CHRISTIAN PAPPANICHOLAS — FROM REAL ESTATE TO RESTO

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DISCRETELY TUCKED ON A MURRAY HILL SIDE STREET, NEW YORK’S GASTRONOMIC DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH, RESTO, HAS BEEN GOING STRONG IN A TOWN WHERE RESTAURANTS COME AND GO LIKE A WORKWEEK. OWNER CHRISTIAN PAPPANICHOLAS AND EXECUTIVE CHEF BOBBY HELLEN CONCEIVED A BRILLIANT MENU OF APPROACHABLE BELGIAN, PREPARED USING TRADITIONAL FRENCH TECHNIQUE, WITH A FOCUS ON SEASONAL, LOCAL, FARM FRESH INGREDIENTS. AND OF COURSE, PORK..
TEXT Paul Bruno

 

 

In four years, the modern Belgian eatery has attained a loyal following, and a deal of great press, including the New York Times Top 10 Best New Restaurants list, and the coveted New York Magazine Best Burger ranking. (Not bad, considering they never set out to be known for their burger.)

Dirty met with the Restaurateur for dinner, to sample their menu favorites, while getting to know more about the Resto story and the man who’s vision made it happen. To start, the pork taurine and Tuscan kale salad with a brown butter and sherry vinaigrette were a perfect pair. Although, not generally a fan of deviled eggs, theirs were whipped into the perfect texture. We also tried the whipped salt cod, off their small bites menu, which was spread onto bread, and just sublime.

The main course was equally as astounding, consisting of crispy lamb’s neck with brussel sprouts, and their grand charcuterie plate, which in short, is a pork lover’s delight, of about 7 varieties of pork to be exact. The lamb’s neck however, was Dirty’s hand’s down favorite; braised and then lightly fried.

Dirty’s evening with the friendly Christian Pappanicholas made it clear why Resto is such a success, and as it tends to happen when people break bread, there was a great deal of conversation, (and even more drinking). We can’t share all that was said between new friends; here’s what you need to know:

 

DIRTY: RESTO SEEMS LIKE A GOOD RECIPE TO REPRODUCE IN THE CITY. HAVE YOU GUYS THOUGHT ABOUT THAT?

CHRISTIAN PAPPANICHOLAS: We have. A lot of people have talked to us about doing it, and because I come from commercial real estate, I have friends and former colleagues who reach out… they rep landlords and things and have called me. We’re working on two new projects, and it’s fun – neither of them are Resto; one’s an extension of it right next door. It’s hard, you know, it’d be like trying to produce the same child twice. Maybe in another market, but not in New York again. We have such an organic thing, the way we work. Bobby and I talk about what inspires us, and I’d be afraid that we’d lose a little or a lot of that if we tried to do it somewhere else. I like what it is.

 

D: WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

CP: Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

 

D: WHERE IS YOUR FAMILY FROM?

CP: I’m Greek. My father was born in Greece, my mother was born here, but both are Greek. My father owned restaurants growing up. I tried to get out but it sorta sucked me back in, to steal a moderately famous movie quote. It’s fun to have my father come up and see what we’re doing. His restaurants are no longer around.

 

D: SO FOOD WAS VERY MUCH A PART OF YOUR UPBRINGING?

CP: By all means. My grandmother, the matriarch, was cooking all the time. My mother is an amazing cook! It’s funny, I cook very much like my mother cooks. It’s always been there. I like to eat. And drink. I like entertaining, having friends over.

 

D: HOW OFTEN DO YOU GUYS CHANGE YOUR MENU?

CP: Our main menu changes 4 times a year. But we like to shake it up and there are parts of the menu that change more frequently than that. The charcuterie, the vegetables change as often as we can get them to change, depending on whats at the market. We just added the ‘bites’ to the menu — Bobby and I were in Europe, visiting a bunch of breweries, and we found so many little bite driven places that we thought it would be nice to add a bunch more of small plates to the menu.

Bobby and I laugh because we want to change things because we get bored of them. Not because they’re not great dishes, but they have to make it thousands of times, so I also feel that by changing it up, we’re keeping the kitchen interested and continuing to push the envelope.

 

D: DO YOU GET PEOPLE WHO ARE DISAPPOINTED TO FIND THEIR FAVORITE DISH HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE MENU?

CP: It happens sometimes. The beef-cheek carbonnade was one of those things. We had it for a long time, and we had it through our first summer and then we came into our second summer and I said, “It’s summer! It’s not time for this big braised dish in the summer!” So we started smoking beef ribs, doing things like that. But when we were just in Belgium visiting breweries, we did see so many beef carbonnade’s so it inspired us to bring it back.

 

D: HOW DID YOU GO FROM THE REAL ESTATE BUSINESS TO THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS?

CP: Having worked in commercial real estate, I was working with some senior guys that were really great and some that weren’t. I just wasn’t so into the people that I had the opportunity to work for, and I said let me take some time for myself. They gave me a three month window to figure out what I wanted to do. I found myself writing a lot about food & restaurants, and so I decided I was going to go to culinary school, and so I went to FCI (the French Culinary Institute). And I just cooked. I worked a few places for people that I knew. At that point, I new I didn’t want to go back, so I figured I’d find a job as manager at a restaurant and find my way. I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant at some point. But I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing, and that I worked for great people before I set off to do my own thing.

 

D: WHAT RESTAURANTS DID YOU WORK AT BEFORE OPENING RESTO?

CP: Inoteca, Otto, Lupa, among some others.

 

D: SO WHAT’S GOOD ON THE MENU TONIGHT?

CP: Bobby is going to send the tourine out, the Tuscan kale salad is my favorite salad I’ve ever eaten. And I am a salad nut! If Bobby would let me, I’d have six salads on the menu, I love salads. Black Tuscan kale is meaty and great and it’s with a brown butter vinaigrette. We’ve always done a pig’s ear salad. The lamb’s neck, I have to say, is a perfect dish, in my eyes. We braise and then pan fry the neck of the lamb so it’s crispy. The burger is the burger, it will never go away.

 

D: REVIEWS OF YOUR BURGER WERE WHAT ORIGINALLY BROUGHT ME TO RESTO. I USED TO DO A BURGER NIGHT WITH SOME FRIENDS AND WE DECIDED TO TRY RESTO, BASED ON THE NEW YORK MAGAZINE BEST BURGER AWARD.

CP: It was a crazy time at Resto! We did not set out to create a famous burger. We grind up the scraps from our hanger and beef cheeks. We also don’t have a flat top and so we decided we would pan cook them. We didn’t want to temperature check them, so we loaded it up with pork fat so we could cook them all the way through and it would still be great. We were selling about a hundred burgers a day for about 3 weeks. It was obscene.

 

D: WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO GO OUT FOR DINNER?

CP: Dell’ Anima. For italian food. Dell’ Anima took the torch from my Lupa. Frankie’s in Brooklyn.

 

D: DID YOUR VERY GREEK FAMILY HAVE ANY SORT OF REACTION WHEN YOU SAID YOU WERE OPENING A BELGIAN RESTAURANT?

CP: Not really. They’re both very Americanized. Although my father owned restaurants, my mother is way more the foodie than he is. I think, because of my family, there will be a greek restaurant in my future.

 

D: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESIGN OF THIS SPACE?

CP: My wife and I, but more my wife. We had a friend that was an architect who did a space plan for us and was like, “Okay, we need to start picking materials.” All of the wood in the house comes from my brother who’s a woodworker. We wanted to keep it simple and comfortable, clean but not perfect.

 

RESTO
111 East 29th Street
New York, NY 10016
212- 685-5585

RESTONYC.COM

 

 

 






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