Dinner at Brooklyn FareDinner at Brooklyn Fare

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.

Mom makes cucumber saladMom makes cucumber salad

I have always been fond of pickled, sour, and sweet & sour foods. My mother used to make all sorts of piccalillis, chow-chows, relishes, and pickles. My favorite pie was, and still is, sour cherry, and my favorite candy was the sublime Regal Crown Sour Lemon , unfortunately no longer available. My kids used to eat Lemonheads but they were a poor substitute for Regal Crown Sours, as they were basically sweet drops of hard candy dusted with ascorbic acid. Once you licked the sour coating off they didn’t even taste lemony.

Sweet and sour cucumber salad is an easy and refreshing summer side dish which gives you an opportunity to use your mandoline . You don’t really need a recipe but I’ll give you one anyway.

Sweet and Sour Cucumbers

  • 2 or 3 cucumbers (I used 1 1/2 long English cucumbers; 3 or 4 pickling cukes would also work)
  • 1 teaspoon or so kosher salt
  • 1 cup vinegar (I like Spanish sherry vinegar, cider vinegar is also good; don’t use balsamic)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh parsley

Thinly slice cucumbers using sharp knife or a mandoline. Layer in a colander, sprinkling lightly with kosher salt. Don’t use too much salt or the salad will be salty. If you don’t have a lot of time you can skip this step but it’s helpful when using homegrown cucumbers which can be bitter. Put a weight on top and leave to drain for about an hour. I used a salad plate topped with a filled teakettle to weigh them down, and after yoga class they had exuded about a half cup of liquid. Spread the cucumbers out on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and blot them off.

Meanwhile, in bowl large enough to hold all ingredients, mix vinegar, sugar, and pepper and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Add cucumbers and gently fold with rubber spatula until all slices are moistened. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour before serving, folding once or twice to blend flavors. Add chopped parsley and pour some of the dressing off before placing in serving bowl. Serve with slotted spoon or fork. If you have any left over these are good piled onto a sandwich or burger.

Whoopie piesWhoopie pies

I’m about six weeks from the end of culinary school, and I’m in the part of the program now where I cook in the school’s restaurant. I wasn’t prepared for how different class would be in the professional kitchen compared to the classroom kitchens of earlier levels, and at the beginning of this portion I seriously considered withdrawing. Of course I’ve since become accustomed to the pace and the pressure, but I felt a little waylaid at the beginning, as the service hour approached and I was a dozen tasks away from being ready and set up.

But I survived entremetier, garde manger, poissonnier, and the hardest, saucier, before finally arriving in what’s generally considered (somewhat misleadingly) to be the easiest station, pâtissier. People only think it’s the easiest because it’s not hot back there and because you get an extra hour to set up, since no one orders dessert until after their meal ends. But the pastry station has its challenges, especially for a salt-oriented cook such as myself. I don’t have a delicate hand—-I’m lousy at plating and making things beautiful. My own idea of beauty is quite a bit less refined than a French chef’s, and the learning curve is steep. A perfect quenelle of ice cream, which seems to flow naturally off the ends of other students’ spoons, takes me five or six tries to get right. I guess all things take practice. Witness my attempt at piping my name, with the chef’s version below. She can write in chocolate better than I can write in pencil. I never even learned cursive!


Last Thursday, the chef let our group devise a dessert special, which we were to prepare in addition to the rhubarb consommé and white chocolate parfaits that were on the menu. My friend Kim had once made some delicious peanut butter whoopie pies from a Martha Stewart recipe at one of her legendary brunches, and I thought it would be hilarious to serve them in a French restaurant.


The recipe is as easy as can be, especially if you have a stand mixer and use piping bags for the cookies and the filling. We teamed our whoopie pies with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream (which we also made) sitting on sliced strawberries (I didn’t want these but I had no choice), garnished with a mint sprig.


Only six or seven people ordered them, which surprised me, since who doesn’t want a peanut butter whoopie pie? But we sent out a bunch of extras, and the chefs and students milling around cleaned off the trays pretty quickly.