Oh my. I read this article in today's New York Times and I can only begin to imagine the amazingness. I admit $165/person is expensive in my world - but I'd pay it in a heartbeat for an experience like they describe.
Yes, you'll find me, occasionally, in the drive through of a fast food burger joint but if I had my choice between the enormous Pepper Bacon Cheeseburger from Burgerville (for $6) and the bitesize Kobe Meatballs ($12) from Departure....Departure all the way.
For me the setting, the atmosphere, the relationship the chef has with his/her creations are worth the hiked up price tag. I'll wait 6 weeks for a reservation if it means an unforgettable meal. So here's my official request - anyone gets reservations to The Chef's Table...add one more to your party and let me know!
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The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
By Sam Sifton
“PARDON me,” said César Ramirez. Thus begins a meal at one of the more extraordinary restaurants in New York City.
Mr. Ramirez is the chef at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, on Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. He stood like a ship’s captain in front of the immense Molteni stove that is the centerpiece of his kitchen, the hearth around which the restaurant was built, framed by an immense collection of gleaming copper pots. Before him were 18 customers on stools set around a D-shaped stainless-steel bar. They were divided into two groups. One had started its meal at 6:30 p.m., the other at 7:15.
“Pardon me,” Mr. Ramirez said again, to the second group. It was roughly 7:20. The first assembly was discussing the scallops before them on their plates, buzzing among themselves, well into their meals. Mr. Ramirez is soft-spoken. Often the first time he announces a dish, customers do not hear him and he needs to repeat himself. “This is a pea soup,” he said, “with Parmesan.”
Michele Smith, who works behind the dining-room counter as a kind of major domo, the restaurant’s host and stage manager combined, had delivered the elegant little glasses for each customer to drink: a cool English pea soup of deep sweetness, green beneath warm Parmesan foam, at once bright and creamy, and flashing with salt.
Mr. Ramirez worked for David Bouley at Bouley and at Danube, and his cooking has some of that chef’s precision and passion, his respect for pure ingredients. This tiny serving of soup tasted exactly of peas and Parmesan, in two separate temperatures. It was astonishing.
Nineteen more courses would follow, though the simple menu placed in front of each place at the counter listed only seven: four savory courses, followed by a cheese, a sorbet and a dessert. Mr. Ramirez has an enormous collection of china on which he serves this food, and over the course of an evening, no plate would ever be used more than once. The procession was something like a meal at a sushi bar, something like a meal at Momofuku Ko, something like a course taken at the standing table in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park, and nothing at all like any of those.
What Mr. Ramirez is doing at the Chef’s Table is entirely his own production, a kind of sui generis exercise in personal expression. He and his staff are intensely focused, sometimes robotic. They draw no attention to themselves save for when Mr. Ramirez introduces each dish. Then there is silence as forks go to the food, and food goes into mouths and suddenly everyone starts nodding and chirping and staring at cooks who suddenly might as well be magicians.
The mood in the restaurant thus swings on a pendulum from hushed to giddy. Barriers between couples or groups of customers start to fall. Everyone starts to compare notes, share insights, share wine. They celebrate the delicious.
Single bites: There was Japanese snapper with an olive-oil ponzu sauce, and crispy leeks. Fluke with pickled daikon. A scallop served with crisp burdock root, hay against sea. King crab with yuzu marmalade, the crab shipped in fresh and steamed in the restaurant. A single kumamoto oyster suspended over a gelée made of oyster liquor. A bite of octopus with a coin of palm heart cooked in extra-strength dashi. Langoustine tempura with Iranian saffron. Fried monkfish liver with sansho that numbed the mouth. Lump crab. Ahi with ginger. Salmon with trout eggs. A single fried potato chip threaded with sage and a tiny sardine. Folds of soy-milk skin with soy and wasabi.
On and on it went: a cavalcade, dizzying in its intensity. The experience was akin to adventure travel or high fever, a full hour of tiny bites before diners finally edged onto the printed menu with a single seared scallop with morels, green almonds, white asparagus and shellfish foam.
