There are so many great new places to eat this winter that it might be better to forgo the usual post-holiday diet and exercise in favor of just exercise. Maybe just walking to the restaurant counts?

One of these great new places is Belcourt, which represents one of the best dining values out there. In this corner space that feels like an upscale diner-meets-bistro, you'll find gourmet fare like duck prosciutto and roasted leg of lamb - all on a menu that doesn't go past $22. The talented chef is Matt Hamilton, formerly of Uovo.

One of the drawbacks, however, is that same menu is posted right outside the window - the window where you may be seated, as we were the other night. Wall-to-wall windows minus curtains plus menu outside means that rando after East Village rando will stop by, look at the menu, look at your plate, then stare at you. It's the dining in a fishbowl effect. Doubtless the owners, who come from Cucina di Pesce across the street, wanted to draw people in, but this design didn't feel right in an era when it's all about the hideaway, the tucked away little place.

The interior of the interior design makes up for it, though - with low lighting, candles, bistro tables and pressed tin ceilings. As did the food. A roasted butternut squash and apple raviolo was decadently buttery and topped with a generous portion of chanterelles. How often do you see a "raviolo" - a single, large pocket of pasta filled with deliciousness - south of 14th Street? This is uptown fare that Hamilton has graciously brought to us East Village hoi polloi.

High Maintenance forked some over as a man in a watch cap stood just outside the window, smoking, staring down towards the table but more towards the cleavage vicinity.

"I don't think he's looking at the food," she said.

I tried the escarole salad, because I was intrigued by the idea of serving this normally cooked vegetable raw. You can't blame people, really, for standing outside looking perplexed for several minutes as they check out the rather intimidating menu. The amount of organ meats, fancy techniques and words like "bourrade" is an anomaly in this neighborhood. It's a balls-to-the-wall approach that draws in the daring and repels the faint of gullet.

This roasted artichoke soup special was a creative wonder - a rich puree topped with creme fraiche and maple syrup. Incredibly, it all worked together.

The bottom of the menu lists a sentence in small print: "Everything that can be made in-house, is." Hamilton should know: he spent years on a farm dealing with everything from livestock to olives. Chances are, on a farm you learn how to make sausage like the boudin blanc. Though I really would have wanted to toast and smush down this roll before serving it, since they don't seem to meld together as is, everything on the plate was great - especially the homemade sauerkraut.

This was all in the appetizer course. In a brief break before the mains (service was very quick and attentive), a guy in a puffer jacket peeled off from his girlfriend and waved in the window at us. We ignored him.

Grilled hanger steak was wonderfully flavorful, if a bit salty, and topped with marjoram butter, an interesting twist on the usual dill sauce. Here the more intrepid could opt for bone marrow sauce. How ridiculous is that? Bone marrow sauce. In the East Village. And the cost of the entree? $19.

The chef should get bonus points for the fried scallions - a riff on onion rings. Has anyone ever seen this before? Please comment if so - I haven't. And they were addictively good.

Roasted leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and slow roasted white beans is as good a lamb dish as I've had in a while. The ingredients are Italian, the technique French. And the lamb was done perfectly medium rare.

The slow roasted pork belly featured more of that house-made sauerkraut. Fatty and succulent, the pork belly delivered as promised. This is actually a triple pork dish that's the fashion now: pork belly, sausage and pork cheeks. We liked the pig in all its incarnations.

More problematic was the branzino, which was met with horror when it arrived at the table whole, head attached. Here the balls-to-the-wall approach backfired. It makes you wonder if all the food writing out there has convinced chefs and restauranteurs that everyone is a foodie, when in fact, there are still many conservative diners who are put off by the idea of sweetbreads and fish heads. Belcourt pushes the envelope in that regard.

When it came back filleted, there were still a number of bones inside, one of which remained lodged in my throat for a while. Never rush a filleting job.

But we were all feeling pretty worry free by that point, with several excellent $28 bottles of burgundy to fortify us. I would certainly go back to Belcourt, especially when entertaining Upper East Siders or people from Tribeca in the East Village. I just might not ask for a table near the window. Especially when wearing a low-cut top.

84 East 4th Street at Second Avenue
New York, New York