REVIEW #5

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare offers a culinary experience that is completely unique in all of New York City dining. In no other restaurant will you experience so communal a relationship with the chef or feel so palpably a sense of shared experience and camaraderie with your fellow dinners while having one of the most memorable meals of your life. Chef César Ramírez is down to earth and without pretension, and the setting is fitting: a casual kitchen in an annex to a Brooklyn grocery store. However, once inside, it is clear that a master is at work and that the “casual” kitchen in fact has a Molteni stove and endless copper cookware. Ramirez serves nightly a 20-25 course tasting menu to only 18 guests. Diners are given no choice and, in fact, aren’t even given a list of dishes served. If you attempt to write them down, you are reprimanded.

The restaurant is dazzling in its range, in the purity and freshness of its ingredients and in the sheer consistency with which its creations stun you. The obvious comparison is Momofuku Ko, with the similarly limited countertop seating, intimacy with the chefs, inexplicable lack of information and maddening quirks. But unlike Ko’s mélange of global and especially Asian influences, Ramirez’s style is identifiably western in orientation and French in technique, although it is clear he has been deeply influenced by Japanese cuisine and philosophy. That is evident in the simplicity of the restaurant, the intimate seating, the service by the chef himself and a veritable parade of sashimi dishes that usher in the meal (sashimi, incidentally, which excels in quality that of any restaurant in NYC save perhaps Masa and Kurumazushi). Whereas Ko’s straight-line bar discourages cross-pollination among guests, the U-shaped brushed-stainless steel bar at Brooklyn Fare results in diners staring at each other all evening long and, about 2 hours in, group boundaries begin to blur and conviviality starts to set in. This was even more the case in the halcyon days before Brooklyn Fare acquired its liquor license – there was no corkage fee and guests frequently shared their prize bottles. Like Ko, reservations are a hassle: you must call on Monday morning at precisely 10:30am for a reservation date 6 weeks out. In our experience, if you team up with another person and both of you speed dial the restaurant until 11:30, it will still take you a minimum of one month to secure a reservation. And if you thought getting in was difficult, getting out is even harder: your credit card will be charged about $300 per person a week before your meal.

This may already be evident, but it needs to be said that Chef Ramirez has some idiosyncrasies, and his sometimes stern edicts can on occasion rise to the level of interfering with your enjoyment of the meal. If you are late, any courses you miss will not be made up. He repeatedly admonishes diners to stop using their cell phones and woe betide the innocent soul who attempts to take a camera phone photo of his food. This level of micromanagement isn’t necessary and, in fact, is counterproductive: Ramirez understandably wants diners to enjoy their meals, but a certain amount of latitude is appropriate when they are paying hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to eat whatever is set before them. And “set” is the right word: despite the quantity and complexity of the dishes, there doesn’t seem to be much actual cooking taking place. Instead, an enormous amount of prep work takes place prior to the diners’ arrival, which results in an impressively seamless execution and the unexpected opportunity to converse casually with the chef. There is a bit of pageantry and spectacle to the whole thing, despite how low-key and unobtrusive the chef and cooks are – courses are meticulously plated with tweezers on beautiful china and served formally.

The menu changes nightly, but seafood dishes predominate and delicacies abound. The canapés always feature a sequence of sashimi imported from Europe and Japan. There is a truffle daishi with sea urchin and langoustine that is always on the menu.  The wild turbot with zucchini and Australian black truffle included the single best-tasting truffle I have ever had. Everything is flawlessly cooked and brilliantly presented. The meal is certainly memorable but, given Ramirez’s strictures, you aren’t likely to remember what you ate.

Brooklyn Fare is the first restaurant in NYC outside of Manhattan to receive 3 Michelin stars, a recognition that is richly deserved. The astonishing fact is that Ramirez’s virtuosity is completely intuitive – he has received no formal training whatsoever. He once shared with us a story of a well-known regular in the medical profession who expressed to Ramirez how much he wished he could learn to cook. This was inexplicable to Ramirez – this man saved lives for a living. For Ramirez, cooking had always just come naturally; it was nothing all that special. It came as a bit of a surprise to learn that a chef so preternaturally talented was also, contrary to widespread belief, also so humble.

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INFORMATION

Downtown Brooklyn
200 Schermerhorn St.
(718) 243-0050
Mon-Wed, 7pm and 7:45pm, Thurs-Sat, 6:30pm, 7:15pm and 10pm
    Cesar Ramirez, Chef

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