200 Schemerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn
$70 each ($95 starting November 2009), BYOB, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥
The Daily News just crowned the area around 200 Schemerhorn “Downtown Brooklyn’s hot pocket”. A friend lives upstairs and got incredibly lucky with one of the market-rate rentals before the neighborhood exploded. This means he’s also one of the many fortunate residents who get to shop at Brooklyn Fare, the gourmet grocery store that occupies the space on street level.
Cesar Ramirez is the chef responsible for the store’s prepared foods, but after hours, he turns into Batman and whips up an incredible tasting menu in the store’s kitchen. Up to a dozen people get to eat and drink their own bottles of booze a few times a week. He spent eight years at Boulud and all his training comes through in his intensity. He talked about how everything he was doing had been done before and that all the dishes we were eating were just his own take. He made everything effortless even though each dish looked and tasted like it took some extra time to make.
Before they started service, he snorted at me for taking photographs without asking him for permission. He clearly hadn’t been around annoying food lover types before but he softened up when I volunteered to stow my camera away. He loved having us as an audience and found great satisfaction when we expressed contentment. Here’s a rundown of why we were content:
Hibiscus flower shot. When I was growing up in the Philippines, we mashed hibiscus flowers with a big rock and added it to a container of powdered detergent and water to make our own bubbles. We used the flower stems and fashioned them into rings to blow the bubbles from if hollow papaya stalks were nowhere to be found. I’ve seen hibiscus flowers during my travels around Central America and they’ve always reminded me of that memory. Drinking it like a shot of soup was a completely different story. The flower is naturally gelatinous; Cesar showed us the dried chips he used to make it into a clear juice. It wasn’t thick, but it had that delicious viscosity.
Deep-fried calf brains. I was glad that Cesar decided not to write it down on the menu. We didn’t know the other diners we sat next to and across from us and the last thing I wanted to hear was a complaint about offal. I just had calf brains at Lamb and Jaffy a week before my night at Brooklyn Fare so I had a chance to compare: this version was 100% better. Cesar’s was crispier because it went straight from the fryer to our plates. It looked like a small perfect dumpling on a bed of chives with mayonnaise and mustard.
Oyster on a bed of green sauce. I forgot what the green was made of, but looking at this photograph now, I only have one thing to say: sexxxxxy.
I was reminded of one of my meals at Blue Hill Stone Barns when the tomato plate was served. From right to left: tomato marshmallow, tomato water with cream turned into panna cotta, reconstructed bocconcini on top of tomato purée, a tomato gelée and a stewed tomato top that tasted like an intense sundried tomato. The plate was peppered with small slices of seasoned grape tomatoes and then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I was in complete awe of this dish.
No, wait. I was in awe of this dish. In a beautiful ridged bowl from JL Coquet, three kinds of grains were toasted–black rice, bulghur wheat and quinoa–and topped with an egg gently and slowly cooked sous-vide. The egg whites were made into a crème fraîche-like texture that contrasted well with the crunch of the grains. Every time I scooped, my spoon scratched the ridges of the bowl and it delightfully added to the sound in my mouth. It was such a beautiful dish, I still sigh just thinking about it.
The most decadent dish came up next: langoustine with a tiny Oregon snail and a perfectly-cooked scallop topped with an unexpected sheet of speck. The green sauce was tarragon and parsley. I was pretty much full after this because of how rich the three pieces were. The Dr. and I looked at each other and agreed that they couldn’t be making money off this venture. Clearly, Cesar and his sous-chef, Juan, were given free rein in the kitchen by the Brooklyn Fare owners. The only objective was to cook whatever they want, however they want and use whatever ingredients the market provided.
Summer came next: asparagus pieces, shredded green peas, pickled giant beans and sweet corn kernels. A sheet of crispy spinach purée topped it all. I would have been okay with the mix of vegetables, but they were more than generous and served it with a nice chunk of halibut. Halibut is always a bland fish for me but a very meaty one; it paired deliciously with the veggies.
Unbelievably, another dish was served: Maine lobster with port and red wine reduction mixed with a green foam of, I think, parsley. Molecular gastronomy has come a long way from when no one paid attention to it except Wylie Dufresne, to everyone foaming everything in the kitchen. But I’ll take foam any time, even Top Chef‘s Marcel’s, if it makes my plate presentation pretty.
I have no idea how I even ate the duck after all that. The small piece of duck was encased in an artichoke and in another green paste. The artichoke resembled the duck skin and fat. A most beautifully seared and steamed foie gras chunk sat on the side with a bed of–watch out–puréed foie gras. It seemed like a preparation perfect for squab as well.
For dessert, Juan prepared a mango parfait. The glass was sealed with a sheet of mango purée which made eating it more fun because you had to tap it “open” with your spoon. I had no idea dicing mango that fine would result in a tingly texture in my mouth. I should dice my yellow mango more often!
We finished our own bottle of wine with all the food Cesar and Juan prepared after four hours. We left a hefty tip because we’ve never had dinner that tasted home-cooked but with so much finesse dedicated to it. Now that the word is out about these Brooklyn Fare dinners, the price has gone up to $95 per person because of recent high demand. It’s still the best deal in the city of this caliber, so I highly suggest that you make your way to Brooklyn before prices go up again. Good prices never last, but I hope Cesar and Juan keep churning their hearts out in the kitchen.