Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare: An Extremely Thorough Review (food)

The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is an exceedingly hard restaurant to review.

First, it is extremely hard to get a reservation. Part of that is because they only serve 18 covers a night. Another reason is that it is the only restaurant in Brooklyn to receive 3 Michelin Stars. But it goes beyond just the three stars, as this gem from an article about Michelin in the November 2012 issue of Vanity Fair illustrates:
“Devout foodies are quieting their delirium of joy at having scored a reservation—everyone and everything here is living up to the honor of adoring this extraordinary restaurant … Uni with truffle-oil gelĂ©e and brioche expresses the regret that we have but three stars to give.” That’s not a review of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare—it’s a handjob.
Second, it's just impractical to do a full and fair review when you're not allowed to take photos or notes, as well as not being provided any semblance of a menu. It is well-documented that a note taker has been thrown out of the restaurant before.

But the hardest part is trying to judge the experience as a whole when the individual parts of the experience can be so divergent. I might jump around a bit in the review, but there are many parts to the experience that caught my attention.


Let's start with what it looks like when you get there. Everything from the counter/table to the barstools have a metallic look while the overall space is well-lit by overhead yellow lights without being too bright. There is a row of copper pots hanging above the kitchen area in the back. If the lights had been white, the whole place would have looked way too surgical. There are 18 seats around the outward-facing semicircular chef's counter, which leads us to...


When I went to Brooklyn Fare in its early days, they sat 12 guests in the same space. Now with 18 seats, it will get a little cramped for elbow room if you are a bigger guy and you don't get the "corner" parts of the semicircle. The barstools (which they tell me will be changed soon) themselves are raised to reach the counter. They're sturdy and have backs, but are not cushioned. My guess is it would definitely start to feel uncomfortable if you were dining for 3-4 hours. But that won't be a problem because...


There wasn't that much time in between courses. While they never rushed you and wouldn't move on till everyone in the same serving group was finished with their dish, the next dish did come quite swiftly. While it is not comparable to stories about 30 minute meals at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the 24 or so courses finish up in a brisk 2 and a half hours. This is not the type of place where you converse between bites or lie back, sip some wine, and ponder what you just ate. The whole procession is kind of like a machine, which leads us to...


The service is efficient, led by one server on the outside of the semicircle, and one trapped in the middle of it (think of the chef's counter like a moat). The semicircle is closed in the back to form the table where the chefs do most of their plating. The chefs do all of their cooking behind this, with the kitchen and all large appliances at the rear wall of the restaurant. While this is a "Chef's Table/Counter", you are not served by any of the chefs and there is no interaction with them. Given the no photos, notes, or menu policy, you probably wouldn't get much out of it anyway.


Strangely enough, the no notes policy applies to the kitchen too. Dishes literally change daily, and it's not clear to me that there are actual recipes. I have tremendous respect for this approach, as it significantly increases the workload and strain on the kitchen to deliver top level meals. However, it also means that you are less likely to be served a single dish that a chef has slaved to hone and hone and perfect.

The meal I had consisted of 24 or so courses starting with one bite items like oysters and sashimi/crudo type dishes, progressing to heavier composed dishes, and finishing with one cheese course and two dessert courses. With no photos or notes, I can only give my general thoughts on the ingredients and techniques, and highlight a few memorable dishes.


The quality, variety, and volume of luxury ingredients in the meal as a whole was beyond any other meal I've ever had, and that includes meals at Masa, Robuchon at the Mansion, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Le Bernardin, and others.

The starting sashimi/crudo courses featured all kinds of fresh fish, from my favorites kin medai and shima aji to fish that I'd never heard of before. Throughout the night there were generous amounts of golden osetra, Hokkaido uni that was spooned three large tongues to a serving, black and white truffles, lobster, langoustine, a large slab of foie gras, turbot, squab, crabmeat, scallops, and more.


In this regard, much of the technique focused on cooking and flavor combinations. Everything was cooked beautifully, with proteins retaining full taste of the ingredient and perfect texture. Sauces in composed dishes all had wonderful depth of flavor. There wasn't much in the way of scientific "molecular gastronomy" methods, which some foodies like to geek out on.

There were a couple of low points, but nothing unforgivable. I found that on some of the sashimi/crudo plates, there was too much citrus or sauce used. This was something that I felt was hurt most by the lack of a recipe/feedback structure. I also found that throughout the meal, espuma (fancy word for foam) and tiny crisp fried strands to provide texture contrasts were used too repetitively. While they were made with different ingredients every time, some variation of foam or crisp fried strands made its way into at least half the courses.

