Monday, August 30, 2010

The Kitchen at Brooklyn Un-Fare

This past June, it was reported that The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare would soon expand its dining room and increase seating for these highly coveted dinner reservations. Ever since its inception, this  partnership between chef César Ramirez and the Brooklyn Fare grocery store has thrived, often, being fully booked several months ahead. A glowing review by food critic, Alan Richman, and loyal followers of chef Ramirez's cooking has only contributed to comparisons from previous diners proclaiming The Kitchen Brooklyn Fare as "the Per Se of Brooklyn," quite a stretch in my opinion. Sadly, you can count me officially off the César Ramirez bandwagon (note I said chef Ramirez and not The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare) as my meal there last January was anything but fair. Before writing this, I struggled long and hard about how to approach this post. In the name of objectivity, I felt it prudent to table any writing about the experience, hoping to avoid any knee jerk reactions that I would later regret. But after half a year, nothing has changed the fact that this was unequivocally, the worst meal I have ever experienced.

I happened upon The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare after reading two wonderful and well photographed posts describing in detail, the incredible meals being produced by a Bouley alum in the intimacy of a open kitchen seating only ten. But the secret was out, well before Richman's review, which almost teased readers how difficult obtaining reservations are. To my initial disappointment, Heidi, the wife of the Brooklyn Fare's owner, informed me there was a three month waiting list. Much to my surprise, Heidi called me a mere two weeks later asking if I'd be interested in a meal that Friday as a result of a cancellation, which I immediately accepted. Given the relatively sparse information listed on Brooklyn Fare's website, I turned to blogs and Chowhound reports to get a feel for the experience. At that time, Brooklyn Fare was BYOB, so MW and I picked up a bottle of crisp riesling after being told that the menu would be seafood heavy. The meal would begin with a series of small canapés before chef Ramirez would proceed on to five courses and finish with a dessert.

It was cold that evening and we arrived early with our bottle of wine in hand. Located only a few feet from the grocery store on Schermerhorn Street, large windows yielded a spectacular view into the pristine stainless steel kitchen where we would soon be eating. As an employee opened the doors, along with a few other couples, we entered and exchanged awkward small talk as we hung our coats and prepared beverages. Ten stools lined the periphery of a large square table along with copies of the night's tasting menu. At the head of the table, just in front of the kitchen, sat chef Ramirez, silently sizing up the couples as they shuffled in and seated themselves. The four other couples comprised of a random cross-section of New Yorkers: there were two couples from Brooklyn, one of which lived directly above the grocery store, a pair of Manhattanites that can only be described as the most annoying couple ever, endlessly recounting all of their "favorite meals," and last but certainly not least, there was food critic, Alan Richman and writer Gabriella Gershsenson rounding out our dinner party.

After a quick introduction, chef Ramirez immediately began preparing, plating and serving a series of canapés that began our meal. Aided only by his sous chef, Juan Leon, and a dishwasher, chef Ramirez endlessly bemoaned his culinary philosophy of how he never compromises on the quality of his ingredients. While I agree with him, after about the 20th time repeating himself, I eventually wished chef Ramirez would stick to cooking rather than preaching. Ok, I get it, you like fresh ingredients but you don't have to tell me a million times. Dan Barber never came out to lecture us during our meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and any chef would be hard-pressed to have fresher ingredients than him.

Moving on to the food, we started with a soup of Orange, Carrot and Ginger with a Greek Yogurt Foam served in a shot glass. The soup was complex, sweet from the carrot and orange, yet spicy from the ginger and tangy from the Greek yogurt, a nice starter.

Then we each received a savory Chicken Liver and Black Truffle Macaron. A playful take on the classic French cookie, the prominent flavor of chicken liver was a wonderful treat for those who like them.

This was followed by a Fresh Sardine and Sage Leaf woven into a Fried Potato Crisp. Amazingly not "fishy," the fried sage leaf and crunchy potato crisp helped temper any undesired flavor from the sardine.

Next was a piece of Fried Jumbo Lump Crab that had been coated in Kataifi (shredded Phyllo Dough) and topped with a Dill and Cucumber Yogurt Sauce. An interesting twist on classic Greek flavors, the kataifi coating on the crab provided a stunning presentation which contained a very nice juxtaposition between the sweet crab meat and the tangy yogurt sauce.

Arriving on a spoon was a piece of Bluefin Tuna Toro with Fried Baby Leeks in a Mustard Soy Sauce. The fattiness of the toro was cut with a pungent mustard soy sauce and the fried baby leeks added a nice textural contrast.

