We were fed up with wine. It’s a bold statement for two people who are as passionate about wine as myself and Jonathan Russo, our OWJ publisher. But on a recent cold night, that’s why the two of us found ourselves at Resto, in New York’s Gramercy neighborhood, where we were about to have a beer experience like no other.
Resto is not your average Belgian mussels and frites joint. In fact, it so thoroughly changed my perception of Belgian cuisine that I have been telling anyone within earshot that they need to grab a seat at the bar, put your stomachs in their hands and enjoy the ride.
Several days before our meal, I called and asked owner Christian Pappinacholas if he had any beer that was made with natural yeasts or in a manner that would deem them worth reviewing. This is a common ploy I use to get Jonathan to pay for the meals. Little did I know, however, that owner Christian has an armada of “natural” beer. This is a tough job people but someone has to do it.
We started with something called Deus. Christian explained that it was a beer from Flanders made in the Methode Champenoise – the Champagne Method for those playing along at home, which simple means the secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. It was made with natural yeast and had a wonderful hazelnut aroma and was slightly spicy. It was a great way to start our decent into oblivion… I mean, tour of fine Belgian beers.
Up next was t’Gaverhopke Singing Blonde. This beauty had a whopping 9.8 % alcohol content and was very fruity on the nose, nicely balanced and was slightly sweet. By now, our blood alcohol level was quickly rising so we were very happy when our Chicory Salad arrived, complete with crispy pigs’ears, yellow beans, soft egg and a warm guanciale vinaigrette.
With things heating up and a mad scientist look in Christian’s eyes, we moved on to an ale that was 100% organic, 10.5% alcohol and was called Piraat or “Pirate.” This was crazy, and I mean crazy in a good way. It smelled like bananas on the nose but was finely balanced between being rich, bitter and just extraordinarily tasty. This was the highlight of the night – or so said my scribbled notes when I recovered the next day – see the photo. This beer paired perfectly with the house made pappardelle, made with a warm porky ragu. Yes, I said porky.
Next up, we drank Orval which was another 100% organic beer made by Trappist monks in Luxembourg. It had a very floral and sweet nose that smelled like baked bread. Christian explained that the beer was made with brettanomyces (wild yeasts) that gave this beer a very unique and complex taste. With this naturally delicious beer, Christian rolled out their killer frites plate, complete with 10 different dipping sauces for the fries. It was just in time because my giddiness and dizziness was extremely happy to meet a plate of fried potatoes complete with their own sauces.
As a sidenote to the Orval, Christian opened a bottle of Westmalle Trappast ale and told us that Westmalle was the benchmark ale for all Trappast ales in Belgium. It was a stinker, full of skunk-like hops and very bitter notes but when you drank it, there was a very clean and sleek taste that just seemed to cleanse your palate and make you want more. I love drinks like this when eating rich food so it made perfect sense to have at towards the end of this killer meal.
Finally, Christian went above and beyond and opened a bottle of geuze from a producer called Cantillon. For those not familiar with geuze, it’s essentially a cross between beer and wine which is made from blending lambics that are 1 year old with ones that are 2-3 years old. This particular bottle was from 2005 and was called Iris. Jonathan noted that it smelled like “sour pumpkins” and I thought it smelled like an attic or more appropriately, like my Grandmother’s attic. It was musty, funky, dirty, and entirely unique. We were told that it was fermented from 100% barley and aged in oak casks and that this particular property had spiders that lived among the grounds to keep it free of certain pests. In a sense, this was the closest thing to biodynamic beer I would ever have.
As for the taste…? Honestly, I can’t remember. By this point, I was so thoroughly full and, um, happy, that anything else was just icing on an already sudsy, salty, fried delicious cake. I guess this means I’ll be going back to Resto in the near future and making sure to order the Cantillon first before things get too out of hand.