Notable Dishes

Uni with Black Truffle over Brioche
Three large tongues of uni were placed on top of a small disk of brioche and topped with a large slice of black truffle. Think of it like the ricci at Marea brought to another level. Just an amazing combination of earth and sea. It was specifically mentioned that it was Hokkaido uni, although the large size and creaminess reminded me much more of Santa Barbara uni. It also did not taste as briny/ocean-y as the Hokkaido uni I've had at 15 East.

Applewood-smoked Golden Osetra Caviar with creme fraiche and fried egg bits
I love all kinds of roe and caviar, but the smoking and fried egg bits really brought out the flavor and provided a rounded earthiness to the sharp ocean-y taste of the caviar.

Japanese Rice cooked with White Truffles, Mushrooms, Bonito Butter
The bonito butter was crazy good. It imparted a deep rich flavor to the earthy rice dish. This outdistances the uni risotto at Masa by many lengths.

Turbot dish
Squab dish
Both these proteins were just cooked so beautifully. The fish had a supple, meaty texture, while the squab was perfectly medium rare while retaining skin that was as crispy as if it were straight up fried.

Crab dish
What made this dish stand out to me was the presence of finger lime pulp throughout the huge mass of lump crab meat. It was not only refreshing, but provided a wonderful texture contrast. At first I thought it was some sort of roe because it popped and burst into juice when I bit into it.

Lobster, Foie Gras, Langoustine Ravioli
This was all in one dish, and there was one more component that I forgot. It may have been truffles. While the lobster was cooked perfectly and there was an extremely generous slab of foie gras, I just wasn't sure how this dish was supposed to come together as a whole. The langoustine ravioli, while fine, was not memorable and tiny in comparison.

There is no bread service at Brooklyn Fare. During one of the courses, a slice of bread was offered on the table. When I asked to learn more about the bread, the server said that it's just bread from the market and they only provide it in case I wanted to mop up some of the extra sauce from that specific course.

Cheese Course
Ume-Shiso in sorbet form
The cheese course used a raw cow milk's cheese and was one of the best cheese courses I've ever had, in terms of a composed dish that featured the cheese. The first dessert was simple yet astounding. A shiso sorbet was paired with a plum wine sauce that gave you everything that you could ask for in the combination while taming and balancing the individual components, which is very difficult, especially for shiso. The final dessert was more traditional, featuring chocolate and nut flavors. I think it may have been some variation of a napoleon. I thought this was a brilliant conclusion to the meal. They already swung for the fences and connected with the ume-shiso dessert, and now, all that's left is to leave the guest with a feeling of being satiated, which this traditional final dessert does.

Ratings and Value

This meal was definitely worth 3 New York Michelin Stars, especially if Michelin NY holds true to its statement that it only grades on food. It is extremely difficult to have 24 courses where the highs are so high and the lows are relatively minor and forgivable. That being said, I don't think that The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare would receive three European Michelin Stars given the traditional rating methods and my experience with the service and atmosphere.

Value is a very subjective concept, but let's start with the price. At $225+t/t, you're looking at $290 all-in without wine. That puts it on par with the price at Per Se, so let's use them for comparison. You are still getting tremendous value for food at Brooklyn Fare. While you will certainly get some luxury ingredients at Per Se, the caviar, foie gras, truffles, and more that were offered at Brooklyn Fare would come with rather large supplement fees at Per Se.

However, at Per Se, you are getting 3+ hours at a comfortable table with majestic views from its position atop the Time Warner Center. You can rest, recover, drink and talk to your heart's content, and then finish your night half into a food coma and ready for a blissful sleep. When you finish at Brooklyn Fare, you leave to find yourself still in a random, not particularly well-lit part of Brooklyn, at a relatively early hour. While I had no intentions of disrespecting any of the great food I had just eaten, I could have just as easily eaten a taco or two by the time I got home.

Everyone values these things differently. I believe it is more important to know what you're getting so that you can make the right decision for yourself. That being said, my personal preference is for Cesar (the chef) to partner up with someone with a great front of house background and really open a full luxury restaurant with a superb wine program. Charge the going European 3 Star rate of 300 Euro if you have to. It's not like he doesn't value the little details of luxury, as evidenced by the gorgeous and likely very expensive plates and dishes that he serves his food in.

One More Thing
This was my last impression of The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, so I'll leave it with the reader as well. As my guest and I were leaving and standing at the door, Cesar was there as well. He did not look at us and did not engage us in any conversation. There was no "Thank you for coming", "Did you enjoy the food", "How was your meal", or even "Goodbye". None of it. I get it if he was behind the counter cooking food for the next set of guests, but he was just standing there in front of us as we put our coats on and got ready to go out the door. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to thank him for the most extraordinary meal ever. Sorry, but I don't give handjobs.

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