Archive | April, 2014

The Restaurant at Meadowood | St. Helena, CA | Apr ’14 | “leaves of grass”

29 Apr
  • Address: 900 Meadowood Ln, St Helena, CA 94574
  • Phone: (707) 967-1205
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $288
  • Courses: (15 main/20 total) 3 amuse / 12 savory / 1 cheese / 2 dessert / 1 bread / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $19
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining Time: 140 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 7 minutes
  • Chef: Christopher Kostow
  • Style: Vegetable-focused
  • How I got here: Zipcar from San Francisco (2 hours to the restaurant, 1h20 min back)
  • Michelin Stars: 3


2014-04-28 21.18.39


First of all, credit where credit is due. I thought the flavours at Meadowood were very strong, and certainly there was bold use of grassy flavors in the first half of the menu, to a degree I have not seen before. It was rarely perfectly harmonious, but this is a direction that not many kitchens are taking. I can certainly understand the rationale of 3 Michelin stars, for the cooking here is quite unique, relying strongly on fresh plants and grasses (uncharitably, weeds). The menu transitioned seamlessly from grass-garden to seafood to red meats, and had a strong finish with a memorable coconut+olive oil dessert, and a comforting custard. The kitchen is doing some really interesting things with fresh-plant (and esp. grassy-type) flavors, and they succeeded convincingly with dishes like “peas and cheese”, though less so with the others.

A bit less convincing was the theme of “vegetables playing the meat”. Neither the third dish, “chorizo” kale, nor the 17th dish castelfranco “ham”, were successes. Indeed, the most successful dishes were the heartier ones, like “peas and cheese”, “potato in beeswax”, “bavette”, “olive oil and coconut”. The experimental vegetable-forward dishes, like “lardo+fava bean dumplings” and asparagus with hints of grass, in addition to the small vegetable snacks are generally weaker than the non-vegetable dishes. But those vegetable dishes are clearly where the kitchen is putting time into improving, so it will be interesting to see in a couple of years if Meadowood does manage to master the fresh-plant flavours on a more consistent basis.

My reading of the menu I was served is that Meadowood was serving strong if conservative fare (aforementioned potato, bavette, pea and cheese dishes), but has chosen to innovate in the herbaceous direction. It is a credit to the kitchen that they were able to fuse the traditional and modern strands into a seamless menu.

The most similar restaurant to Meadowood in the United States I’ve tried is probably Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. There is a similar focus and attempt to haute-ify vegetables. But the difference is that while Blue Hill (when I went in winter) attempted to haute-ify the root vegetables (kohlrabi, carrot, beetroot), and the less-intense leafy vegetables (cabbage), whereas Meadowood is trying to elevate the weed flavours of grass, chlorophyll and non-traditional herbs. In fact, of the two, I would say Meadowood is more innovative in terms of flavour profile.

Of the meal itself, I look for the ‘wow’ factor in my visits 3* Michelin restaurants. Meadowood on my recent visit lacked this spark. I think the meal I was served was certainly worthy of a solid 2* Michelin restaurant, but to me the restaurant’s dishes as they currently are, are not the finished product, and they will need a bit more time to experiment with the various weed-grasses and unripe plants they are playing with, to master their flavors. But if they manage to do so on a consistent basis, this will be a restaurant of the very top rank. The ambition is clearly there, and innovating towards fresh plant flavours, letting a thousand flowers _and_ weeds bloom, is a fairly unique direction in American gastronomy.

Rating: 18/20

Memory: “Moroccan black olive meringue”, “peas and cheese”, “potato cooked in beeswax”, “bavette, koji, parsnip, rice”, “olive oil, coconut, borage”

[I have much less complimentary things to say about the service, and will say them after my dish notes. You can skip them if you’re here only to find out about Meadowood’s gastronomic offerings. I don’t usually talk at length about service (and it doesn’t figure in my rating scores), but I left the restaurant feeling disappointed for non-food related reasons.]

2014-04-28 21.24.46 2014-04-28 21.25.29


2014-04-28 21.34.191. moroccan black olive meringue, whipped olive oil, cress flowers (5/5)
a real fruity (from the olive) sweetness in the meringue, remarkable clarity of olive flavors.

2014-04-28 21.37.51

2. crudites fermented in champagne (3.25/5)
left to ferment overnight. the radish was the best, possessing a surprising savory note. the (literal) turnip was, well, a (metaphorical) turnip.

