Resto has been on my radar since it was helmed by wunderkind/wild-child Ryan Skeen (we're both from Portland). Preston Clark now has the reigns, and he's steering Resto in a very agreeable direction. It's a small restaurant, low-ceilinged and low-lit, with a rustic, sylvan interior that complements the cuisine. We happened to be taking advantage of Restaurant Week here, but
this served no disadvantage. Seated at a small table near the back, Resto is conjoined to its next-door "little brother", Cannibal. One hopes that all attention isn't deflected to this nose-to-tail (correction: pig's-head to goat's-leg) hotspot, but for now, while the dining room was sparse when we entered, it soon swelled to capacity even before our appetizers arrived.
And for those we left the pig's head terrine option to the kids next door, and opted for the creamy squash soup and an escarole and pear salad. The soup came in a bulbous little tureen, spritzed with a streusel of spiced pecans and drizzled with a sweet maple creme fraiche flecked with chives. The thick broth wasn't too sweet itself, though, most likely benefitting from homemade stock and an earthy variety of gourd. Escarole salad paired sliced pears and parmigiano with the sturdy
greens in a punchy cider vinaigrette, doused with about twice the amount of hazelnuts needed (somehow, throwing a landslide of nuts on things seems to be a popular thing to do of late, but for me, these should more garnish than garish). Plus, nuts are expensive, so scaling back on them would seem prudent on all fronts.
For entrees, a dense hunk of short rib fell tenderly into smoothly pureed parsnips. Crisp fried shards of shallots punched up the mild tuber, surrounded by a meaty pool of deep, horseradish inflected jus. An off-the-Restaurant-Week-Menu order of roasted brussels sprouts were a welcome addition, given the paucity of vegetation included in both our entrees (most of Resto's regular menu mains seem to include a greater proportion of veg). These sprouts were much like I fix myself, for better or for worse. Some could've been a little
more cooked, some were perfect, but all had that hallmark nuttiness from good, high heat and a lively blitz of lemon. I was happy to see skate as the fish option, as it's a favorite of mine. A full wing arrived on the bone, which wasn't so easy to navigate. Skate is almost exclusively served clean... and there's a reason for
that. Skate is like the short ribs of fish... the angel hair pasta of the sea. The ropey texture is its unique, defining feature, and when you demand meticulous pilfering through the meat to separate delicate ivory flesh from delicate ivory cartilage, it becomes much less magical. The fish was well cooked and well seasoned, however, bedded in a creamy puree of celery root and an slightly sharp juniper sauce that begged to be well-apportioned amongst bites to counter its bracing tang.
For dessert, our poached pear fared a little like the brussels sprouts, wanting for a little more time to relax its firm texture into dessert-worthy submission. Instead, it fought again our spoons, and for lack of a knife, threatened to catapult off the plate without a very deft manipulation of multiple utensils. A thick smear of mascarpone helped smooth things out (and adhere them to the plate), enriched with a sandy crumble of sugary
brown butter. Panna cotta was spiced mildly with chai, plated with a zesty orange jam and a flurry of candied pistachios for crunch.
Resto feels like a perfect little combo of neighborhood gem and farm-to-table hotspot- where the staff would get to know you and you feel right at home, but you might actually need a reservation, 'cause these tables don't sit around and collect dust. But that can be a good thing, since it makes it something to look forward to.
111 East 29th Street