Sunday, October 21, 2007

The E.U.

235 E. 4th St (Aves A & B)

Here’s my problem with The E.U.: they can’t spell. Why should I believe that their “Bresoala” can hold a candle to true Italian Bresaola, air-cured beef that is often served with arugula and shaved parmigiano? Who’s to say that their “Muscato d’Asti” isn’t some paltry imitation of actual Moscato d’Asti, a sweet Italian dessert-appropriate wine? Such errors, though possibly merely typographical, didn’t leave me wanting to trust this place.

I like the idea behind The E.U.: a best-of, something-for-everybody roundup of European food and drink. The items on their menu range from Waterzooi, a Belgian creamy fish soup, to fish and chips with string beans. The execution of this ambitious undertaking is frustratingly uneven. We began the meal with restaurant’s flight of five “handcrafted artisanal beers” (artisanal, you say?...Guinness?...really?). One of the five, Sixpoint Sweet Action, is American...although in French, E.U. can be an acronym for les Etats-Unis, the United States, which must be what the beer people at The E.U. were thinking when they included it.

The white asparagus appetizer, served with smoked sablefish and smoked roe, was stringy when cut, but tender when eaten. The mayonnaise-y sauce was a tasty addition, but the fish knocked the whole dish down a notch. White asparagus is very popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, where it is called spargel. There is even a town, Schwetzingen, which considers itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World” and holds a yearly Spargelfest, where they crown their very own Spargel Queen. Sablefish is native to the north Pacific Ocean, and most of it is exported to Japan—not to Europe. The two flavors simply were not made to commingle. We took our chances with the misrepresented Bresaola, which was decent, but came only with bread and not the usual accompaniments. My main course was baked rigatoni with milk-braised Berkshire pork (I’m assuming, for consistency’s sake, that they’re talking Windsor Castle and not Tanglewood), escarole, and lemon. The pork appeared to have gotten lost on its way to a barbecue and stumbled into a bowl of pasta; it was tender and would have been terrific pulled and sauced on a bun, but didn’t have the body to stand up to the pasta. Overall, the dish was a disappointment.

The star of the evening was the English burger with farmhouse cheddar and brown sauce. The meat was a perfect medium rare where some restaurants overcook, the cheese an excellent pairing, the brioche-esque bun golden delicious, and the Belgian-frite-style fries delightfully seasoned, improved only by dipping them in the brown sauce. Dessert was English sticky toffee pudding with buttermilk gelato. Although I may never understand why date cake is called toffee pudding, it was dense and flavorful, a lovely end to the meal.

The bathrooms—potentially a make-or-break element of an otherwise undecided savvy restaurant-goer’s experience—were unisex and nothing special. The sinks were either intentionally distressed or had been rescued from imminent curbside garbage pickup. Either way, they succeeded only in making the bathroom look trashy. It was variously referred to at my table as an “imitation dive bar” bathroom and “rusty on purpose,” a quality whose supposed coolness was clearly lost on us squares. The poor condition was mere illusion, however; everything worked perfectly well.

The E.U. fancies itself a gastropub, but has yet to earn its “gastro,” as far as I’m concerned. The restaurant’s greatest appeal lies in its simple pub fare. Perhaps the nations of the European Monetary Union should secede from the restaurant and leave the Brits with their pounds, their pudding, and their pride.

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