I am a Manhattanite. I made a pledge to myself when I was younger to work hard so that I can live and work in the big city and well I achieved that goal. To that end, I am in fact one of those people that lives as though there is no life outside of Manhattan. It is wrong, I know (or is it?) and I guess that you can well imagine how hard it is for me to expand my foodie horizons to other boroughs. Expanding my food radar to other states and countries poses no problem but when I think different boroughs well… Alas, I know and understand that good food is not bound to a locationand this was proven true by this restaurant. I was floored beyond belief by Blanca so much so that I very frequently almost forgot to take pictures and notes before I ate.
After much persuasion by several friends, I agreed to leave Manhattan for the evening. As my Uber pulled up to the restaurant, in my expected fashion, I very quickly wanted to tell him to take me back home. It was a dark entrance with graffiti on the walls next to an open park which for me is a no-no late at night. I do not even go to Central Park at night but I am rambling. To be honest, I actually thought I was in the wrong place and walked around to another dining establishment which upon entrance was clear to me to not be the restaurant either. Okay being honest (and fair), it is not as though I have never been to Brooklyn, there are just so many different parts of Brooklyn that give varied experiences and my initial visits were not positive. They were not visits to gentrified areas of Brooklyn like Williamsburg and Dumbo, so I hope that gives you a clearer picture of where I am coming from.
Anyway, making my way back to the original (and correct) entrance, I entered a pizza parlor that resembled a high school cafeteria with communal tables. This is Roberta’s and while it smelled nice (I rarely eat pizza), I once again thought I was in the wrong place! Speaking to the hostess at the entrance, she assured me that I was in the right place and to go and wait at the bar in the back where someone would come and escort me to the main dining area when they were ready. Ok great! I made it! I am now in the back of the restaurant waiting… and waiting… Ok I am exaggerating. I waited for probably ten minutes not the end of the world, though that was a first time experience for me as well i.e. to wait to be brought in to the main dining room of a restaurant. As I waited, I looked around and felt so out of place as I was dressed up and everyone else was dressed as you would expect for a pizza parlor, extra casual. The atmosphere was loud and there was hip hop blasting through the speakers and I wondered if they had this setup intentionally to show a contrast of personalities between the two restaurants. After a period, we were escorted through an outside courtyard down some steps to a back room and wow… just wow. They were definitely going for a contrast in experience.
It felt like I had walked into a different world. The room was large open and airy. It was dimly lit in the dining area with an open kitchen being the star and brightly lit. The aroma of the food filled the air as varied soft and mellow music played through the speakers. It was all together a sophisticated space and I felt as though I had joined a secret successful foodie club. At my seat, there was a personal handwritten welcome note and soon after seating, I was offered a glass of crisp cider from upstate. As I waited for dinner to start, I looked around the room and people were dressed as expected so there goes my insecurity of being overdressed. With every moment that I waited for other the other guests and looked around, I was more impressed and resolute that this was going to be an amazing dinner and they had not even brought out the food. Also, I realized that I had had a familiar feeling as that which I had had when I was escorted in to Richard Camarena in Valencia. This feeling brought back very good memories of excellent dining as that too was a phenomenal experience.
The sommelier was not available for the evening as she was pregnant however my waitress was quite knowledgeable of the wine list. I settled on a 2010 Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Soon after, the dinner performance started with hot towels which even in its simplicity felt like a choreographed event, perfectly paced and orchestrated in handing them out from the left of the room to right.
The first dish was Osetra caviar with parsnip and watercress. Caviar seems to be a theme across many of the restaurants that I have been visiting but I guess that is to be expected from restaurants of this caliber. It was refreshing and a perfect start to the meal. The parsnip purée was cool in temperature but had a kick of spice from what I believe was black pepper. The creamy texture was an amazing accompaniment to the salty of the caviar. I am unsure though of what kind of cream (if any) was used. I feel that the best way to describe it was that they made savory taste like an ice cream dessert but then the salt kicks in and this reminds the palate that it is not so. I dare you not to scrape the bowl on this one, a sentiment shared by the couple seated next to me.
