This is a tale that has humble beginnings; it starts in the tiny little hamlet of Cefalù in Sicily and finishes in New York City.
A dining buddy who I trust implicitly was having one of the meals of his life in a restaurant called Liska in the aforementioned little village in Southern Italy. A conversation with the chef about his favourite meal of all time led to a booking at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, strangely located in Manhattan.
Now, my buddy Stephen is not prone to hyperbole, but after his little visit to Chef’s Table, it was all he could talk about, rating it as by far, the best meal of his life.
So, of course, I had to go…
To be honest, to hear that acclaimed chef Cesar Ramirez’s restaurant was amazing was not earth-shattering to me; after all, Chef Ramirez has held three Michelin Stars for a long time. But in a city that is my favourite dining destination anywhere in the world, I needed to get into Chef’s Table, and I needed to do it badly!
I’m notoriously lazy when it comes to booking into those ‘hard to get into’ places, but I made a concerted effort on my latest trip to NYC and that effort was rewarded…
I’d scored a reservation for a 10pm slot on a Saturday evening. A time that is well outside of my prefered early eating schedule; but what the heck, you don’t get into three-star places at short notice without some type of compromise!
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare used to be actually located in Brooklyn, but a move to larger digs saw Chef Ramirez’s French Japanese fine-diner move to Manhattan. What I loved though, was that the entrance to the restaurant was located at the back of a grocery store. It was not quite ‘speak easy’ territory, but I did wander the isles of the store looking for the entry.
Oh, I was dressed in my best suit too; you see, Chef’s Table is one of those old ‘fuddy-duddy’ restaurants where you won’t be granted entrance if you’re not wearing a jacket.
Anyway, it gave me an opportunity to put on a suit and look pretty smart. What’s really to complain about 🙂
When I arrived, I was shown to my seat, which was bar style and afforded me a fantastic view of the kitchen and chefs hard at work. I found it interesting that half of the seating was already filled, with dining underway with a multi-course tasting menu. As I slowly waited for the remainder of the guests to arrive for the 10pm sitting, I watched Chef Ramirez command the kitchen with precision.
It seemed as if he was everywhere, tasting one dish before moving onto the next; Ramirez was definitely a chef that was involved in every step of the meal.
Eventually, my half of the bar was filled and our meal had commenced. A rapid-fire set of dishes were sent from the team and my taste buds started to embark on an amazing culinary journey!
We kicked off with a delicate Hamachi Tartlet. Finely diced Japanese Hamachi was placed in a delicately crisp pastry cup with tastes of citrus and horseradish. There was a subtle sweetness to the tart, which was devoured in a single bite, followed by a hint of horseradish for bite.
Perhaps Chef Ramirez’s most famous dish is the Hokkaido Sea Urchin, a beautifully presented dish of glistening uni sitting on lightly toasted brioche and topped with a slice of black truffle. It was delicious, a strong umami hit came from the truffle which was expertly balanced against the saltiness of the uni. I could see why the dish was so well regarded, it was superb!
Next up was an unctious dish called Kaluga Queen Caviar, for obvious reasons 🙂 There was a lot going on with the dish, which had a smoky base of eggplant puree and included textures from cucumber and tomato. While there was a light smokiness that lingered on the palate after consuming, there was no doubt that the dish was all about the generous servin of Kaluga Caviar! The sweet and salty caviar was just wonderful.
There were delicate flavours on display with the Scottish Langoustine, smoked lightly on an open flame, then seared with the glowing ember of a large stick fresh out of the flame. It was so lightly cooked that it was almost translucent and it was delightful, especialy with the subtle heat of a sauce that accompanied it.
One of the prettiest plates of the evening was next; Japanese Sawara (Spanish Mackerel) was lightly seared and still pink through it’s cente, then covered with a light gel and assorted flowers for effect. The flesh was sweet and oily, with a firm texture that was wonderful on the palate. The dish was incredibly well balanced, and quickly devoured!
