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Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare: The Best of Manhattan on the “Right” Side of the Bridge

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(Photo: Jooeon Kim)

Chef Cesar Ramirez has been building his culinary reputation for the last twenty-one years, traveling the globe to cook in some of the most renowned restaurants in the world, and has run the show in the acclaimed kitchens of Bouley and Danube. Now, he’s turned his attention to something much smaller in size, but no less ambitious in scope – Brooklyn Fare. Inside this upscale grocery and prepared foods store – open since April of 2009 – sits a gleaming stainless steel kitchen bejeweled with a dream’s worth of copper pots hanging from a ceiling rack and, at the counter, chef Cesar Ramirez busily working from plate to pot to oven.

A 20-course tasting menu, a meal at the Chef’s Table – the first Brooklyn restaurant to ever receive 2 stars from the notable Michelin Guide – will take you through a dizzying array of flavors. Expect bountiful seafood—much of it raw or just barely rare—prepared in order to allow the purity of the fish and mollusks shine, applauded by artful embellishments of seasonal produce and dazzling sauces, purees and garnishes.

Begin your meal with 10 canapes, each a delightful bite or sip of wizardry. From a bright shot of lemongrass and sorrel soup to a blissfully earthy cup of balacau puree topped with a surprisingly generous mound of shaved truffles, Ramirez’s skill becomes apparent as you slowly loosen your belt. The chef has seemingly met no glass ceiling; the techniques displayed by he and his small staff (two assistants effortlessly move around one another and, together with a sole server, they prep, cook, plate and serve hundreds of dishes for the 14-seat restaurant four nights a week) are varied and masterful.

I sat in awe as I watched the meal unfold before me, baffled that so many of my fellow diners could engage in conversation while these artists worked right before their eyes. Ramirez later explained that he enjoys the intimacy of the evenings at his new digs, and thrives on the fact that he and his staff have only one shot to get their dishes right, as there’s no time or the anonymity of a closed kitchen to permit error.

In some ways, the first twenty courses are the most impressive. The variety of fish (some of which were entirely new to me) and the multitude of preparations and presentations felt like ample stimulation for my eyes and my belly. But the main show had yet to start.

A steady parade of small plate arrived next, beginning with three fish dishes (cod, tuna and king salmon), followed by a cup of stunning tofu and wild mushrooms adorned with gold leaf. Giant Peruvian prawns followed, atop a garnish of Concord grape reduction, a flavor as pure and nostalgic as any I’ve had in recent memory. A couple deep fried ricotta gnudi and a perfect round of Wagyu beef had me veritably gasping, their preparation so simple and perfect. A dab of triple-crème French cheese topped with a lacy cross-section of sweet biscuit signaled the beginning of the meal’s winding-down, and a blessedly light dessert of stewed Italian plums with a delicate spoonful of Greek yogurt and sage ice cream crowned the evening.

Chef Ramirez may have found himself in an unlikely venue geographically, but his cooking and vision are nothing other than the epitome of high-end dining. His dinners sell out weeks in advance, despite the steep $135 bill (gratuity and liquor not included; the restaurant is BYOB). But if you can manage to fork over the cash, you’re in for an unusual experience, replete with a refreshing take on simplicity (no foams, gels or other trompe-l’oeils here) and a front-row sear to watch a true artist at work for an uninterrupted three-hour stretch.

When you’re finished, you’ll roll off your bar stool and out of the room of steel, copper and glass and back into the industrial night, blinking in amazement that you can be so completely transported by a single meal. And if Chef Ramirez has his way, you’ll be sure to raise a point of contradiction next time someone declares Manhattan is the only place in New York where one can find haute-cuisine at its best.

Brooklyn Fare | 200 Schermerhorn Street at Hoyt Street | Boerum Hill

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October 25, 2014

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