marketing billed The Cannibal as half-grocery, half-restaurant. One year in, the grocery angle has been phased out. There’s no mention of it on the website, and owner Christian Pappanicholas has brought in high-powered restaurant talent: Momofuku alum Cory Lane in the front-of-house, chef Preston Clark running the kitchens both here and at Resto next door. The menu seems more mature than when I looked at it a year ago.
There’s an overwhelming choice of some 300 beers, with which you can wash down a wide variety of pâtés and terrines, sausages, tartares, hams, salumi, and cheeses. I suspect most of the patrons are there for snacking: there are only six true entrées, three of which are offered only for two, and the menu warns that they take 45 minutes to prepare. (To see the current menu, click on the photo at right, which expands to a larger image.)
Broadly, the choices are divided into Charcuterie ($11–16), Small Plates ($6–13), Meat dishes ($14–20 for one, $60–65 for two), Cheeses (choose 3 to 7 for $12–19) and Sides ($5 each). The proportion of the menu that interests me: just about all of it.
The Poulard in Mourning ($13; above left) is a terrific chicken terrine made with a mushroom and leek purée. Spicy Merguez sausages ($11; above right) with yellow curry come on a bed of wheatberry and golden raisins.
Roasted Lamb Neck & Rib (above) is a $60 dish for two. With side dishes and appetizers, a party of four could share it. You get half a lamb neck and a quarter of the rib cage. I’ve never seen such a dish. We ate a bit over half of it, and were stuffed. The lamb was roasted perfectly, rubbed with a spicy Calabrian chile salsa verde.
The setting is casual, with all seating at the bar or at communal tables (on stools that aren’t very comfortable). The sound system is cranked up. Action flicks play on a couple of wide-screen TVs. Reservations aren’t taken for small parties, but seats turn over quickly. We had no trouble getting seated immediately at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The place was mostly full, but not packed.
Casual vibe notwithstanding, the servers behind the bar are knowledgeable and attentive. Need help navigating that list of 300 beers? I certainly did. Their advice was spot-on. The Cannibal isn’t the solution to every dining need, but oh my! What it does, it does exceedingly well.
The Cannibal (113 E. 29th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Murray Hill)
Food: Carnivory, every which way you can imagine
Service: Excellent for such a casual setting
Ambiance: A bar and long communal tables; a bit loud; hard metal stools