Monday, January 27, 2014


Cannibalism is a heroic feat- as it refers to dining at The Cannibal, at least.  Talented chef Francis Derby has long been my enticement for dining here, let alone the sheer novelty of eating somewhere with such a name.  A part of the Resto family, The Cannibal considers itself a Belgian gastropub, very beer- and meat-focused, but the foundation of the restaurant just circulates around great, sturdy food that does, in fact, pair well with suds.   Sourcing is paramount here, gleaning the finest from premium global purveyors or the adamantly local (much is made in-house) and seasonal.    That said, with the amount of curing and pickling going on here, they can get away with a huge variety that grants the menu spectral appeal.

It was a strange welcome we received upon our arrival to The Cannibal, as the room was absolutely bereft of diners on the early-ish side of a Sunday morning- a frigidly blustery winter one at that.  The only staffer visible sort of beckoned us to sit where ever we liked, but I knew they had a "covered, heated, and ... very bike friendly" garden (according to their website), but our waiter apparently wasn't quite friendly enough to heat it up and let us sit there.  He begrudgingly uttered it was possible, sure, but didn't seem very enthusiastic to say the least.  In retrospect, it would have been a little excessive to heat up that entire space for just the three of us, but it seemed a slightly awkward, chilly reception, given the advertisement on their homepage.  But once we sat, the vibe eased up immensely, our server warmed up to us as we did with in the cozy dining room, and additional diners began to trickle into the room, which ended up reaching full capacity.  Enough, I'm sure, that they did eventually fire up that garden.

As would seem prudent at a place called The Cannibal, we began with a salumi board, piled high with a selection of three artisanal hams chosen by the house.  They ranged in smokiness and moistness, and it was fun to compare their differences, alongside bites of a hulking, crusty biscuit with local honey to drizzle.  I can't imagine tackling this alone, but with two hungry teammates we made a dent (with still some left over for a plentiful doggy bag).  

After all that charcuterie, we reasonably opted for some greenery, and a heaping pile of mild arugula filled just that bill.  Diaphanous slices of pickled turnips leaned in to constrain the wild tangle, and crunchy roasted hazelnuts compounded the nuttiness of a sherried beurre noisette vinaigrette.   

A favorite on the menu is the country biscuits and gravy.  It wasn't really redundant to get more biscuit after the salumi board (I mean, honestly, can there ever be too much biscuit??), because between the three of us, there wasn't a crumb of that one left.  And this time, a
mild cream gravy smothered them beyond recognition of the crumbly, cakey marvels
that they were.   The silky gravy was pleasantly mellifluous, until you bit into a substantial chunk of pork sausage within, spotlighting the full savory, spiciness of the meat.   Down to the last crumb, the gravy retained its extraordinary silkiness, rather than succumbing to that gelatinous weirdness so chronic of white sauces of its ilk.   It came with a nice little heap of arugula itself, leaving more of that great arugula and turnip salad to the rest of us.

If there's anything lacking from The Cannibal, it's a surfeit of vegetable matter.  While the veggies that be are expertly prepared and perfectly wonderful, they are scant in proportion to meat and starch, although perhaps that makes more sense than not at a place called The Cannibal.  Although technically speaking, it is named after a Belgian cyclist named Eddie Merckx, who shared the eponym, not the it's-not-right-to-eat-your-own-kind interpretation.   I guess a Grand Tour cyclist's focus would be on energy, though, so still the heartiness of foodstuffs is the recurring theme.  I still couldn't resist seeking out the produce, here made even more precious by its paucity.  A handful of juicy, mild radishes were plopped into a chunky sauce gribiche, actually more of a loose egg salad than a sauce, sporting chunks of boiled egg in a zesty, smokey cream.  As described, the other options from Vegetables & Sides seemed a bit twee: a single slice of Japanese eggplant draped in lardo for $12?  Fearing disappointment, I went with the ingredient that
never lets me down:  my brussels sprouts, here shaved underneath a poached egg and tossed with country ham gremolata.  Although I obviously should've known the egg was going to dominate, and that the sprouts barely nudged their way past the chunky, bacony gremolata, it was still a delectable little dish. I still can't quite determine what differentiates the Brunch options from the Small Plates, given the diminutive size of this egg dish that wasn't designated "Small", but most certainly was.    What it lacked in size, it made up for in flavor, as well as three crusty slices of superbly fresh, chewy bread accompanying, lightly toasted and slicked with oil.  There weren't any desserts listed on the menu, nor was there any room left in my stomach to even tinker with that idea.    Quite possibly the best Stumptown coffee being brewed in New York is served here, and my uber-caffeinated inability to turn down another cup more than compensated for any lack of sugar rush.  And the cocktails: as impeccable as their coffee, The Cannibal serves a devastatingly good bloody mary, zesty and potent.

The aftermath of our repast speaks realms: besides some surplus ham, plates were virtually licked clean.  And that is fairly respectable behavior for a cannibal.

113 East 29th St


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