At Brooklyn's only restaurant with three coveted Michelin stars, local star chef César Ramirez and his sous-chefs offer a culinary performance during three nightly seatings. At each, 20 dainty, often seafood-focused concoctions are presented to 18 diners seated at a semicircular steel counter. Dishes might include king salmon parfait with basil gelée, avocado, maple syrup, and mustard; or fresh tofu and king crab blended with matsutake mushrooms and dashi sauce. Getting a reservation is a complicated ordeal so plan in advance. And make sure you're wearing your best: formal wear is required.
Mar 15, 2013
My spouse and I dined at the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare for dinner in early March 2013. We had tried for about one year to get a reservation, calling every Monday at 10:30 am for a reservation six weeks later. Generally, for the first hour or hour-and-a half that we attempted to call, we would just receive a busy signal, but when someone finally answered the phone (usually around 12:00 noon), the spaces were always filled. We always asked for our
names to be placed on the waiting list, but space never opened up. (Note: When someone does answer, be prepared to be transferred around a few times. To us, it seemed like the phone was being answered by someone in the grocery store, then put on hold, then picked up by someone else who saw the blinking light, then transferred again until we finally reached the reservationist.) Then one day we got lucky and secured our spot - who knows why that time was different than all our other tries? We guess that our persistence finally paid off! After you make your reservation, you will receive an email confirmation explaining more about the process. Two weeks before your dining experience, you will receive an email asking you to reply to the email to confirm your spot, then they charge your credit card for the amount of the dinner plus tax and mandatory 20% gratuity. Even though you have already been charged, they call to verbally confirm a few days before you dine; we are not really sure why, because we do not think they would refund your money if you cancelled at that late date. But perhaps they can resell your seats, thereby making twice the original amount for your particular seats. You will receive a handwritten bill for your drinks after dinner, on which you will tip for your beverages only; they did not seem to directly pander for an additional tip over the 20% that you are pre-billed. The website says that formal business attire is required, but when the reservationist called to confirm our reservation, we asked if a tie was necessary, and we were told that the dress code was business casual (which to us means long-sleeve collared shirt and dress pants for men, but no tie or jacket). Fortunately, he wore a jacket, as did every single other male diner there; some even wore suits with ties. We would have felt completely out of place without the jacket! Three seatings occur at the restaurant: half of the chef’s counter (approximately 8 or 10 seats, depending on the size of the parties) is seated at 6:30 pm, then the other 8 or 10 seats [there are 18 total] are seated at 7:45 pm. We had reservations at the earliest seating (6:30 pm). We were the last of our seating to arrive, even though we were 5 minutes early; we were assigned two seats in the middle of the counter where it curved. We thought our seats allowed more room than some of the others, although the two seats at the inner end of the counter certainly have the best view of the food plating and preparation. The “hostess”, who was also the apparent “sommelier”, took our coats and directed us to the “manager” who pointed out our seats. It was funny how the “manager” consulted her little book to find our what seats had been assigned to us; obviously it was the two open seats in the middle! We were unable to immediately order drinks, because there were only two wine lists for the entire restaurant! Seriously, with an average of four parties (of two people each) ever seated at one time, and they do not even have four wine lists? (Wine lists are a scarcity at $225 per person, plus tax and 20% gratuity?) When a wine list was finally available, the “sommelier” gave us a few minutes to read it, then came over and asked to discuss the “menu” with us. When my spouse joked “There is a menu?”, she became snippy and said that there was no menu, that we would be served a tasting, most of which was fish, and so on. Of course, we knew that there was no menu! She was the one who used that word, when she probably meant “the wine list”. At this time, Brooklyn Fare serves only wine, no beer, and only one soft drink (a tart fruit-flavored soda), along with two non-alcoholic sparkling wines. (Also note that they do not serve any kind of coffee, cappuccino, or espresso with dessert.) The food was amazingly delicious and presented beautifully in just the right serveware. Of the approximately 25 courses that we ate that evening, 20 were fish courses, most of which were crudo/raw shellfish (they are pretty transparent about the proteins on their website, so everyone is aware ahead of time). We had about three cooked fish courses, and only one meat course (lamb), along with a cheese course, a palate cleanser, and two desserts. Unlike other restaurants that serve a tasting menu, they do not send you home with a list of what you have eaten. The guest is really at a huge disadvantage, because they forbid photography and note-taking, so you must rely on your own memory. Even though we tried to recreate the menu soon after we left the restaurant, we could really only recall the main ingredient, not all the interesting accent components. The atmosphere in the dining room was calm for the first hour of our dinner, until the 7:45 pm guests began to arrive; then we began to feel a little rushed and slightly ignored. There is also a 10:00 pm seating, but the 7:45 pm guests have probably nearly departed by the time they arrive, because the restaurant advises dedicating about 2 hours for your dining experience. We had an issue with the restroom at about the 8:00 pm mark - there is just one restroom, and as anyone who has done a tasting knows, you must time your “break” to fit between the courses, because no one waits for you. But there were three ladies in line to use the restroom, which ended up with two of them missing the delivery and explanation of their next course. Another issue that we had was that the “manager” who stands in the center of the serving counter and presents each dish was not loud enough when she mentioned the components of each course. As we said previously, there is no written menu, neither before, during, or after your dining experience, so if she does not call out the ingredients loud and proud, there is no way for the diners to hear every word and fully comprehend what they are eating. We were shocked that several courses reused our silverware, although just the fork; our combination knife/spoon utensils were removed, but the dirty fork was taken off the plate and placed back on the leather placemat! This is something that we expect at a low-end chain restaurants (like Applebees), but we do not expect it to happen at a 3-star Michelin restaurant charging $225 per head! They purposely removed one of the utensils but reused the other - it just makes no sense! And as far as the service aspect goes, it was good, but not on the level of Per Se, Daniel, or Le Bernardin. The chef, Cesar Ramirez, was cooking on the night that we were there, which is not always the case with high-end restaurants like this, so we appreciated being able to watch him create. He walked around to each couple after the dinner and asked if everything was okay, and everyone simply said yes. It was nice of him to make personal contact, but he did not seem genuine in wanting to hear any comments; the task seemed like something he felt obligated to do, not necessarily that he enjoyed. When we finished dinner, as we were waiting for our coats to be delivered, space was at a premium, so when we received our first coat, one of us attempted to step into the (winter) entry vestibule while the other of us waited for our other coat, but we found that the door to the restaurant was locked! The hostess/sommelier said that she would unlock it, but that we should be glad that it was locked, “for good reason". What on earth could that reason have been? It seems that a locked door to a restaurant with patrons inside is a fire code/safety violation; in fact, the door to a retail establishment generally posts a sign that reads that the door is to remain open/unlocked during business hours. We feel privileged to have dined at Brooklyn Fare - the food was truly amazing! However, we wish that the service was just as flawless. We are glad that we got to experience this restaurant; it was a memorable meal that will not soon forget!