2014-04-28 21.42.33 2014-04-28 21.42.45

3. chef’s garden (puffed kale with chorizo seasoning) (3/5)
the start of a common theme at Meadowood, vegetables dressed with all the pomp of meat. I did not find this convincing.2014-04-28 21.45.34


2014-04-28 21.47.49 2014-04-28 21.48.36

4. peas and cheese (4.5/5)
a ode to pea, cut by cheese. a pea broth gelee, with pea shells, pea tendrils, and baby peas. and cow curds from black beaut cows in Pedroso farms, in Sacramento CA.
very good. flavors of peas were very clear, and enhanced by the 4 different textures of pea. very impressive. a clean, clear idea.
to be picky though, they were a bit more starchy and harder than the ones I had at Manresa (still the top peas I had on this California trip)

2014-04-28 21.53.49 2014-04-28 21.54.17 2014-04-28 21.54.365. whelk “conserva”, wild and cultivated grasses (4.25/5)
whelk broth and brine from pickling, green garlic
I doubt I’ve had whelk in America before, but this was a dish of contrasting flavor, the slippery texture of whelk, with the peppery tastes of grass and baby asparagus. Good.

2014-04-28 22.00.39 2014-04-28 22.00.506. asparagus, surf clam, smoked goats butter (3.5/5)
A third dish in a row emphasising the taste of fresh greens. Here surf clams from Monterrey Bay, CA. (Peeled) Asparagus from the Sacramento Delta, raw grain sprouts from barley, and smoked goats butter. Here, the taste of wild grass formed a course pair with the previous. I did not like this course very much, because the grass flavors tended to dominate.

2014-04-28 22.04.517. adductor muscle of surf clam, walnut (3.25/5)
the “scallop” (adductor muscles are what we eat of the scallop) of surf clam had a taste akin to dried scallop, and the texture of dried scallop. topped with shaved walnut. okay.

2014-04-28 22.07.17 2014-04-28 22.07.438. potatoes cooked in beeswax, assorted sorrels (5/5)
this was a dish I really enjoyed. potato, poached in beeswax, small yellow, the poached potato had almost the consistency of mashed potatoes.
a puree of potatoes beneath, and potato bits (fried with sorrel leaves). amazing, to find almost two textures of mashed potato (the solid, actual corolla potato), and the potato puree co-existing on the same dish.

2014-04-28 22.13.26 2014-04-28 22.13.34

9. parker house rolls (4/5)
tasted more like Chinese buns (mantou), but not bad. Pales in comparison to the Saison version though.

2014-04-28 22.13.58 2014-04-28 22.14.07

10. lardo, fava, sea lettuce, caviar, avocado (3.5/5)
Verdant tastes again, with a quenelle of osetra caviar dropped into a green fava-bean+immature-chickpea puree
Lardo + fava bean dumplings.
I did not like this dish much, because there it was unclear what lardo served in the dish besides a binding agent for fava beans, and the caviar taste did not pair especially well with the verdant fava bean+chickpea puree. (I understand the commitment to the taste of fresh-greens at Meadowood, but it was hard to forget a truly harmonious preparation of caviar with sturgeon bone gelee at Saison a few days early)

2014-04-28 22.21.59 2014-04-28 22.22.05

11. day lily (allium), San Diego spot prawn (4/5)
Good sweetness from spot prawn

2014-04-28 22.24.30 2014-04-28 22.24.36 2014-04-28 22.26.25

12. sea cucumber, wild onions, whipped bean, brown butter, seaweed (4/5)
sea cucumber from Santa Barbara, seaweed from Mendocino coast, wild onion, whipped Rancho Gordo bean

2014-04-28 22.35.28 2014-04-28 22.35.45

13. aji, unripe tomato, artichoke, green almond (3/5)
Here, cured in juices of unripe tomato 5 hours (akin to ceviche). And then lightly grilled on one side. I did not like the grilling. I did not smell the delicious scent of charcoal, and what it did was merely made the fish chewier and sinewy on one side.
the sauce was a (artichoke) barigoule, with juicy green almonds (that I liked), and served with really large pieces of bonito. I learnt there is a reason why bonito tends to be served in flakes, and that’s because the bonito here was really chewy, like bad jerky.

2014-04-28 22.42.04 2014-04-28 22.42.17 2014-04-28 22.43.01

14. squab “tea” (4/5)
squab consomme (made from jus), with fennel, thyme, rosehips, and spicebush (tasting of melon & peppercorns), growing around the property of Meadowood. Micro-local terroir, if you will.