A Kumamoto Oyster with Shallots and Créme Fraîche topped with a Grapefruit Gelée was bright and briny as the flavors of the oyster and grapefruit combined for a refreshing bite.

King Crab topped with a Hollandaise Sauce and Caviar was a favorite of mine. Sweet king crab, luscious hollandaise and salty caviar combined for one of the highlights from our meal.

This was followed by a Fried Langoustine with Saffron and Espazote (a Mexican Herb). Sadly, one of the weaker dishes of the evening. The natural sweetness of the langoustine failed to come through and was very oily.

Next was Foie Gras coated in a Black Onion Powder. The black onion powder added an interesting flavor to the cooked foie gras.

A mysteriously fried item which chef Ramirez eventually revealed was a Fried Calf's Brain Ball in a Smoked Paprika Sauce arrived on a spoon. Novelty aside, the brain was creamy and nicely paired with the smokey paprika sauce.

Finally, a Spuma of Bacalao with Cod Roe which was topped with freshly grated Black Truffle from a microplane. We all watched in awe as chef Ramirez furiously grate a large black truffle over a microplane he later used to top each dish. The spuma was rich and smooth, tasting strongly of cod from the addition of the roe, and finished with the earthy flavor of black truffles. Hands down, the highlight of the pre-meal canapés.

Moving on the the main courses, we began with a Japanese Yellowtail with Elf Mushrooms and Mustard Seeds. The yellowtail was good but it was the accent of mustard seeds that livened up the dish.

This was followed by a giant Mayan Prawn in a Pomegranate Reduction with Mustard Oil. We were served the prawn with the head still attached before chef Ramirez instructed us to remove it and suck out the shrimpy goodness that lied within. The actual prawn was good but the head was far superior.

Next was a Hama Hama Oyster with Elf Mushrooms and Cream Sauce topped with Salmon Roe and Toasted Black Rice. Sadly, this dish seemed overly complicated. The texture of the toasted rice, briny oyster, meaty mushroom, oceanic roe and creamy sauce ended up competing with one another as everything tasted muddled.

 In stark contrast, the Black Sea Bass with Line Caught Squid and large Greek Beans in a Razor Clam Broth and topped with Pea Tendrils was spectacular. The highlight of the dish to me was the squid and sweet pea tendrils in the razor clam broth. The fish was very moist, however, it came at the expense of the crispy fish skin which I covet as as chef Ramirez kept the scales on to prevent the fish from overcooking.

Our final savory course was thinly piece of Veal which has been sous vide over a Vidalia Onion Purée and Parmesan Reduction with a Black Truffle Sauce. The veal was incredibly tender, but lacked much taste compared to the sweet onion purée and parmesan reduction.

Finally, our dessert was a Banana Parfait with a Pineapple Cream and Rum. Just alright, the parfait was drowned with a little too much rum, which unfortunately, was the prevailing flavor of the dish.

I regretfully don't have any additional pictures past a certain point-- as I was explicitly instructed by chef Ramirez to refrain from taking any more pictures, instructions I unhappily obeyed. Apparently, mortally offended by my picture taking, chef Ramirez directed us into the back room whereupon he began yelling at us both, telling us how he couldn't, "work under these conditions." I tried to explain to chef Ramirez that I thought photography was allowed after seeing pictures from several blogs and being told by Heidi that there was no policy against photography. Furthermore, I apologized to the chef and reassured him that no additional pictures would be taken. We shook hands and I thought, this unfortunate incident was behind us both. But evidently, chef Ramirez had other ideas and before moving to the next course, he publicly asked whether MW and I worked in the industry, as if to implicate we would attempt to steal his ideas, as oppose to simply taking notes of our meal which we always do. Embarrassed, we replied "no," as we felt all eyes on us at that point. Even Mr. Richman attempted to lighten the tension by asking the chef a question about our food, but later asked MW for details about some of the previous dishes. Irrespective whether we were in the food industry or not, by this point I was angry. There was no need for chef Ramirez to publicly single us out after we had talked things over and shook hands.

But the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back came at the very end of service. Rather than subjective rating systems, we at Law & Food attempt to tell narratives of our dining experiences. For someone who loves food as much as I do, chefs are my celebrities, and as such, I'd regret offending any of them. So you only imagine my disappointment in César Ramirez, not as a chef, but as a person when he refused to even speak with us after the meal.

