Archive for May, 2013

Chef’s Table is True to Its Name

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is true to its moniker; It is not the guests’ table. This is Chef Ramirez’s house and his rules (that seem reminiscent of an undisclosed Seinfeld episode).

I had been looking fChef's Tableorward for months to this celebratory dinner and am ashamed to admit that I was not more educated about the restaurant when it was suggested. When I read what little description I could find about the potential dishes,  the princess awaited her chariot to set out for an evening of exquisite, perhaps unknown foods that the mouth could discover for the first time. With only 18 seats, no menu, and Chef Ramirez preparing each of the 20 or so plates in front of the patrons’ eyes, I was prepared to be part of an elite group. But something felt a little cold when we entered the small room: The shared “table”/counter is stainless steel; the stools are metal; the cooking apparatus was steel; and there was a cluster of copper pots over the cooking stage area. The glass door was locked behind us when the final eight were seated. My eyeballs rolled around rapidly without moving my head like a painting in a horror flick. I immediately understood there was a certain decorum that needed to be followed that was more stringent than anywhere I’ve eaten. It was a bit unsettling; I had never set foot in such a restricting environment and a fleeting second of prison whizzed by until the aromas corrected my train of thought. The following second, images of an operating room flew through my head and were reinforced by the surgical tweezers the professionals held daintily to decorate the presentations and precisely garnish with microgreens and edible flowers. One millimeter misplacement seemed it would cause trouble.

The Chef and his assistants were already delivering plate number six to the first group of 10 guests, so it offered us a sneak preview of dishes to come our way. It was not the workings of a typical commercial kitchen – it was a silent ballet with art being sculpted atop each white canvas. There was no speaking, just coordinated movement among the team. Chef Ramirez, with his shaved head and glasses blended into the environment – he looked cold, yet I observed him admirably, knowing that familiar intense facial expression of concentration geared for perfection.

I had been forewarned by a friend who had dined here recently that no photos are allowed. I asked disappointingly, “You mean no flash?” No – no photos, period. My dining experiences generally don’t end when I leave a restaurant (unless I want to forget); I like to recall what I ate and at least re-live the meal visually. How were so many courses going to remain in my memory when I relay the details of the evening to others? My friend had the idea of texting himself minimal details of each one when the woman in the moat between us and the “kitchen” placed down and described the dishes. Every ingredient was obviously not divulged; that was for our palettes to decipher. By the 9th course, the server leaned in and said, “I’m sorry; we have a rule of no note-taking.” While it sounded absurd, of course he abided  and put the phone away. Now, there would be minimal recall. I leaned back and forward hoping, twisting to see Marilu Henner with her H-SAM memory. It would be the perfect way to avoid this regulation.

At least 10 minutes later, Chef Ramirez creepily appeared behind and between me and my friend: “How are you?” directed at both of us. “Very good; thank you,” I replied. He faced my friend and sternly said, “Stop taking notes!” Words followed, but it was all a blurred mumble as I regressed to grammar school being reprimanded by a teacher. It was extremely rare. From that point on, the dining experience changed. In order for one to be ‘scolded’ for breaking a rule, that person needs to be made aware of the rule. It would have been a good idea at the beginning of the meal or at the time of reservation for the cruel rules to be provided. It was slightly embarrassing because the woman next to us asked what that was all about. She made the side-lips, nose-scrunched face I felt was my expression also.

Somehow the food gradually cleansed the growing irritation that moment brought upon us. Maybe it was the foam in many of the plates that soothed the beast. The tastings shot off with cucumber sorbet with cucumber foam resting atop to awake our tongues and let us know the epicurean journey was beginning. Next, served in an egg-shaped holder set on a magnetized, angled plate was raw island oyster with a granny smith apple custard and puffed rice pieces. My belly was just getting tantalized. I wondered if all these raw bites would satiate my hunger, as good as they were. Following was blue nose, a coldwater (fits the theme) fish from New Zealand with jicama and cilantro. The king salmon with trout roe was then claimed as my favorite thus far. The anticipation was growing. The star butter fish with pickled daikon and fresh wasabi would’ve normally been impressive but fell back a slot after the last dish. Then came two superb winners one after another: knife jaw fish with cucumber and cucumber blossom, and golden eye snapper with crispy kelp and shiso. My new bff (best food favorite) changed every few minutes. The new one was red sea perch with black vinegar dressing. My least favorite , and I had been avoiding sea urchin crawling into my life until this moment, but it was still good: Hokkaido uni with black truffle and…..the disciplinary moment hits.

I remember some cooked items being turbot, scallops with ramps and chewy abalone, and the homerun poached lobster with langostine ravioli. The desserts fell a little short for me starting with a three-cheese selection, followed by a plate of air, which was frozen melted chocolate, and a chocolate ganache with cherry sauce. Overall, the taste and presentation deserve an A+ for artistry. My tummy was comforably full with no buttons needing to be undone, but Chef Ramirez failed to make us feel welcome in his house. He walked out of there and hailed a cab – not a word to any of the diners who are filling his pockets.