2014-04-28 22.50.22 2014-04-28 22.50.3115. squab curds, green strawberry, celery (4/5)
The rest of the squab breast, from Paine farms (dir: next to Fremont Diner). Unripe strawberries (surprisingly sweet) and celery (fermented, and also the leaves), and (I believe) paprika. Another solid dish that I could see possible improvements in. The celery had no synergies with the strawberry, other than a bland slight saltiness of the ordinary celery we’re used to. Neither did the salad have much synergies with the squab breasts. Resolutely separate.
I had tried, the previous day, some truly special herbs and vegetables at Manresa, especially those with an anise/licorice flavor, but many of the Manresa herb tastes, I will confess, are ineffable to me. Instead of bland celery, I could envision this dish much improved by including some stronger tasting herbs.

2014-04-28 23.03.52 2014-04-28 23.04.00 2014-04-28 23.04.21

16. bavette, koji, parsnip, rice (4.5/5)
Chopped bavette (from the flank), dry aged 21 days, seared in oven. Cured beef shavings on top.
Brown rice koji (brown rice inoculated with the spores of Aspergillus oryzae)
Beef = American wagyu, Snake River farms
Morels, roasted in butter. I enjoyed very much the flavorful beef which complimented the earthy morels.

2014-04-28 23.13.39 2014-04-28 23.14.28

17. contralto, castelfranco, “ham”, bread (3/5)
Contralto cheese from Andante Farm, Petaluma, CA. Fermented rye (Geechi Boy)
Again, there was an attempt to dress castelfranco radicchio with ham seasoning. It was playful but not especially delicious

2014-04-28 23.24.39

18. olive oil, coconut, borage (4.5/5)
frozen coconut cream with Hudson ranch olive oil (peppery) and gooseberry sauce+lime juice, borage sprouts
I thought was a very good dish, with the peppery olive oil going well with sour gooseberry and sweet coconut tastes.
the borage had a fishy taste

2014-04-28 23.32.15 2014-04-28 23.32.26 2014-04-28 23.32.3519. silken chocolate, panettone (4/5)
Chocolate broth, and roasted dates, custard, with chocolate panettone (sweet bread loaf) panettone was a bit dry. But the custard was good, emphasising complimentariness of the earthy-sweetness of date and of chocolate

2014-04-28 23.40.30

20. praline (3.25/5)
almond praline, standard.2014-04-28 23.57.19


Now that the objective part of the review is done, let me explain why I was disappointed: I was seated about the same time as a couple when I finally drove into the Meadowood resort at 6pm. Our tables were about 1 metre apart, and as a solo diner, I was looking forward to catching up on some reading.

About half an hour to an hour in, it becomes clear that the couple next to me are starting to argue. Whatever, everyone has their differences right? Maybe they’ll stop after 10-15 minutes. Half an hour later, it becomes clear that they are going to be the story of dinner.

This basically went on until the end of dinner, despite my increasing discomfort at being stuck 1 metre away, as the passive-aggressive-ness just kept increasing at the other end of the table. Basically, at the end of the night, I was pissed off that no one had noticed that for 90 minutes I was increasingly uncomfortable with the scene unfolding beside me, shifting my body away, trying to discreetly cup my facing ear so I wouldn’t have to hear their arguments (giving the couple besides me some face).

No doubt, that such an unpleasant experience should occur is like an act of God. No one really wants it to happen. Yet I believe the Meadowood team could have significantly reduced the unpleasantness for all parties around.

My two complaints with Meadowood’s service: (they’re related)

1. I don’t remember my captain, whom while pouring the opening glass of champagne had indicated she would be my server for the night, approaching my table again after the 60 minute mark. Whoever was in charge of my table, did not do a good job. I never felt I had a point person for service.

2. What would have been exemplary service, since the staff had noted the argumentative couple next to me, would have been perhaps to inquire discreetly about my situation (being seated 1 metre from them as a solo diner, with no distractions except their constant argumentation as my backdrop), and offer to reseat me somewhere, perhaps in a private dining space or even at the bar. We were not in a metropolitan area, and certainly space is no constraint out in Wine Country, and I’m sure some other spaces exist for Meadowood. Anywhere else would have been preferable to 1 metre away from a squabbling couple. I think about how Blue Hill SB, a paragon of great service, was able to shift me (a solo diner) around 2 dining spaces (the bar and the kitchen). Why could Meadowood not have done the same?