In his review, Richman described The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare as, "the most outrageously wonderful, unfathomably, underpriced, and virtually unattainable meal in New York." Only time will tell whether Richman's bold statement will ring true. While there is little doubt that chef Ramirez is a wonderfully gifted and talented chef, evidenced by the food he served that evening, this noteworthy meal is forever remembered for chef Ramirez's lack respect and class towards us.

In retrospect maybe it was I who never got the memo proclaiming The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare as the flag bearer of nuevo Brooklyn cuisine, that is, exceptional food served with a heaping portion of in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it attitude, more often found in Williamsburg. Seemingly playing to the crowd, chef Ramirez brashly lamented in great length about his annoyance with the stale food scene in Manhattan and how he doesn't welcome business from from those who don't share his food philosophy. Though I'm sure this post will come off as a rant from a self-absorbed food blogger who requires each chef to kowtow to his every whim, apparently I'm not the only one who grew weary of chef Ramirez's incessant masturbatory ego-stroking. Evidently, it was obnoxiously apparent enough to warrant Time Out New York's food critic, Tom Cheshes, to call out the chef in his recent review of The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare, unlike others in the media who have chosen to ignore this fact.

Is it fair to call my dinner at The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare the absolute worst I've ever experienced? The food was very good, there's no debating that, but all good food has its price. Chef Ramirez has repeatedly stated that at the current price of $95/person* he's practically losing money on each meal, which routinely includes luxury ingredients such as caviar, foie gras and black truffles. But chef Ramirez's utter lack of humility, hypocrisy and refusal to make amends wouldn't justify this meal at any price point. Unfortunately, it was chef Ramirez himself, and not his food that made our dinner at The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare into a most unfair experience, and ultimately cemented a place as my worst meal ever.

* $95/person reflects the price of dinner in January consisting of 17 courses. Currently, the price for dinner is $130/person and consists of 20 courses.

The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare
200 Schermerhorn Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 243-0050

To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare on Urbanspoon


  1. I had a very similar experience with chef ramirez yelling at the whole dining room to take this "seriously" and "we can end this right here and I will give you all your money back". This was all prompted by the girl next to me reading an email. He is a total egotistical dick.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Yet in spite of all Brooklyn Fare's fans, and there are many, I'm reading more about others who were very turned off by his inexcusable behavior. I just wonder if this eventually gets to the point where they scrap the whole open kitchen concept altogether...

  3. Oh goodness that is TERRIBLE! I called today and Brooklyn Fare said it would be at least a six month I'm not as excited to go.

  4. so what is his "philosophy" so to speak? "no compromise on quality" is a starting point, a tactic, but did he say anything more?

  5. i also had a similar experience. ramirez repeatedly raised his voice at guests and acted childlike throughout the meal. had i not been a guest of friends i most certainly would've left the premises and demanded a refund - by the time I ate there (july) the prices were somewhere around 140 and I believe they've risen again since.

    chuckeats, his philosophy is very bouley. the food, at best, is ten years out-dated. there is nothing inspirational in the chef's inspirations. the flavors are spot on throughout the canape courses, but the composed main dishes were all very flat - to say nothing of the desserts.

    i'm industry, he knew it, and he still walked around fully cocked all evening. i'm sorry, but the guy clearly doesn't realize that his food could probably exalt him in the new BK scene, but his attitude remains that of his mentor - an infamous screaming infantile asshole. he doesn't deserve to be in business.

  6. I read in one of the other reviews that he served beluga caviar - I thought that was banned? And although bluefin's not banned it should be. Then foie gras and veal....

    Honestly, with a menu like that I don't need any other evidence that the guy is a dickhead.

  7. You know, I'm with the chef. I find people who photograph each dish to be incredibly annoying and crass. Also, I think food bloggers who post photos of every dish kind of spoil that in person first impression. I try to avoid reading food bloggers who show you everything. Everyone agrees that the guy is putting incredible food on the plate on the cheap right in front of your eyes. I wouldn't check my e-mail or take pictures. I would watch the chef and enjoy the meal. There are so many people who would like to, that he can afford to let it be known that he doesn't put up with that stuff. Sometimes being unpleasant is the only way to get people to toe the line.

  8. Also, by signing up for a meal like this, you are agreeing to become a subject of his tiny kingdom of obsessiveness. Many chefs are a little nuts. They spend a lot of time working very hard under tremendous pressure. Many of them have issues with substances. They have all kinds of staffing issues, business issues, and they are constantly being called out for criticism by people who can't even soft cook an egg. Don't want to interact with a crazy chef? Go to a restaurant with a dining room.

