Boudin Noir Tart
RESTO IS CURRENTLY serving a perfectly seasonal dish: a rich and meaty, sweet-and-savory tart made with pork, onions, cheddar, oats and pears. Oh, and blood.
If that ingredient makes you squeamish, you are not alone. “It tastes better with beer,” says Chef Bobby Hellen, possibly noting my apprehension. Despite the early hour, I acquiesce under the excuse of “Chef Knows Best.”The bartender presents me with a Rare Vos, a New York state beer served at this Belgian-inspired restaurant in Murray Hill.
The boudin noir tart ($13) arrives shortly thereafter, a flaky tart crust filled to the brim with a suspiciously reddishbrownish mixture.The scent of toasted butter and pear caramel wafting up alluringly, I pick up my fork and gingerly take a bite.The smooth and fatty texture resembles refried beans, but tastes far sweeter and slightly musky.The crumble topping of oats and cheddar provides a crunch both tangy and nutty, and the pearcaramel gives a bracing bite of fresh sweetness that blends nicely with the cinnamon and clove in the meat filling. My bites grow less tentative, and I inquire about how the dish is made. It’s when Hellen casually tosses off the phrase “emulsify the blood” that I realize I haven’t touched my beer.The fork goes down, the beer glass goes up. Emulsify the blood, you say?
What inspired this Staten Island-bred chef to add boudin noir to his menu? “There’s definitely no blood sausage out there,” Hellen explains, adding that he’d made a variation of this dish for a fancy Andorra pig-cooking event. “When I served it,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “all 20 judges went silent. And I thought to myself, ‘When all the judges go silent…I think I’m going to put this on the menu.’” Though Hellen is quick to point out that Resto itself isn’t so fancy-schmancy. Sure, the restaurant uses the same carefully sourced proteins and produce other restaurants fetishistically trumpet on their menus, but the vibe is much more casual at this small gastropub. “Food is supposed to be fun, shared with friends and family,” Hellen says emphatically. “People have made it so fucking stuck-up. Eat with total strangers! You’ll probably have a better meal.”
Meanwhile, my fork has found its will again.The dish is compulsively strange and complex, the kind you keep eating not out of hunger but because it’s so damn good.With all that blood—“Pure protein,” Hellen says —the tart also provides a bit of a power boost, like a less homey (and horny) version of the True Blood hunter’s soufflé, without the demonic possession and cannibalistic ecstasy.
Remembering the lessons of gluttony that plotline provided, I place my fork down for the last time and ask if the dish is popular. “It’s not the burger, but it is popular,” Hellen answers, not entirely convincingly. I pick up my fork for one last nibble. It might not be popular, but it is great. Oh, and bloody.
111 E. 29th St. (betw. Park & Lexington Aves.), 212-685-5585, www.restonyc.com.