Next, we had pancetta that had been cured in-house. One word. Fatty! Fatty and salty but not in an unpleasant way. Initially, I felt guilty eating it because it was so fatty but then I reminded myself that it was protein as a way to justify eating something so rich. While the pace of the food was not fast, I was a bit concerned that it might increase as the meal progressed but I was advised to go at my own pace and that there was not a uniform pace that everyone was expected to follow. I just thought that I should mention that.
As I waited for the next dish to be prepared and served, I observed the chefs in more detail. They were all so focused and oblivious to our presence. They cooked in concert with each other, matching their pace to the music at times. They appeared to be having quite a bit of fun which as is to be expected, made it more fun for me to watch. It was particularly interesting to watch them taste the food which they would place on the inner crease of a fist they made with their left hand and then toss the morsel into their mouths after throwing their head back. Every one of them tasted the food in the exact same way, it was quite interesting and entertaining to watch.
The next dish was the sea perch with rapini. Rapini is basically broccoli rabe and the sea perch is a rather firm and not too fatty fish. I thought the fish had been cooked through but it had actually been prepared to a temperature that was somewhere in the middle. The temperature went from warm to cool to reflect the different levels of preparation of the fish. Think of it as the fish went from cooked on the outside to sushi on the inside, a progression of that sort. The rapini was crisp, perfectly salted leaning towards salty but this was perfect given that the sea perch was barely salted. The fish still spoke for itself though and the rapini just enhanced the flavor. All in all, this was a luscious and full bite with an earthy after taste. I will admit that with this dish, my fingers were used to ensure I left nothing on the plate.
More observations of the room. It was filled with mostly couples and as usual I am the solo diner but there is nothing new here. This space is perfect for date night given the soft lighting and accompanying music. As a matter of fact, the couple to the left of me were celebrating a birthday while to the right was another couple having date night. The coat area was a moveable rack and there was a large table at the entrance with goodie bags to be taken as a thank you for visiting at the end of the meal.
The next dish was uni with maitake mushroom and asian pear. Wait for it. Wait for it. This is the most incredible thing that I have ever tasted and that is saying a lot. The creamy uni is American from Maine and paired with the earthy mushroom is a masterpiece that no words can do justice to in explanation. I had thought that the uni was from Hokkaido as they presented it but upon taste, the boldness of the flavor made it clear that it was not. Hokkaido, as I have experienced it, is more restrained in flavor and it eases you into its taste. This was yet another dish that I hurriedly finished for reasons previously captured above.
The next dish was the Japanese sweet potato with bottarga sauce. Bottarga is the roe of a fish, generally grey mullet. Tasting the bottarga sauce on its own, it did not have that fatty full flavor of rich butter which is what I thought chef had called the sauce. The piece of the sweet potato texture that I cut off was chewy. There was a piece of dried fruit on the plate which was not too sweet as dried fruit can be sometimes. After having the previous plate, I was not sure what to make of this dish… until I ate all the pieces together. It was like a symphony in my mouth. When I cut a bigger piece of the sweet potato, closer to the middle, the potato’s exterior is crisp and the delicate innards of the potato spill out. Swiping the potato through the bottarga sauce enhances the flavor giving the rich butter flavor that I was looking for. When I added the fruit to this piece, the sweetness of the potato was then highlighted. This was the epitome of ingredient respect and balance of flavors on one plate. This was another spectacular bite and it actually made me breathe a little harder as I rushed to finish this enticing dish.