  9. Thanks for the comments, if anything I'm glad you found the post thought provoking. However, I'd like to make and reiterate some points in response to your comments. First, I'm sorry you dislike bloggers like myself who take pictures of their food and post them. My simple suggestion to you so that your first impression isn't ruined is to simply avoid reading food blogs that post pictures of their meals.

    Second, at the time of my meal there were no rules against pictures, note taking or cell phones. It's worth mentioning that there were several other blogs which had pictures of their entire meals here and when I explicitly asked Heidi re the issue of pictures she voiced no objections. I quickly took a picture of my food and had plenty of time to observe the Chef and his sous chef prepare and plate each course.

    Third, if you read my post you will see that I never once questioned the Chef's ability, however, I disagree with you re his attitude. If he continues to repeat this childish behavior, he will eventually hurt his business. Although not explicit, news that BK Fare has hired someone to deal with customers tends to support my theory.

    As for "signing" up for this experience, I do agree that it was my choice to pick an environment as intimate as a chef's counter. However, by no means does that entitle any chef to publicly yell at this customers. There have been other reports of similar stories from this Chef and it's flat out inexcusable. I found the Chef's complete denial of Stein's explicit account absurd. For the record, he used very similar language with both of us.

    Ultimately though, I think you missed the point of my entire post. This was not some rant against the Chef and/or BK Fare. I love the concept, and enjoyed the food. However, my point is that after we had shaken hands with the Chef there was no excuse to continue his rant. It was awkward for the entire kitchen, even his staff was embarassed. Furthermore, I lost all respect for the Chef as a man when he wouldn't so much as look at us after the meal to clear the air. You are free to side with whoever on the picture issue and I hope you continue to read the blog(agree or not), but there's little defense re his actions that night.

  10. It's not that I dislike bloggers who take pictures and post them. I didn't express that well. Haute cuisine chefs put a lot of effort into coming up with presentations that delight and ideally surprise. A good deal of that impact is gone if the dish hits the table and the diner's response is, "Oh, that one."

    Food bloggers also don't generally operate under the best circumstances for photography, so in most cases their photos are probably not the ones that a chef would select to represent his/er creations. I don't mind when bloggers photograph dishes at casual or ethnic restaurants, in those cases, you're generally not looking to be astonished.

    There is also this little thing about manners. It seems that people just don't have boundaries anymore when it comes to their little electronic devices. When experiencing an elegant repast, I'd prefer that my dining companions not whip out their electronic devices to take photos, text other friends, liveblog or update their Facebook statuses.

    Now, I have these particular prejudices and I deal with them by a) NOT reading blog postings about fine dining establishments that I'd like to patronize and b) going to dinner at fancy places only with friends who recognize the same social norms.

    In Chef's case, I would guess that he thinks of the whole experience as a kind of tea ceremony, an intimate encounter between chef and diner and you ruined it for him that evening. From all descriptions Chef sounds like a man with a significant fund of anger. This is not at all unusual in a chef. Your actions made him angry. Shaking hands failed to dissipate his anger. Then he made you angry and now you want everyone to know that he's a jerk.

    Maybe the bottom line is that this is the wrong setting for this particular chef.

  11. Oh, right, "If you don't read bloggers that... what are you doing reading this post?" I only read this particular post because a friend sent me the link.

  12. I think we can all agree with your last point that this is the wrong setting for Chef Ramirez's skills.

    I understand where you're coming from w/r/t pictures (and Steve and I have argued this in a blog post before), but the flip side is that if we didn't use them, we'd get more complaints that our blog is boring. Regardless, at this point we're all pretty much stuck with watching people take pictures of food in restaurants. To me it's not worth getting annoyed about unless someone else is actively affecting my meal (besides Steve keeping me from eating while he takes pictures).

    I think where the disconnect still is between your comments and Steve's is that, as he stated, if he was told at the outset what the house "rules" were, he would have complied. It's more the fact that he was not informed (and specifically asked about pictures). Then, when the rules were applied, they weren't enforced equally, with Chef Ramirez giving preference to certain people. That's where I have a problem. I've known Steve for a long time, and he's not the kind of person who is looking for trouble in a restaurant.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments, I'm glad to have a discussion on this issue (and it's always more interesting when we disagree).

  13. Oh yeah, one other point. "There were no rules against pictures" There is a big difference between taking one or two pictures as a souvenir and taking a picture of each and every course. What restaurant wants to say NO PHOTOS? What you do is an unsolicited, quasi-professional activity. You should probably get explicit permission first.

