Monday, February 28, 2011

Brooklyn Fare

Apparently, I am all about the set menus these days. They are, of course, not an every night affair, but why can’t they be an every once in awhile affair? The amount of food that you are served, and if you are in the right place, the level of excellence that you witness, is certainly worth the price. Who doesn’t loved being served a chef's very best selection? And if you are ever given the opportunity to go or can plan far enough in advance to book a piece of its counter, add Brooklyn Fare to your culinary experiences.

When Chef Cesar originally opened this unique spot, it was the ultimate chef’s table - a kitchen with a basic table set in a simple space next door to the Brooklyn Fare grocery store in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. He would serve a fixed menu each night to the 12 lucky guests that had already recognized the talent of this rising star. Now, two Michelin stars later, Chef Cesar continues to produce the same, exquisite culinary creations, but in a much more established, systemized setting for 18 with up to three seatings a night - and with a higher price of $120 per person. There is still the BYO and serve yourself policy and just one menu each night that is really only set no more than an hour or so before the first seating. The daily menu is determined through experimentation based on the market’s freshest produce and catches.

Although the chef hails from Mexico, most of the menu is Asian inspired. The evening starts with an assortment of 10-12 small dishes that are not listed on the menu. Every one is seated at the arced counter that faces the kitchen and is served at the same time once dishes are plated and presented on display. Not only is every course unique in flavor combinations and ingredients, but each one was served in what seemed to be a dish designed perfectly for it. I apologize in advance for not being able to snap photographs of these mouthwatering creations, but photographs are no longer permitted in this intimate setting (explicitly noted in the menu).

If you are sushi lover, you will love this place as the majority of dishes were seafood - and often raw. Don’t let the idea of 10-12 small dishes prior to the actual menu scare you off as these were truly bite size or even finger food - and not even listed in the menu. On the night we were there, the seafood bites included a wild salmon ceviche, torro with ginger, oyster with grapefruit, king crab, yellowtail with jalapeno, sardine with thinly sliced fried potatoes, and smoked octopus with hearts of palm. Other highlights were a duck croquettes and a shot of pumpkin and parmesan soup. It was over an hour into the evening before anything from the set menu arrived in front of us, but at Brooklyn Fare, there is really no concept of time. Somehow you are never waiting for a dish, yet at the same time, you never feel rushed. While the main dishes did arrive on larger plates, the portions were nicely suited for the culinary feast we were in the midst of enjoying. Everything was so beautifully plated on usually just one part of the dish, it often resembled a piece of art. The highlights of the main dishes were scallops with shrimp risotto and pea shoots, pumpkin ravioli with truffles and porcinis, monkfish with foie gras and cabbage, and guinea hen with roasted brussel sprouts. Dessert was extremely understated with sorbet and petit fours - and that was fine by me as the finale to the sublime feast of nearly 20 dishes.

When food is coming at you with that level of grace and expertise, it is best to just take it all in and enjoy the moment you are in. While I can only begin to tell you about this experience, it is truly a personal one that I hope any one with food curiosities can take part in at some point. At first I was a little disappointed that no photographs were allowed. But, by the end, I realized no pictures could possibly do the meal justice and I am glad my amateur photography skills didn’t need to confirm that for all of you.

And for those of you who are all about the Roach Rating - you are seeing correctly. Brooklyn Fare earned all five! I admit that I did once declare that when I came across anything Five Roachworthy, my work was done. I take that back! I am already wondering, who will be the next?

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare on Urbanspoon

Brooklyn Fare
200 Schermerhorn Street
New York, NY 11217

(718) 243-0050
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Deli by day, gourmet dining by night. Torrisi is my kind of place. There is nothing quite like an authentic Italian deli. You know the kind I am talking about - the kind of place where the meat is piled high, but not too high. The mozzarella is so fresh that you actually wish, against your better judgment, they had piled more on, knowing the end result would be nothing but obscene (and delicious). For this very reason, after lunch at an Italian deli, dinner is usually a far away thought.

Although it’s quite rare to actually make it to one of these little gems midday during the work week. They are few and far between and even if there was one in close proximity to my office, I am not sure my bosses would appreciate my inevitable state of food coma post lunch. Thanks to Torrisi, we all get the best of all worlds - an Italian deli where dinner is not only a possibility, but it is truly an indulgent experience. At this tiny spot in Nolita, all of the freshest items that you would find at the best kind of Italian deli are transformed into gourmet dishes in the evenings. Before you know it, you are eating an eight course dinner in this cozy, converted shop to a no-frills dining room for a set price of $50.

The only catch - the menu is entirely set daily, allowing for no substitutions. For someone like me who gets excited when something appears on a menu that I’ve never even heard of, this is no catch at all. It’s truly a treat. For those of you that may be a bit pickier, they do post the menu each evening online for the next day so you can assess if you are up for the adventure. After all, unless you arrive just before 6, you are most likely going to be waiting in line for it. But I can assure you that it’s worth it.

Our dining experience began with an assortment of antipasti. Each dish was served on a very unique plate, many of which could have easily come from my grandmother’s china cupboard. There were moments when I felt like I was eating at home, and I was often smiling as I was reminded that this really was your everyday deli. We begin with homemade mozzarella that had been soaking in olive oil and served with garlic and parsleyed toasts. It was as simple and delicious as it sounds. The next dish, an apple and potato pancake was much more unexpected, but had a great balance of sweet and savory. We moved right into a hearty olive bread layered with homemade pesto and fresh cod spread. Each dish was so different from the previous, making each one stand apart with such unique and bold flavors. The final antipasti was barbecued sweetbreads served over rice and crispy greens - the first of several delicious meat dishes, of course, the highlight of any Italian deli in my books.

The primi of the evening was a homemade fusilli topped with a dirty duck ragu. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the entire dish just melted in my mouth. There was one choice that evening - and it was between a main course of skate or grilled heritage pork chop. I am sure you can guess which I opted for. The pork was just perfectly prepared and served with vinegar peppers. The grilled meat, again, took me to the comforts and simplicities of home - a home I need to visit more often. After a constant flow of so many powerful dishes, we were served a nice portion of lemon italian ice. And since we started the evening with a sampling of antipasti, it was only fair to end with an assortment of Italian house pastries. Thank goodness these were mini! While they were all delicious in their own way, I was glad to only have to give in to these smaller temptations.

Torrisi is truly a gem in New York City. This is a spot that has figured out how to take an Italian deli to the next culinary level while still remaining true to themselves. I had no idea an authentic Italian deli could get much better. And that is certainly something worth lining up for.

Torrisi Italian Specialties on Urbanspoon

250 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0955
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):