When the grocery store Brooklyn Fare opened a few months ago, I was unreasonably excited, and I was one of the first people through the door at 8:30 a.m. This neighborhood is somewhat lacking in the grocery department, and at the time we were relying heavily on the Fairway in Red Hook and occasionally on FreshDirect. I thought Brooklyn Fare would be the perfect solution. Sadly, it was little more than an overgrown deli in those early days. Plenty of convenience foods, a sad selection of fish and meat, and precious little produce. I could have better luck at Trader Joe’s.
A few months later, the store has improved remarkably, and I believe this is thanks to the work and influence of Chef César Ramirez, who is running the kitchen adjacent to the store along with a small, hard-working staff. César and his team oversee the production of the store’s excellent prepared foods, and they run the three-nights-per-week restaurant in that kitchen. I went in a group of ten friends and colleagues for an eight-course tasting menu last night. At $70, and with a BYOB policy, it’s one of the city’s great dining values. Chef César (a former executive chef of Bouley) and his assistant Juan prepared and served us course after course of four-star dishes. It was somewhat bizarre to enjoy this level of cuisine on an otherwise ugly block of Schermerhorn Street (my street!), but in such an intimate and even elegant setting. César told us that he gets the best of everything for these dinners, from the food to the plates and Riedel glassware.
Here are the boys at work, and did they ever work!
And here, in order is most of what we ate. (I have dozens more pictures in this photo album.) After doing a shot of of hibiscus juice, we were served a bite of creamy, fried calf’s brains with sauce gribiche:
Up next was my favorite course of the night, César’s beautiful interpretation of a caprese salad, consisting of tomato mousse, mozzarella mousse, and a slow-cooked candied tomato over there on the right:
Kona kampachi with ponzu sauce:
Roasted scallop with bacon and chervil mousse:
I’m not a big fan of foie gras, but this little bite of it with tofu in dashi sauce was more than tolerable. César had us use a spoon to get as much sauce as we could with the liver. Good advice.
The Maine lobster with beets was one of the prettiest dishes of the night:
Even after all of the courses and dessert, I didn’t feel stuffed. Each course was pretty light, and the pace was relaxed. The set-up of the dinner is highly conducive to socializing and conversation. They set up a drink station for you but you serve yourself, giving you a chance to get up and walk around.
There’s plenty of time between courses (since the guys are cooking most of it to order), so you can visit the other side of the table, or stand up and chat with the chefs while they work, or just explore the immaculate kitchen, admiring the organization and fancy equipment. It feels like an elaborate, well-branded dinner party.
There was general confusion in our group about how this deal can continue. No way are they making enough money at $70 a head to pay for this exquisite food and skilled labor. Maybe it’s just an introductory price that will go up substantially if the dinners catch on. Right now, César says, most of the customers are industry people, other chefs, and former customers of his from Bouley and Danube. I’m convinced that you will not find better food and a more enjoyable experience at this price in New York, and I urge you to make a reservation now before it gets overrun by foodie types or becomes more expensive.