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Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

Zagat
27-20-25
Month of Review: June 2014

If Chef César had the smallest inkling of what hospitality truly means, then this restaurant could certainly be on my all-time favourites list. I don’t think many would disagree that a $250/head dinner has to be about the overall experience, not just the food.

Brooklyn Fare, a gourmet groceries store located in downtown Brooklyn. A few doors down the road is their little restaurant which happens to be the latest addition to the city's list of three Michelin star establishments, hitting in the same league as Daniel and Jean Georges. There is no question that this kitchen churns out some of the best food in the country and my three hour experience confirms this. It is the exclusive quality of ingredients that distinguish Chef César's cuisine from the rest of the industry and this also explains why he can only serve five evenings a week to two rounds of eighteen lucky guests given the limited supplies.

The exclusivity didn’t stop with the ingredients and produce but extended to the reservation process as well. Six weeks prior to the dining date, despite me calling from overseas to make the reservation, I was advised that I had called one minute too early from their line opening; “sorry, my clock is now 10.29am. Please call us back later, goodbye." Even though the unbelievably frustrating 40 minutes I spent afterwards on redial, my patience finally paid off.

Chef César runs his shop in a militaristic fashion where he executes his rigorous routine every night without any deviation! My dining partner on this occasion was Michael Talalaev, a long time FDE reader, who was referred to me through my fellow foodie friend John Sconzo. He was fortunately on time and messaged me a couple of times while I was stuck in a mad Saturday evening traffic in Manhattan. I wasn’t really that late after all and arrived at this “modern omakase” restaurant 10 minutes past my booking time. There was no distinction between the dining room and the kitchen. All that laid there was simply a stainless steel counter with a cooking area on one side and guests sitting on three sides, enclosing the restaurant’s only waitress in the centre of the stage.

I immediately identified Michael, who was giving me a big wave, and standing in the background was César Ramirez, an expressionless commander-in-chief, with his arms crossed, monitoring every movement of his team ensuring every detail was in accordance with his routine! And more importantly, he had to make sure no customer was taking photo or typing notes which were strictly forbidden as clearly written in his reservation terms and conditions. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with this guy since he will not hesitate to give you a brutal lecturing if you violate any of his rules. For all fellow food bloggers out there who can’t eat without a photo of the food, don’t bother bringing your camera! (I managed to capture only two quick snaps using my phone risking humiliation by the chef and being kicked out!)

Anyways, back to the meal and instead of a warm welcome from the team, I was welcomed with a rather abrupt comment of "you are late, you missed the first course”. I first thought they were kidding so I laughed and slowly took my seat but Michael, shouted: "you better be quick, second course is on the table!" Yes, hard to believe! For the first time in my dining career, I experienced a chef who cooks according to his clock and not to his customers! It didn’t matter whether you arrived or not, he would commence service and there was no waiting! All he cared was to execute his routine according to his clock, offering no flexibility whatsoever. And why should he care? My meal was already prepaid two weeks before!