Next up, we have agnolotti filled with goat cream in a goat cheese sauce and topped with poppy seeds. Generally, goat cheese has a strong flavor that will overwhelm the palate but this was not the case here. It was as though two different kinds of goat cheese were used between the sauce and the cream. The sauce was understated but was then brought alive when you chew down on the agnolotti and the goat cream explodes in your mouth. The combination of goat cheese flavors is an interesting and I would say a successful experimental flavor. I found that the poppy seed really only brought a crunchy texture to the dish but not much by way of flavor. Shaved atop the pasta was another type of cheese, of Spanish origin I think, but I forget the name which also added more to the creamy, cheesy flavors here but yet still, it was a successful combination of flavors. At this point, I was floored beyond belief as Brooklyn was certainly giving Manhattan a run for its money with this restaurant.
I forgot to mention that there was a big chunk of meat that had been sitting on the counter all meal that I felt was taunting me. The beauty of the placement with the light shining down on it, made it appear as though it was a piece of art to be observed. However, it was taken at this point for preparation, reheating I think, as it was to be served shortly. Looking at that meat going into the oven, excited me… probably a little more than it should have as I was anxious to see what magic they would cast upon it.
The next dish was Pici with sea urchin from Hokkaido. Pici is a thick hand rolled pasta and there is no doubt in my mind and mouth that this was freshly made in house. It was with the consumption of this sea urchin that I was reminded of the mild flavor of sea urchin from Hokkaido and compared it to the prior uni from Maine. The couple next to me also expressed the same sentiment that the initial uni had a better and bolder flavor. There was a crumble atop of the dish that I could not identify which was salty and tasted almost as a crushed cheese crisp maybe? In any case, it was necessary given the soft of the pasta and uni texture-wise. There was also a spicy note in the sauce of the pasta but I am not sure what spice that was. The summary of flavors here was rich from the pasta and uni finishing on a spicy note. This was a delicious bite as well though not my favorite of the night.
Nduja ravioli with orange. Nduja is a spicy spreadable pork of Italian origin. I paralleled the spicy flavor here to cayenne but it does not go that far if you can imagine that flavor. This was a one-bite plate as there was liquid in it and the more I chewed, the more intense the flavor of the heat grew. The taste of the orange citrus was also very commanding though it did nothing to quench the heat.
After the heat of the ravioli, a palate coolant and cleanser was required and that is exactly what we got next. It was a few pieces of crisp apple in a pistachio broth. Simple, clean, crisp and cool. The apple was neither sour or sweet but instead was at a perfect balance between both flavors. To be honest, I did not really taste the pistachio. It was not that the apple overshadowed it but I think it was purposeful that it sit in the background given it has that unique flavor of a nut that could instead overshadow other elements in the dish. Achieving that reverse balance must have been quite a feat I must say. Seriously, consider the craftsmanship required to make that possible.
Now enters my ultimate test as you may all know, the bread and butter. I always measure a restaurant by this as it is so simple an offering which is monumentally easy to ruin. I watched as the chefs pulled loaf after loaf of freshly baked bread out of the oven. One pulled the loaf out of the oven, laid it on a tray while the other doused it in olive oil. In serving, we were not given cut pieces but instead the bread was ripped from the loaf as chef introduced the accompanying vegetable dish which I will describe next. In addition to the vegetables, the bread was served with raw house-made butter prepared with Amish cream from Pennsylvania. The portion of the bread came to about half of a loaf per person… and I ate the entire thing. Generally I would not, going for just a taste to get an impression. It was hot and can be compared to pizza dough bread. In truth, the butter was unnecessary but it certainly added to the decadence of it all. No one cared about carb counts or calories here but then again… it is olive oil. Healthy item… Check!
Accompanying the bread and butter was a dish of vegetables as mentioned in a brodo. Brodo is bone broth but it really did not wow me. The vegetables were charred and delicious though. There were mushrooms, potatoes, baby carrots and what I believe were cipollini onions. Initially, I thought that I would dip the bread in the broth but I decided against that after tasting the broth. The bread was far too delicious in its simplicity to complicate it with the broth.