“This one you can eat in more than one bite,” Mr. Ramirez said, to laughter. The dish was a dance to spring.
Sea bass followed, with sweet peas and favas, as if to second the point. (Rhubarb served with the sorbet would underscore the season yet again.) Then came madai with a Japanese risotto made with sea urchin, coconut and garlic, a combination of great depth and interest — a dish to recall for months or more. And to round out the listed savory dishes, a single portion of lamb slow cooked to a velveteen texture, bright red within, over a sauce of miso and espresso. Whoa!
The Chef’s Table has no liquor license, but has stemware for every style of wine and an attractive ice bin in which to store bottles. There is no corkage fee. (You will pay for broken glasses, though.) Some of the customers drink expensive Champagne or white Burgundy. Others, cheap chardonnay. They bring ancient ports for the end of the meal, middling sangiovese, excellent Muscadets. Ms. Smith, a sommelier currently without portfolio, nods politely at customers’ choices, and expresses a desire for the restaurant’s liquor license to come through.
A meal at the Chef’s Table costs $165 a person, not including tip or the wine you bring. That is either expensive or not, depending on your bank balance, but it is worth the money whatever your answer. (Whether this will still be the case when the restaurant is selling wine is an open question; the cost of a meal could easily double, and change the dynamic of the room.) For now, dinner at the restaurant has the capacity to leave customers with kaleidoscopic sense memories and the vague understanding that over the course of the meal something important has happened.
Reservations at the Chef’s Table are hard to come by. The restaurant opened two years ago. For much of the time since, the reservation line was attached to the mobile phone of Heidi Issa, whose husband, Moe Issa, owns Brooklyn Fare. (He plays Medici to Mr. Ramirez’s Donatello.) Potential diners got through to Ms. Issa as she drove on the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey, or sat in stalled in traffic on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. “I’ll confirm that with an e-mail,” she said cheerfully, about possible dates for dinner in a few months’ time, before ringing off. This was true. It was also frustrating.
More recently, Ms. Issa has handed over scheduling duties to an actual reservationist, Sarah Shelton, who each Monday opens a new week of seatings, six weeks ahead of the calendar date. It can take a few Mondays even to get through to her, much less to secure a date for dinner. This is still frustrating, but what are you going to do? There are just 18 seats.
Yet the restaurant has a healthy base of regulars. Many of these are on a list of people who will come on a moment’s notice in the event of a canceled reservation. (You can ask Ms. Shelton to join them!)
Some have known Mr. Ramirez since his time at Bouley, or at Bar Blanc in the West Village, where he cooked before coming to Brooklyn Fare. They are fans, who bring to the restaurant some of the flavor of a sports bar devoted to haute cuisine, food zealots with encyclopedic knowledge of highlights and statistics, delighted to have a courtside seat.
“You see what you think,” one of these regulars said to a first-time diner back in November, nodding his head. “It’s best if you let it just happen to you.”
Sage advice. It is worth it to try to join him. To do so is to experience the welcome culture of a restaurant that is unique even in a city as widely diverse in its culinary offerings as this one. Mr. Ramirez is Mexican, was raised in Chicago, taught himself to cook. His food is French and Japanese and Italian, made on expensive stoves in expensive pots, and served on luxe china over place mats and stainless steel, in a kitchen next door to a supermarket on a forlorn block in Brooklyn.
The Chef’s Table is that surprising story, exquisitely told.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
200 Schermerhorn Street (Hoyt Street), downtown Brooklyn; (718) 243-0050, brooklynfare.com/chefs-table/.
Atmosphere: A mashup of a cooking class, an artist’s studio visit and a sports bar devoted to discussion of haute cuisine.
Sound level: Quiet, save for exultations over the food.
Price range: $165 a person.
Reservations: Taken only on Mondays for the week starting six weeks from that calendar date.
★★★ What the stars mean? Ratings range from zero to four stars and reflect the reviewer’s reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.
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