The irony is, I had read a piece last week about Meadowood building a service culture:

Oftentimes in a restaurant they don’t allow the staff to talk to guests. I want to build relationships. Dining is so much more. [Guests] come here to eat, but they come here to have an experience. They come here to have conversations with the people they come to dine with. They come here to have conversations with the staff [at a] restaurant that is approachable and sincere. When a guest leaves and says, “Tell Olan and Sam and Chris, ‘Thank you,'” I know we’ve accomplished our goal. Because, again, it’s about the food, but it’s about the chairs, the aesthetics, the conversations, the people …

Right, that’s all important.
For instance, when you left the restaurant, maybe there was a specific item you remember that you really enjoyed, but it’s more or less the feeling you got when you left.


And, 10 years from now, that’s what you remember is the way you felt on your anniversary with your husband, or your babymoon. You remember what you felt, not exactly what you had.

Right, so you’re looking to create that feeling above everything else.
Yeah, it’s to create memories. So many people Google to find out interesting things about their guests. We Google to see if we can connect on different levels with guests. Maybe they have a baby, maybe they’re from Scranton, PA. Maybe I’ll put them with a waiter from Pennsylvania, too, so when they’re here and they normally don’t dine in restaurants like this, they have some type of a connection that will get them to relax and forget about the fanciness around them.

That article was published on 22nd April, 2014. My experience with the service at Meadowood 6 days later, 28th April, 2014, was quite different indeed. To sum the service in a word, “disappointing”.

Persimmon | Bristol, RI | Apr ’14 | “playful Rhode Island fare”

9 Apr
  • Address: 31 State St, Bristol, RI 02809
  • Phone: (401) 254-7474
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): ~$125
  • Courses: (18 main/19 total) 14 savory / 1 cheese / 3 desserts / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $6.50
  • Rating: 15.5/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 8 minutes
  • Chef: Champ Speidel
  • Style: New American


2014-04-05 19.37.12

Reflecting on a recent meal at Persimmon, I think that Persimmon is among the top two restaurants in Rhode Island I have tried after 4 years living here; along with birch in Providence. Chef Champe Speidel and Lisa Speidel are the managers of this restaurant, Chef Speidel used to be the sous chef at Gracie’s when it was a 38-seat restaurant in Federal Hill in Providence (source – When Gracie’s decided to move downtown (where it now is opposite the Trinity rep, and next door to birch), Chef Speidel decided to move out to Bristol to open Persimmon in 2005. I in fact ate there just 2 days shy of the 9th anniversary of the restaurant this year, in 2014. The restaurant is a labour of love:

A couple of years after graduation, Champe was hired as sous chef at Gracie’s. Shortly after he started, the head chef left. “I knew I could handle it but, basically, I got the job because I was there,” he laughs. In those days, Gracie’s was a 38-seat restaurant located on Federal Hill in Providence. “They mostly did a weekend business, so we had a lot of freedom to take out time and do things the way you’re supposed to do them. We experimented with a lot of different cooking methods and prepped all week to handle the weekends. It was a tremendous learning experience.

“We took the menu they had and added my spin. We got some great accolades.” He stayed for three years. When the owners decided to move the restaurant downtown, to more than double the size, Champe knew it was time for him to find his own place.

That’s when he and Lisa started shopping for a restaurant. It only took a couple of months to find the spot, called the Hotpoint at the time. It took about six months of negotiation to close the deal. The size of the kitchen, which is substantially larger than the dining room, sold him on the place. “We put a 200-page business plan together and solicited help from just about anyone willing to talk to us. We did all the things they teach you in school. The minute we got the keys, April 7, 2005, I proposed to Lisa. Three weeks later we opened.”

Since then Champe has been, “doing the food that we really believe in,” making folks on theother side of the kitchen doors at Persimmon very happy. “The main thing we really want is for people to trust that, when they come here, they will get a well-prepared meal and service that will take care of any needs. Trust is a big part of the restaurant experience.” – Edible Rhody

What Chef Speidel’s cooking deserves to be commended for is his playfulness. It is not a common feature in RI dining to feature experimental presentations, taste combinations, besides the aforementioned birch (presentation and taste) and some Asian fusion (taste) at north. My thoughts (and praise) on birch’s dishes can be read on this blog; north has some interesting dishes but they are generally hit and miss, and their highs (4.5-5) are much rarer than their low to middling fare – of the highs, ham biscuits, and roasted cabbage have left a lasting impression. Other stalwarts like Gracie’s generally play it cookie-cutter safe with no surprises, or in the case of La Laiterie, alternate between the safe and the bizarre, like steak with rice browned with soy sauce. New Rivers does enjoyable bistro fare and great fluke, and has been experimenting with some Asian fusion dishes recently, but is still rather conventional (it is after all self-characterised as a bistro). My two picks for interesting and innovative dishes here in RI, would thus be Persimmon and birch.