  14. Ok, fair enough but how do you enforce that? How does a GM or waiter determine the line between souvenir pictures and food pictures? Type of camera? Amount of pictures? Distance between your camera and your plate of food? Plenty of restaurants have a no photo policy.

    Moreover, allowing this "quasi-professional activity" often benefits the restaurant through free publicity.

  15. Well I'm glad that we can agree that this particular Chef is probably better suited for a different environment. But honestly, plenty of other chefs offer chef tables/counters and welcome the interactive experience with their patrons who generally are more interested in the food. Some chefs choose to embrace pictures of their food while others outright hate it. Re this case, I'm glad Chef has finally instituted clear rules so that incidents like this can be avoided in the future.

    I find your comment re presentation of haute cuisine interesting. I see your point how presentation is a crucial element at a restaurant such as this. However, I'd argue that in many cases, pictures of this so called "tweezer food," tends to excite me as a prospective diner as oppose to ruining any surprise. For me, this is particularly true regarding meals at restaurants of this caliber. Since I do not have an unlimited budget, I like to research various restaurants before making such a "splurge." As such, I find pictures extremely insightful, not only as to that particular dish, but also re the Chef and the plates he puts out. Did I find Keller's "Oysters and Pearls" any less exciting considering I had already seen pictures of it? No, however, while I acknowledge there are two perspectives re this issue, I wanted to address one that runs counter to yours.

    Also, perhaps I was wrong to assume such, but I felt any issues re pictures would have been clarified when I spoke to Heidi (since there was no acting GM at the time) about the issue of pictures when confirming my reservations.

  16. Yeah, it's pretty easy to distinguish souvenir photos and food blogger photos. If you take a picture of every dish (and just the dish) before eating it, you're most likely planning to run home and post. Are we all "pretty much stuck with it?" Not at all, if more restaurants and chefs took a stand against it.

    Paraphrase: "The blog would be boring without it." I think photos are a crutch. Two or three carefully taken and selected photos of high quality, not necessarily of plates would add plenty of visual pizazz to the page and then it would be up to the prose to carry the day. Use your language to make my mouth water. or as they say to pre-schoolers, "Use your words."

    Paraphrase: "I'd gotten the OK from Chef's partner's wife." I was once a partner in a restaurant. Most of the time, the Chef doesn't care what his partner says, much less the wife of the partner. In most cases, he wishes that the meddlesome, so-and-so would just stay at home. If you haven't informed the restaurant that you are a food blogger and you will be taking pictures of each course for publication and it hasn't been cleared with the GM in a traditional dining room or the Chef/Owner in a chef's table scenario, then you haven't really gotten permission.

    The first time I saw Oysters and Pearls was on the plate at The French Laundry. I'd never seen it before. It blew me away. Now that I've had it a few times, it's still a great dish but I never get that thrill again. If you've never had that experience of seeing a dish that changes your whole perception of food, there in person right in front of you with no prior expectations, I suggest you STOP READING FOOD BLOGS.

    Look, when I see people taking picture of each dish, it doesn't make me fly into a murderous rage. It just strikes me as a little déclassé. If "art" restaurants were to put an end to the practice, I'd definitely approve.

  17. I feel that re this topic, we've reached a point where we all agree to disagree. Nothing I say will likely change your opinion re this issue and vice versa.

  18. I'll bite for a little more argument.

    Regarding pictures: what if someone wants to take pictures of all courses, but not blog about it-- is that verboten? What if a blogger only takes a few pictures before running home and posting? I can think of hundreds of scenarios. The best method is simply to have a no picture policy if you don't want people taking photos in your restaurant. Otherwise, allow photos so long as it's not distracting diners. It shouldn't be the FOH staff's job to police this, I'd rather they be focusing on making my experience better.

    Of course photos can be a crutch, but like I said: what are you going to do? Things evolve. You can't smoke in restaurants anymore either (not the best comparison, but they're both "distractions"). While it would be nice to write an erudite blog with no pictures, the reality is that if we want readers beyond our immediate friends and family, then they're a necessary evil.

    I like to think our blog focuses more on writing than pictures, but you've only read this post, so your perception may be distorted (not blaming you, but you should check out some of our other posts). Also, I don't own a camera and only occasionally take cell phone photos.

    As I've stated before, I'm leery about photos in restaurants (look up our earlier post on this, I'm pretty much on your side), but the way Steve was treated at BK Fare is unacceptable.

  19. Based on the recent allegations of Chef Ramirez's racism, do you think your experience at Brooklyn Fare was as a result of the Chef's racist views against Asians?