Pork is next with an aji dulce sauce and a unique Turkish spice blend. The aji dulce pepper reminds me of sweet red peppers and they are supposed to be naturally grown in Latin America. I am unsure of the source of theirs in this dish. On initial taste, there is a light tingle to a near burn but just before it gets there it balances itself out. I cannot quite say what combination of elements made that possible but it was certainly interesting to taste. I need to mention the texture of the pork as it was so tender. If I had not seen the whole pork sitting on the counter the entire evening, I would have sworn that they had pounded the pork out to oblivion to get it this tender. As someone who VERY regularly overcooks pork, I was in awe of the preparation here. Maybe it is a different kind of pork? Ah! I must know more!
We were presented with another palate cleanser here before our final savory dish. The creme de la creme, THE BEEF! But I will not jump ahead. This palate cleanser was a Concord grape sorbet with sage. When it was initially presented, I thought I was looking at a piquillo pepper which confused me as to how it could be refreshing. Piquillos are a favorite of mine. Spooning up the sorbet, you get that familiar ice texture but not overly so. It is very easy to prepare sorbet incorrectly only to end up with a bowl of ice. The Concord grape was the powerhouse here as was to be expected but I really do not remember tasting the sage. I did not mind though as it was refreshing which was the ultimate goal.
Before my final course, my waitress pour me a glass of red wine that was to be paired with the dish. I did not pay for a wine pairing and I immediately notified her so. She said, “It’s Saturday”. Free wine… my kind of place. The beef is the final dish and it is served with roasted fig. Fig gets incredibly tender when roasted and the sweetness is heightened and there was no exception here. The beef was a little more rare than I am used to but it was a welcome surprise to me that I still loved it. The combination of the two was dynamite. Two juicy elements being consumed in one bite leads to a spray and melding of sweet from the fig and salty from the beef making for a heavenly flavor profile. It goes without saying that the beef was tender.
On to the desserts. The first was a habanada with raspberry. This dessert is made from habanero peppers but has been prepared such that there is absolutely no heat. I have eaten habanero peppers before and I have steered clear due to the heat of the pepper. As is to be expected, I was a little hesitant to try this given my past experiences but who else is going to tell you about this dish if I do not try it? I carefully lifted the tiniest of servings into my mouth and waited for my mouth to explode… Nothing. I waited a little more thinking that it was some sort of magical trick. Still nothing. I proceeded with a bigger serving, this time also taking a hefty serving of the raspberry to help just incase there were any surprises. Still nothing. This dish plays mind games with you as I could CLEARLY taste the habenero but there was ZERO heat. Incredible. The other great thing about this plate is that once again my waitress poured me a free glass of the wine pairing. I guess Saturdays are the day to go here.. lots of free wine!
And now the final dessert and the only dish that I did not like or I should say that I could not make a decision if I liked. It was the marigold with plum over a cream base. I was not a fan of the plum and the cream did not taste right. It did not taste spoiled or anything… just different. On initial taste, the entire dessert seemed as though it was going for a striking flavor by being distasteful but ended up swerving into just okay land. I really do not know what to say about this one to be honest. It was delicious in places and weird at the same time is probably the most accurate summary that I can give.
And finally the petit fours. There was a dark chocolate crisp with hazelnut butter. The crisp was delightful but the hazelnut flavor was the dominating force here. Then there was the chocolate covered almond. Generally, I love nut chocolate even though I do not eat it too much but in this case, it was a tad bit too salty for my liking. Finally, there was a crab apple piece. I was not a fan of the texture as it reminded me of gummy bears but it had a sweet burst which was necessary and much appreciated to cleanse my mouth after the almond.
So there you have it. My epic adventure with Blanca in Brooklyn. My first venture into fine dining in New York but outside of Manhattan. I have otherwise only had fine dining abroad so this was DEFINITELY a winner on that front. In total, it was seventeen one-to-two bite courses and each one was heavenly in its own way.