Among the plays on RI tropes I had that night: clam cake with chowder, mussel with edible shell, Quonset oyster with herb butter powder,and a drop of absinthe. Even if these dishes were not fully successful, it was just a delight and surprise to be confronted with such thoughtful cooking. If only there were more chefs in RI willing to take these risks!

Boldness in flavor is a double-edged sword. A weakness throughout the meal was the erratic salting. The balance of salt was off on the beef tartare, and the chicharrones course. North Star Farm lamb had the rub all on the skin, and none of the flavor in the meat.

The general flow of the menu went from seafood is the first half of the menu (and where most of the memorable dishes) to meats, and then to a standard assortment of desserts (sorbet, panna cotta, chocolate cake). But there was a wild unpredictability throughout the 14 main courses. In the midst of a succession of seafood courses, suddenly beef tartare was served. In the midst of the heavier courses of foie+pork+game, a beautiful plate of vegetables (evoking the famous Bras gargouillou) was served, followed by the chef’s take on Asian-fusion, with bold use of fish and peanut sauce, as well as kabayaki sauce (more often used for unagi). The desserts which followed, were conventional, a slight disappointment given the chef’s flight of fancy earlier in the meal.

Service was fantastic. Lisa Speidel runs a great FOH, my dining companion and I felt very comfortable throughout the night.

Overall, a restaurant I was very excited to dine in. One of two best I’ve tried in RI. I believe that by remedying some minor flaws in the dishes served, this restaurant would reach a 1-star Michelin standard.

Rating: 15.5/20

Memory: Mussel with edible shell, foie gras gateau.

2014-04-05 19.32.00

2014-04-05 19.39.041. Deviled quail egg, caviar (3.5/5)

Egg yolk seasoned with soy sauce and/or worcestershire sauce?
Slight gripe: I felt the strong taste of the deviled egg detracted a little from the taste of the caviar.

2014-04-05 19.41.31

Cocktail: Maginot Line

2014-04-05 19.47.122. Marinated Massachusetts sea scallop, scallop chip (3.75/5)

A third component was scallop mayo underneath. Interesting in conception. The idea was to showcase two textures of scallop.
My dining companion G and I agreed that the oiliness of the scallop mayo hid the freshness of the scallop. The mayo could have been reduced in volume.

2014-04-05 19.51.17 2014-04-05 19.51.293. Beef tartare, cured egg yolk (3.25/5)

Additional ingredients: capers
The tartare was oversalted, though not unbearably so.

2014-04-05 19.58.36

4. Raw Quonset oyster, ‘herb butter’ (4/5)

A very interesting Quonset point oyster, with herb butter powder, and a drop of absinthe.
I enjoyed the fruitiness and lack of salinity in the Quonset point (a rarity given the high salt levels of East Coast oysters generally). The herb butter powder was an interesting textural contrast (akin to edible soil), the absinthe added a herbaceous note. An intriguing and avant-garde combination.

2014-04-05 20.02.47

5. Chowder, clam ‘cake’ (4/5)

Rhode island chowder foam broth with a clam cake seasoned with fennel. A playful reinterpretation of clam chowder and clam cakes, both traditional RI edibles.

2014-04-05 20.08.17

6. Mussel, edible shell (4.5/5)

Butter poached mussel, with an edible shell, made from pasta dough with squid ink, and shellfish-broth foam.
Inspired in conception, this had echoes of atera’s famous “razor clam with edible baguette shell” from their 2012 season.
It would have been 5/5 for conception, if not for that the “mussel shell” had thin innermost layer that had an undercooked texture.

2014-04-05 20.12.567. Black olive financier (4.5/5)

Fruity and buttery, a delight.

2014-04-05 20.22.13 2014-04-05 20.22.218. Potato agnolotti (4.75/5)

Mascarpone cheese and yukon potato in the agnolotti (little purses), with yukon and celeriac
With a fragrant onion jus. The scent of the onion was very strong.

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9. Foie gras gateau (4.75/5)

Applecake, pickled apples, foie terrine, elderflower gel.
An inspired combination. This was probably my favorite dish of the night. The complexity of the pickled apples, with the fragrance of elderflower gel was an inspired pairing for a foie terrine. However, I feel the dish could have improved if the foie didn’t have a slightly mushy texture – which detracted again from a perfect score for this dish.

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10. Pork jowl confit, pickled daikon (3.75/5)

A pork skin crackling with dehydrated pork jowl and  kabayaki sauce (which usually goes with uni). Okay, a bit oversalted.