I wasn’t a fan of the Ramp Custard, which I assume was to be used as a palate cleanser between courses. The custard was incredibly hot (temperature) and reminded me of some of the gooey soups you can get in Hong Kong – the soups that I try to avoid! Ramp is a species of wild onion and probably something I will continue to try to avoid, and not really that pleasurable as a custard!
We were on much safer and tastier territory with the next course of Chiba Akamutsu, a red sea perch from the seas near Japan. The expertly cooked fish was sweet and warming, texture came from crispy fish bones that were crushed then toasted, then sprinkled atop the fish. I loved the sauce that accompanied the fish, which had a light astringency that worked well against the sweet flesh of the Akamutsu.
The world’s favourite fish was next. Great British Cod! The delicious white and flaky fish was presented with morelles, bright green snap peas and white asparagus. This was Chef Ramirez showing off, the balance of flavours were incredible and the flavours insane. The rich and earthy sauce was ‘to die for’ good and the addition of Morelles just made me happy… The whole dish made me happy; and that’s the best compliment I can give a chef!
Haven eaten at many many Joel Robuchon restaurants, I am no stranger to quail. So I was pleasantly surprised that Chef Ramirez’s version of quail was every bit as good as Mr Robuchon’s (albeit in a very different way). The plump quail from South West France was presented with the leg sitting atop the breast. I was able to use my fingers to suck the flesh off the bone of the leg with ease. I noticed a bite of mustard with the sweet sticky jus that was covering the beautifuly cooked breast, which had a rich gamey flavour.
I’ve been fortunate enough to eat many delicious plates of food around the world, including the very best Wagyu beef in Japan; but holy cow the A5 Wagyu from Chef’s Table was on another planet! Two thinly sliced pieces of fatty Miyazaki wagyu were separated by a layer of caramelised onion and then bathed in a sweet sticky jus. Let me tell you; every single bit of this dish was like eating a slice of heaven. The rich fatty meat was exquisitely cooked, and the addition of the sweet onion just elevated the dish to mythical levels.
Given my meal had started at 10pm, I was starting to get both full and tired at the same time! The menu, flavours and timing had been epic and it was well after midnight when the desserts started to arrive!
First up was a simple dish of Malaga Strawberries, which consisted of wild Spanish strawberries accompanied by strawberry sorbet and a creamy iced yoghurt. It was a super take on strawberries and cream and was perfect as a palate cleanser, a slightly tart bite from the strawberries mixing well with the creamy yoghurt!
Almond Ice Cream was next, and it was both interesting and boring at the same time! It felt a little bit like a distraction to be honest, the light almond ice cream was pleasant enough. A salted caramel sauce helped the dish along, as did some toasted pistachio crumbs, but the whole dessert felt a little out of balance.
Perhaps the almond ice cream was a distraction, a form of misdirection for the final dessert of the night; a spectacular frozen vanilla soufflé! In what was an amazing piece of cheffy trickery, a fully formed, yet frozen soufflé was presented in a bowl with a light vanilla custard smeared across the bottom. It was wonderfully light on the palate, even though it was frozen and the vanilla hints were not overpowering.
Yeah, it was a very special way to finish the meal!
My meal was over, it was time to leave and I was feeling both sleepy and satisfied at the same time.
My walk back to my hotel gave me time to reflect on the meal. I was both happy and disappointed at the same time. I was happy largely because the meal was almost perfect, with the only fail for me being the Ramp Custard.
I was disappointed because, as good as the food was, there was nothing on the menu that was new or surprising to me; I’d had many similar dishes at other restaurants, sometimes inferior but often superior. And when you’re paying USD$390 for a meal, you definitely want to be trying something that you’ve never tried before!
Spectacular cooking and a well constructed menu left me with an understanding of why Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare was so highly regarded by my buddy Stephen. But in what is an increasingly frustrating issue for me is that there was nothing at Chef’s Table that was new to me, and that left me a little sad.
I think I need to take a break from Fine Dining and look to enjoy some of the simpler things in life; It’s a total first world problem when you hit up a three Michelin Star restaurant and leave wanting more.