Culinary Sagacity

~Thought for Food~

The Cathayans believed that the soul or mind is located not in the head but in the stomach.

Doubtless this explains why they fret so much about the preparation and serving of food.

It may also explain why their memories are so much better than ours.

Information is stored not in the finite head, but in the expandable stomach.

--Cyrus Spitama in Gore Vidal's Creation

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ultimate Surprise Birthday Dinner at Brooklyn Fare Kitchen

I confess, I've never had a surprise birthday party in my life. So when my man planned one for me this year, I hadn't a single suspicion, it was so off my radar. All I knew was that he was taking me to a "surprise dinner" on Sunday, and my only concern was what to wear (because I trust his choice in food).

All dressed and ready to go, Damien poured my favorite Lambrusco from my home town of Reggio Emilia, then he suggested we have a toast on the roof, where we have a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty. Given I had dragged him up to the roof the previous night, at 1:00a.m., I didn't really want to go up again. It was cloudy, and the humidity was typical of August on the East Coast—swamp like and sticky.

Yet, for some mysterious reason, I could see in his pleading eyes that he really, really wanted to go up, so I conceded.

When we got to the roof I saw a group of people already hanging out, nothing out of the norm, everyone in my building takes in the view, so I didn't really look at them too closely. Then they all rushed towards me and shouted "Surprise!"

My head spun, it was so unexpected that it was more of a shock than a surprise. I was so thrown that it felt like mental whiplash. My brain had to shift gears without using its clutch. All I could think was "Is the apartment a total mess? Do we have drinks for everyone? Food! Do we have food?!"

We all came back down to the apartment and popped some Champagne to toast my birthday. Overwhelmed and totally thrilled that this was indeed a surprise party, and it was for me, I quickly forgot my immediate concerns. And, I learned that we were all heading to dinner together.

Brain working overtime, I started to guess where we might be going. Then, in our cars on route, I had a growing suspicion when we turned onto Chambers Street, heading for the Brooklyn Bridge, that we were going to our friend César Ramirez's new place, Brooklyn Fare Kitchen. Damien and I had been there just the second weekend it was open, but I forgot my camera, so I didn't write about it back then. I'm making up for that omission now.

When we all reconvened outside Brooklyn Fare Kitchen, everyone was surprised, they'd never seen anything like it. Even those of my friends used to gastro dining had yet to see a venue like this. I've eaten at many Chef's Tables and done plenty of Tasting Menus, but Brooklyn Fare Kitchen takes these concepts to a whole new level.

The normal menu usually consists of about seven courses, but Damien had booked the whole kitchen for my birthday, and Cesar surprised all of us with a few extra dishes, bringing the total to eleven.

The meal started with a Canapé of Iranian Hibiscus, a chilled shot of refreshing hibiscus liquid topped with hibiscus foam, perfect for cleaning the palate and perking up the humidity-zapped diners.

Our next course—Veal Brains with Sauce Gribiche—was a bonus for my birthday, so it isn't on the regular menu, which, by the way, changes rather frequently. A few friends not used to eating offal couldn't help but to cringe, yet, once they popped the tiny, perfectly fried Veal Brains into their mouths, they were more than glad they didn't let squeamishness stop them from trying something new... and fabulous.

The third course, simply called "Tomato" on the menu, was well more than just a tomato. In César style, a style I've loved for years, since he was the Executive Chef at Bouley in Tribeca, a "tomato" was transformed into myriad manifestations of an Insalata Caprese—including a frozen tomato marshmallow—and served in a show-stopping manner. Knowing the best of the best, César chose an Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale from Reggio Emilia, aged 20 years, to drizzle over his creation. After seeing the actual plate, one friend joked, "After eating his 'Tomato,' I can't wait to get to his 'Mango!'"

Our fourth course was also on the regular menu, a Kona Kampachi with Ponzu sauce and crispy fried leeks. César knows how to cut fish like a Sushi Chef, resulting in slices of Kampachi that were as soft and supple as butter. This was perhaps my favorite course of the evening, though it's more than difficult to say with everything being so good.

The fifth course, another special birthday bonus, was Bulgur, Black Rice, and Egg with Summer Truffles. The yolk was just warmed and still runny, and the white had been hard boiled then emulsified, producing a texture akin to custard. The smoothness of the egg was coupled with the crunchiness of the crispy black rice, and blanketed in the flavor and aroma of summer truffles. Simple perfection.

Typical of the deceptively unassuming Brooklyn Fare Kitchen menu, the next course was "Roasted Scallops with Parsley Mousse." In reality, it was a dish of roasted scallops, fresh Oregon-raised snails and langoustine, topped with a thin slice of pork belly, served on a parsley mousse. Now, I love escargot, I even tried to make some with my big sister when I was six years old, with snails we gathered from our back garden. The meal was a complete failure, but not so with César's fresh snails—of course. Truth be told, I have never had a snail so tender. Not in the U.S., not even in France. And, the addition of the pork belly provided the perfect fat needed to pair with such lean proteins.