2014-04-05 20.46.30

11. Raw, pickled vegetables, herbs (4.25/5)

A take on the famous Bras gargouillou, transplanted to RI.
Each component was well prepared, and with great freshness and different tastes in the vegetables. My favorite of an assorted plate was probably the sweet beet.
Unlike the gargouillou which has ham in the poaching water, this I think was purely vegetarian.

2014-04-05 20.55.37 2014-04-05 20.55.5512. Chicken wing, peanut sauce, shishito pepper (3.75/5)

fish sauce and peanut sauce on the deboned chicken wing
An experimental Asian dish, which was bold on flavor, esp. with fish sauce.

2014-04-05 21.07.18

13. Squab, egg, emmer, jus (3.75/5)

How could the squab breast be so perfectly cooked – crisp flat skin with rare meat –  (4.75/5), yet the leg almost raw? (2/5) The center of the leg bone was simply raw meat. I was very pleased with one, and unhappy about the other. Both could have benefitted from having slightly more seasoning on the well-roasted skin.
Praise for the fragrant trumpet mushroom sauce.

2014-04-05 21.21.03

14. North Star Farm lamb (3.25/5)

Decent. This was a sous-vide lamb dish. I am starting to not be a fan of sous-vide cooking, I find it gives meat the uniform texture of styrofoam, which is not appetising.
The very tasty seasoning on the fat of the lamb did not penetrate into the meat. Meat was relatively flavorless.

2014-04-05 21.29.3515. Bayley Hazen blue, Greensboro, VT (3.5/5)

2014-04-05 21.29.57

Served with Cinnamon Raisin Bread

2014-04-05 21.38.46

16. Sorbet (3.5/5)

Coconut lime sorbet, with calamansi-lime curd.
I enjoyed the coconut+lime sorbet pairing, but calamansi curd was too sweet and one-dimensional; it might have been improved by dispersing the curd relative to the sorbet.
It also might have been interesting to me as a diner, to try different citrus curd pairings, like the lighter finger-lime from Australia.

2014-04-05 21.41.18

17. Panna Cotta (3.25/5)

Vanilla panna cotta with passionfruit gelee.
By now the desserts were all very conventional

2014-04-05 21.53.54 2014-04-05 21.54.15

18. Chocolate Cremeux (3.5/5)

2014-04-05 22.03.21

19. Mignardises

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare | Brooklyn, NY | Apr ’14 | “theatre”

5 Apr
  • Address: 200 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
  • Telephone: (718) 243-0050
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $329
  • Courses: (16 main/17 total): 12 savory, 1 cheese, 3 dessert, 1 mignardise (20 courses advertised includes 1 bread [not counted here], and for the 3 mignardise items to be counted as 3 courses)
  • Price/Main Course: $20.50
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9.5 minutes
  • Chef: César Ramirez
  • Style: sui generis
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-04-04 23.48.20

The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is definitely the single-hardest reservation to make in NYC. It is possibly the hardest reservation to make in the United States. 6 weeks out at 1030am on a Monday, the phones are off the hook, and by the time you get through, the seats are all gone. But we were lucky enough to score a 4-top on a Friday night at the ungodly hour of 955pm, the latest I have ever started a tasting dinner, which required me to imbibe caffeine at 8pm (I’m a morning person).

The food at BKFARE is the highest standard I have encountered in New York. Per Se has dishes which are adequate but not many truly memorable ones, a 1 or 2-star Michelin elsewhere. Eleven Madison Park’s food is also of the 1-star Michelin standard, though the theatrics and entire experience perhaps push it to a high 2-star Michelin. Le Bernardin is solidly 1-star Michelin. Jean-Georges is also of 1-star Michelin standard. I have not tried Daniel, or Masa, so I cannot comment on their food. The New York Michelin guide is known to be lax in standards. But in awarding BKFARE the highest rating, they have not erred. I consider BKFARE to be the only true 3-star Michelin restaurant in NYC I have tried so far. (the only other plausible contender for true 3-star status is Masa).

Why does BKFARE have 3 Michelin stars, and why does Momofuku Ko have 2? The two restaurants share key similarities. Both are chef’s counters, seating a limited number of diners. Both, to forestall the possibility of slow-poke photographers tripping up the rhythm of the meal, have banned photography altogether (a policy I strongly disagree with). BKFARE goes further to outlaw note-taking at all. Both are also seafood-focused restaurants.

