I cursed to myself as I stared at the clock on the N express. 7:15pm.
My 7:45pm reservation tonight was at Brooklyn’s only 3 Michelin star restaurant called Chef’s Table - Brooklyn Fare. Connected to a grocery store, 50 gleaming copper pots hung above an immaculate stainless steel seating area that holds 18 highly coveted seats for a 3 hour, 25-course prix-fixe adventure that sets you back $225.
The subway lurched forward with no urgency. The bum sitting across from me in a drunken stupor cocked his head ever so slightly. César Ramirez, the chef at Brooklyn Fare was known to be mercurial in nature. One minute, expounding on the history behind his prized truffle collection, the next minute, berating a customer for taking notes by shouting, “You think you will be able to cook like me? No! Nobody can cook like me!”
A few minutes later, I was jogging at a steady clip from Brooklyn Flea to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, the street where the restaurant resided. I noticed my dining companion, Sammy, pacing outside the entrance while nervously puffing a Marlboro menthol light. He had a beige blazer, dark jeans, and sneakers. My outfit wasn’t much different: black leather biker jacket, black polo t-shirt, stone gray corduroys, and adidas to fulfill the casual dress code mentioned on Yelp.
Sammy and I entered the rain canopy and pulled at the restaurant door. Locked. Sammy pulled harder and the metal clang of the lock reverberated throughout the room which made the diners pause. The maitre d’, wearing a tight heather gray blazer rushed over to us, her dirty blonde ponytail bouncing. After unlocking the door and showing us in, she mentioned that the first few canapés have been served and the chef would be forging onwards. I made my way to the restroom to freshen up after my 8 minute jog. I opened the door to see Sammy’s crestfallen face.
“There’s a dress code, we have to go change.”
This wasn't the right time to play jokes on each other.
“Ha, real funny, hurry up so we can eat.”
That’s when I noticed the maître d’ next to him, standing upright, ponytail unmoving.
“Sir, we do have a dress policy. No jeans and sneakers allowed.”
At this point, I thought they were in cahoots.
“Wait…seriously?” I asked incredulously.
(Pause) “Yes, do you live close to here?
Crap. She wasn’t bluffing. The realization hit me hard. The longer we waited, the more courses we’d be missing.
The cool night breeze felt good against our sweaty foreheads as we pounded the pavement. Luckily, my apt was 2 blocks away. I found a pair of navy blue pinstripe slacks and chocolate brown loafers for Sammy. I quickly changed into a light blue gingham shirt and slate gray trousers.
The clickety-clack of our dress shoes echoed on the empty street like Clydesdales in Central Park. We were about 20 minutes late when we finally sat down and handed the wine list.
“Gentleman, you look thirsty,” cooed Bryn, our server for the evening. “This here is a 2007 Marie-Noelle Ledru Cuvee du Goulte Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru…compliments on the house. The flavor is fantastic, we just ordered a few cases for our collection and we hope you enjoy it.”
According to the wine list, it was priced at $26/glass…. +1 for service and the perfect way to defuse our agita. The simmering anger I felt for being late and violating the dress code immediately evaporated. Here was a simple gesture that began to turn things around.
Taking a breath and settling into my stool, I noticed the restrained decor. No fancy linens and tablecloths here - we sat at an expansive U-shaped steel counter devoid of superfluous elements. Everything had a purpose, and the cleanliness of the pass was striking. Besides Caesar, there were 3 sous-chefs quietly plating multiple dishes. The epitome of organization, efficiency, and timing.
We began our gastronomic journey with 10 amuse bouches, mostly pesce crudo. Fluke with daikon, turbot, portuguese sardines with leek and fired potato. These dishes were playful and contained elements of yuzu and other citrus nestled within the creamy layers of cilantro purée and pea purée. Sammy and I agreed that the acidity and tartness overpowered a few of these beginning dishes but the flavors were still unique and delicious.
The dishes began to build in complexity as we moved away from raw seafood to more savory and cooked dishes. The standout was easily a heaping spoonful of the creamiest Hokkaido uni piled on top of a chewy brioche crust and topped with a nice slice of black truffle that absolutely melted on the tongue. Another highlight was a plate that had 4 components: poached lobster, rich foie gras, tender abalone, and a veal ravioli. Savory, decadent, smooth. The squab breast cooked sous-vide was absolutely tender and juicy. Near the end of the 25 course meal, we enjoyed a refreshing palate cleanser with amazing sweet rhubarb hidden at the bottom of the dish. We were waiting on dessert when our server, Bryn, who served at Per Se before joining BK Fare 5 months ago, approached us.
“Sorry for going backwards, but chef wanted you to experience the dishes you missed in the beginning. Here we have a puréed butternut squash with yogurt topped with Madai tuna served in a tall slender shot glass. Sip it slowly because it’s hot.”
Another point for great service…they went beyond what was necessary and their effort was very appreciated.
“The genius is how the chef makes us taste these flavors in stages. Each element by itself is one taste, but when you combine it into one bite…..”
Sammy's monologue was interrupted by the flavors that made its way from the glasses to our mouths.
As the taste of yogurt slowly transformed into hearty creamy squash, we were nearing nirvana.
“.. and here we have the Kumamoto oyster with crème fraîche and a slip of Key Lime gelée,” offered Bryn.
Throughout the dinner, César was clearly focused and quiet on the plating of the dishes. We did have one quick exchange about the dishes and china. One plate in particular had about 100 holes in it. He proudly explained that there are only 3 artisans that hand-drill each hole. The fact that only 30% of them made it through the delicate process required us to eat a little more carefully. Bryn reminded us to please place the silverware on the table to avoid accidental breakage.
I also asked if he had seen the "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" documentary, since he was a fan of Japanese culture, philosophy, and cuisine.
“I have not seen the movie..because I don’t take any days off,” he stated matter-of-factly.
(Note to self: hand-deliver Jiro dvd next time)
As we made our way out the door, César was chatting with a regular about his favorite haunts in Japan.
I waited for an opportune time to shake his hand and told him it was an honor to have dinner there. He not only paused his conversation to open the first door for us, he also went outside and opened the canopy door and was gracious in thanking us.
A class act in my book and a meal to remember.