The seventh course, another birthday bonus, was Japanese Snapper with Fava Beans, Corn Purée and Summer Vegetables. Melted over the snapper was a square of caramel that enhanced the natural sweetness of the fish itself. And the vegetables, though tiny, weren't one second overcooked. I've been served too many floppy, flavorless vegetables to take César's for granted.

Course eight, from the regular menu, was Steamed Fois Gras with Tofu and Dashi Sauce, and a hint of Shiso. I didn't know you could steam Fois Gras, but that's why I'm no César Ramirez. The result was a silky, perfectly cooked little piece of fatty liver heaven.

By this point, even those of us with enormous appetites were starting to feel a bit full. But with food this amazing, nobody was ready to stop. A good thing too, because our Fois Gras was followed by a stunning item on the regular menu, Maine Lobster with Fresh Horseradish, Cooked Beets, Beet Sauce and Beet Caramel. Having just talked with one of my friends about how we didn't like beets, but how I had had some that I did like, I turned to her and said, "Oh yeah, I remember, César made me beets I liked, so you have to eat this!" She, and I, both liked the beets, and the beet caramel atop the whole dish was a huge surprise to everyone, both for its flavor and its technique.

The final savory course, tenth overall, was a Veal Loin with Italian Kale from the menu. On our plates, it was more than just that, and included Tete de Veau with Mushrooms and Sweetbreads. I love fried sweetbreads, and César's were done to perfection, crispy on the outside, billowy on the inside. Again, even those who had never had sweetbreads tried them, and they began to understand that in the hands of a chef like César Ramirez, anything can be delicious—brains, organs, liver, beets—you name it. The veal loin was a rare mini-medallion married to a purée of blackened onions. Beyond yummy.

At last, and after some serious efforts to make room for dessert in our stuffed tummies, we finally got to the "Mango" on the menu, a creation of sous-chef Juan Leon. As my friend quipped earlier, it was more than just mango. The dessert was a parfait of sorts, served in a stemless wine glass, with layers of Mango cream, chunky mango compote, and thin slices of pound cake, topped with a torched wafer-thin layer of dried mango "caramel." No birthday cake necessary! But everyone did take the opportunity to sing.

More than just a surprise birthday dinner for myself, the evening ended up a celebration of food, friends, new culinary experiences, and, of course, the talent of César Ramirez and his sous-chef Juan Leon. At one point in the evening a friend said, "This has got to be the best birthday dinner going on in all of America tonight!"

You don't need a birthday excuse to head on over to Brooklyn Fare Kitchen. It's a gastronomic experience unlike any other. Sitting in the kitchen at the chef's actual workspace, being served by the chefs themselves, and having them articulate their dishes and answer questions, makes for an intimate and relaxed atmosphere, topped off with food from the stratosphere.

Though its ten seats are booking up almost two months in advance, it's well worth the wait. Lacking a liquor license, it's BYOW (for Wine), making the $70 prix fix menu a bargain. Just remember to bring enough wine to share with the chefs! Oh, and I'll hear none of that "I don't go to Brooklyn" from you Manhattanites. I used to joke about needing my passport to go to Brooklyn, but I made it to Brooklyn Fare Kitchen not once, but twice in two months. And I'll go back for sure, again and again, because the menu never stays the same. Indeed, with the theme "Food Under Construction," Brooklyn Fare Kitchen isn't a one-off experience.

Open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, Brooklyn Fare Kitchen seats maximum 10 people. The Prix Fix menu is a steal at $70 per person, and it's BYOW.

EDIT, July 2010:  Brooklyn Fare Kitchen's days and prices have changed, and it's no longer BYOW.  Call to get on the waiting list!  : )

To make reservations at Brooklyn Fare Kitchen, please call 718.243.0500. Brooklyn Fare Kitchen is located at 200-3 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201... Just across the street from the A, C, and G stops at Hoyt-Schermerhorn (just three stops into Brooklyn, people).,0


  1. Wow! What a fabulous meal! Thanks for your photos, comments and video.
    We are booked for mid-November. Until then, I'll just have to satisfy myself with your images. Cesar Ramirez is certainly an artist and his kitchen dinner is one of New York's greatest values.

  2. I'm so excited for you! The wait is worth it!!

  3. I sued Brooklyn Fare Supermarket in small claims court on December 31, 2009 for not refunding money owed me for returning purchases not opened. Secondly, a complaint against the attending cashier who cussed me out at the counter.

    My first court date was February 8, 2010 which I attended however, the owner of Brooklyn Fare Supermarket never appeared in court.

    I had to reschedule another court date for February 22, 2010 & again the owner never showed up.

    An arbitrator heard my case and ruled in my favor and awarded me the money I sought. The owner of Brooklyn Fare Supermarket was sent a letter explaining the company had thirty days in which to pay me the money owed. As of 3-25-2010 Brooklyn Fare Supermarket has defaulted on the judgment. Abide by the ruling that was handed down by the court and "Pay Up". I Want My Money Now.

    Index Number S.C. K 8284/09

    I also filed a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
    Retail Store Complaint: Service Request #C1-1-533-102-249

  4. You can't gripe about the food in the kitchen!

  5. OMG I WANT TO EAT THERE! But I live in Denver. Think they can fit me in if I fly out just to eat there??