My friend Y and I speculated on a few reasons: (A) the leather chairs at BKFARE were definitely more comfortable than the stools at Ko, (B) BKFARE had some nice silverware and they displayed a dizzying array of custom flatware (though I suspect they have the same flatware supplier as Grace in Chicago), but really the crucial bit is (C) while Ko sources very good ingredients in the relatively-inexpensive category (bronzino, mackerel, scallop, black trumpets), BKFARE sources very good ingredients in the top-end category of traditional luxury ingredients (quality black truffle in April, morels, osetra caviar, koshihikari rice, Miyazaki beef). (D) The technique at BKFARE may also be a tad more precise: I was wowed by the last dessert, a sugar globe that was fragile and thin, yet completely clear – a hallmark of technical excellence; as well as the minimalism of many of the best BKFARE courses. (at its best, such as Ko’s mushroom consomme, Ko can create such minimalist compositions. But quite a few of their main dishes can be overdetermined, and an ingredient or two can be safely omitted.)

I believe the Michelin guide rewards use of traditional luxury ingredients. But it is hard to see right now where those ingredients would fit into Ko’s bold flavors and Asian-influenced cooking (and price point).

Originality. What is the level of Chef Ramirez’s originality? It is hard for me to tell. The best dishes I enjoyed were simply the finest ingredient exemplars of their type (a Koshihikari rice risotto with truffle; Miyazaki Wagyu presented simply with grated daikon). To compare with a meal I had last month, Chef Curtis Duffy of Grace paired Miyazaki Wagyu with a Vietnamese rice cracker and tom yum broth. Chef Duffy’s Southeast Asian vision came through, but here at BKFARE luxury ingredients were just worked perfectly. But I believe the Akamutsu with puffed rice and black vinegar sauce gave me an glimpse into a chef with Japanese elegance and refinement, a strong believer of minimalism and absolutely fanatical about ingredients. I reserve judgements on the uniqueness of Chef Ramirez’s style, and I will have to return to Brooklyn Fare to make a more final judgement.

Flow. The flow of the meal was: [light fish 1-4] + [luxury blockbusters 5-7] + [heavier seafood + risotto 8-10] + [game + meat 11-12] + [cheese 13] + [sorbets 14-15] + [showcase dessert 16]. I thought it was a well thought-out meal-plan, though variation of courses 11+12 might have improved the meal (both were red meat, squab and beef), and there was a bit of a flag in quality from courses 7-9.

Slight Gripes. One slight gripe I had is that service was perfunctory. Questions were answered curtly, but this is probably due to the logistical strain of keeping all courses (the left side of 9 diners ahead by 30 minutes, so the two sets of diners staggered into two batches) going like clockwork. Another slight gripe is that I counted only 16 main courses, 4 short of the advertised 20. The only way BKFARE hit 20 courses is if I count the solitary bread (no butter) as a course, and the three mignardises served together at the end as 3 separate courses instead of just 1. My friend also remarked that there were quite a few repeated ingredients: yuzu was used at least 3 times, citrus more generally at least 5 times, black truffle (I personally have no complaints) was used 3 times. For me though, the repeated use of yuzu and truffle was not a complaint, since I appreciated the chef’s attempt to follow seasonality, though the citrus got a bit repetitive towards the end.

Overall, a very fine restaurant indeed. To my mind, BKFARE and atera are the two most exciting restaurants in the city at the moment.

Rating: 19/20

Memory: Akamutsu, Hokkaido Uni with Truffle, Koshihikari Risotto with Truffle, Miyazaki Wagyu, the clarity and thinness of the Sugar Globe

Thoughts on dishes:

