Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's only waffle-thin!

Not bringing your date to an ethnic restaurant of his ethnicity is something you learn in Sensitivity 101. When a white guy meets an Indian girl, he will lose points if he directs her to the row of Indian restaurants on 6th Street in the East Village, or even to a classier version thereof. The exception to this rule is if your date is Belgian, in which case he will insist--and rightly so--that the food of his country is the best the world has to offer, so suggesting a Belgian spot is not just a safe bet, but really the only way to go. Which is why Jo and I ended up choosing Resto for one of our enough-pasta-already nights out.

The place is known for strange food ("crispy pig's-ear salad," anyone?) so we both went with what Frank Bruni called "treading some predictable ground" and what I call ordering food that won't lead to disappointment, followed by cooking pasta at home, which is to say, we ordered steak frites. And not only am I not about to boil water, but it's hard to imagine ever wanting a meal again. So aside from the steak frites, we each had a Belgian beer--a Duvel for Jo and a Rodenbach for me. Midway through the fries, I was feeling like Mr. Creosote, but the food had been awfully tasty, so we risked bursting to order the dessert waffle. I might prefer the Belgian waffles from the Belgian waffle truck, but it's not a fair comparison because a waffle, all things equal, tastes better when you haven't just eaten a steak. The Resto waffle is more oily than sweet (all Liege waffles are both, it's just a question of balance) so it reminded me a bit too much of the fries I'd just eagerly wolfed down. Probably best to keep waffles and dinner separate by a set number of hours...

But back to the pigs and their crispy, crispy ears. Strange food on a menu is supposed to be "authentic," but Jo, an authentic Belgian and by no means a vegan, had never heard of pig's-ear anything, let alone pig's-ear salad. Nor was he keen on learning what it was. Which led us to a discussion of how Belgian food in NYC either over- or under-does it in terms of authenticity. On the one hand there's the Pain Quotidien chain, which serves iced skim cappuccinos and muffins under the Belgian flag, and on the other, some pigs are now going earless so that New Yorkers can get what they understand to be a true taste of Flanders or Wallonia. And I say this with nothing against either establishment, and as a fan of both muffins and frites (although none right now, please, so... full...). I don't so much care if a restaurant strays from authenticity. However the homesick Belgian expat population demands a middle-ground.

There was one silly moment, culture-wise, when we got the receipt, and our waiter handed it to me, making some comment about how the woman was treating. The card had been Jo's. An honest mistake, but it took us a moment to remember the whole Belgian spelling versus English spelling thing. After we mentioned that this was actually a man's name, and a Belgian one at that, it occurred to us that this had never happened before (although to be fair, we don't dine out all that often), so there was something bizarre about this confusion occurring at a Belgian restaurant of all places.


J. Otto Pohl said...

Pig's ear salad is a pretty common Chinese (real Chinese not Americanized Chinese) dish. I have had it here in Kyrgyzstan and it is pretty tasty. My guess is that the cook at your authenitic Beligian eatery was actually Chinese.

Phoebe said...

Could be. Although the chef could really be of any background, as long as he'd heard of this dish and was as enthusiastic as you are.

Legend has it NYC has "real" Chinese food (my preference for tofu-with-broccoli keeps me away) so the question remains, when will "real" Belgian food arrive in the city?

Petey said...

Pig's ears are incredibly yummy.


Perhaps you are well situated to answer my question, Phoebe.

When I first went to France, I was tickled to find the common prejudice among the French that Belgians are idiots.

I'm not anti-Belgian, myself, but I am curious to find the backstory on this one. When I asked French-folk to explain, I got versions of "Isn't it obvious?" which didn't really help me to understand the genesis of this.

And as far as cheap 'n' simple Belgian food in Manhattan goes, Petite Abielle seems reasonably acceptable to me.

Phoebe said...

Sushi is also delicious. But should not be served in a Belgian restaurant.

Ask the French people you spoke to how intelligent they believe Americans to be.

And finally, Petite Abeille is not bad, but hardly qualifies as cheap.

Withywindle said...

Also, in Louisa May Alcott's Little Belgians, the third Belgian exchange student is named Jo.

I thought the French attitude toward Belgians was linguistic--Walloons have funny accent, must be dumb. What Germans think of Swiss, what Yankees think of Southerners.

Petey said...

"what Yankees think of Southerners."

That's kinda what I thought.

But I can follow the thought process behind Yankee anti-Southern prejudice, while I don't exactly understand the roots of French anti-Belgian prejudice.

It seemed a more embedded prejudice than, say, what Parisians feel about rural French Northerners, for example.

Petey said...

"And finally, Petite Abeille is not bad, but hardly qualifies as cheap."

A humungous serving of moules frites for sixteen bucks in Manhattan? Can't beat that with a stick. And they've got a decent early bird special if you're a senior citizen or starving grad student.

Plus, the breakfasts are quite reasonable and yummy.

Julia said...

What I want to know is why croissants at the Pain Quotidien in Brussels taste a million times better than the croissants at the Pain Quotidien here. You'd think they have the same recipe?

Anonymous said...

They can't possibly have the same ingredients.