  1. Ishidai (Striped Beakfish): one bite, clean flavor, muscular but not chewy, not fat despite being winter. Yuzu, small whiffs of orange crispy ginger on top. (4.25/5)
    • A clean palate opener. No big taste.
  2. Akamutsu (Red Bluefish): black vinegar savory sauce, crusted with puffed rice (5/5)
    • Perfect and sublime. I liked this because of the perfect cooking of the fatty bluefish with affixed puffed rice to its skin (It did not drop off when I lifted it).
    • The Asian influenced black vinegary savory sauce complemented the fish superbly well. Perfectly calibrated tastes, from which no ingredient could be subtracted. Highest praise.
  3. Oyster: Island Creek oyster with celeriac (4/5)
  4. Kinmedai (Splendid Alfonsino): Overcooked, flaky (3/5) (yuzu?)
  5. Hokkaido Uni with Black Truffle on English muffin style flatbread (5/5):
    • Decadent and rich. The sweetness of Hokkaido uni was complemented by potent smell of truffles. Both were covered in a dark glaze, similar to anago(salt-eel) glaze. On top of an English flatbread muffin. I enjoyed it because it combines these two very assertive and rare “luxury” ingredients, and the whole effect was more than the sum of its parts. Highest praise.
    • Early April is right at the very end of the black truffle season, and the powerful smell of Chef Ramirez’s truffles surprised me in their potency, a testament to his sourcing abilities. Truffles were used in 3 dishes, and all had exceptional potent aromas
  6. Osetra Caviar with cauliflower cream, yuzu: (4.25/5)
    • A generous helping of osetra caviar set in cauliflower cream, with a circular biscuit.
    • The marriage of tastes was pleasant, though I did not feel a true synergy between them.
  7. Snow crab, chawanmushi, foie gras (3.75/5)
    • Chives and onion green chawanmushi paste at the bottom of a deep bowl, snow crab broken down to bits, A seared piece of foie gras (about 1.25x the size of the first phalange of an adult thumb) floated in a dashi. Black truffle made a welcome reappearance as black bits, adding its scent to the dashi.
  8. Lobster, celery root, blood orange: (4.75/5)
    • Perfectly cooked lobster, with only mild “graining” of very sweet lobster flesh. A piece of celery root, a white radish, and a piece of blood orange by the side (which could have been subtracted) Navel oranges were used for a yellow sauce covering about 90% of the plate, with vanilla seeds visible in a second clear sauce, and fennel foam.
    • The radish and blood orange could have been subtracted: the radish added nothing to the dish, the blood orange added too much one-dimensional citrus notes. The lobster paired well with the orange sauce, and the fennel probably served as the aromatic (I could not ID the scent by myself, thinking it was lavender at first, and had to ask my server). This reminded me of the lobster dish at Schwa, where “lavender+earl grey” was the aromatic on top of the lobster+orange base.
  9. Turbot with Peas (3.5/5)
    • Turbot from Holland.
  10. Koshihikari Rice with black truffle (5/5)
    • A risotto, in the shade of beige/pink with truffled bits around. Topped with a slice of black truffle.
    • At this point, this was the third truffle dish.
    • The rice was top class, having a firm texture and slightly sweet taste. Risotto was prepared perfectly, with the strong smell of black truffles coming through again. Top marks.
  11. Squab (roasted) with Stuffed Morel (4.5/5)
    • Squab was served rare, with varying degrees of doneness. The very middle of the squab had no graining, while the outside was a very-reddish-slightly-pink shade with graining. I enjoyed the squab, it was well roasted with no chewiness and the stuffed morel was pungent.
    • Morels are the first sign of spring. It was truly a privilege to have eaten a meal in the short window between winter and spring when both morels and truffles were available.
  12. Miyazaki Wagyu with Grated Daikon (5/5)
    • Miyazaki wagyu is considered the best wagyu of Japan, over the Kobe region.
    • I did not ascertain the grading, but the seared beef just oozed fat like a sponge over the tongue, reminding me of otoro).
    • It was simply salted and served with vinegar-ed grated daikon. Simplicity itself, but a tremendous ingredients driven dish. Top marks.
  13. Buffalo cheese (partita) from Petaluma CA with hot tangerine jam (3.25/5)
  14. Shiso sorbet [functional dish, 3.75-4/5]
    • A green, strong herbaceous palate-cleansing scoop of shiso sorbet, about the size of a melonball scoop. Served in a plate with lots of holes at the outer 2/3 edge.
  15. Soba-tea (roasted buckwheat tea) ice cream, Caramel, Seaweed (3.5/5)
    • Not bad. Crispy seaweed and caramel on top, plated to look abit like the end of a honey-dipper.
  16. Spiced Chocolate Foam, Yuzu Marmalade, Sugar Globe (5/5)
    • A dark chocolate/yuzu cake base; a yuzu(?) sorbet in the center, with spiced chocolate foam around, and covered with a sugar globe.
    • The tastes were harmonious, creating a pleasantly spiced dessert on its own
    • However, what makes it truly spectacular is the sugar globe. Never have I seen such a perfectly clear (usually sugar glass is frosted and unclear) sugar glass with such thin-ness. It yielded easily to my spoon. (even the one made by an ex-Roca patissier at Restaurant Andre in Singapore was hard, and had the danger of cutting one’s lip). The technique required to make such a perfect sugar globe made for an amazing visual effect. Clearness and thin-ness, top class.
    • The globe was actually made of isomalt.
  17. Mignardises: Miso Cookie, Chocolate with Pistachio filling, Mango Tartlet