Chef Cesar Ramirez was brought up in Chicago and trained there at Tru before moving to New York and working at Bouley; he opened Brooklyn Fare in April 2009. Brooklyn Fare is an 18 seat restaurant set around a counter, a style common in Japan. The format is a no-choice, lengthy menu of small dishes, priced at $225, payable in advance. The term "no choice" is more extreme than usual here, as the restaurant sends an email when confirming the booking that explains that "no allergies will be accommodated". Presumably those with genuine food allergies should dine elsewhere, or at least bring along an anaesthetist.
The booking email is a surreal document, listing various things that you are not allowed to do when dining: no photos, no "note taking". I did wonder about bringing a sketch artist, as that was not expressly prohibited, but had the feeling that this might antagonise the chef. Consequently I cannot go through the dishes that I had in detail as I usually do, but will merely note a few general impressions of the restaurant. For some time the restaurant had no license to sell alcohol, but there is now a selection of wines, with rather variable but not unkind mark-up levels, including some very grand wines such as Krug vintage champagne and Lafon white Burgundy.
The dining room is a few doors down from the supermarket of the same name. Dishes were generally quite simple, with the focus being on the core ingredients. You sit around a rolled steel counter on bar stools, with a display of hanging copper pans the only real ornamentation in the room. The meal consisted of a large number (over twenty) little courses, most of which are single bite sized. There were many sashimi dishes, with horse mackerel and fluke amongst the many fish presented. As a general comment, the sashimi dishes were good, but not of the level of a really top restaurant in Japan. Things moved up a gear with the cooked dishes, the transition signalled by a warm Burgundy snail dish.
The best savoury dishes were genuinely impressive. Langoustine (from New Zealand) that had been fried with a hint of curry was beautifully cooked. Sea urchin (from Hokkaido) with black truffle and brioche sounds like a strange combination but worked very well indeed. The only missteps of the meal were a rather ordinary yellowfin tuna, and a scallop whose natural sweetness was overpowered by the acidity of its dressing. A single meat dish was served, an excellent dish of squab.
Desserts were not the strong suit here, so a lemon tart with strawberries and balsamic ice cream had too little lemon, and ended up being dominated by the almond flavour in the tart base; the strawberries were also nothing special. However the overall standard of the meal was very high. It has to be said that a restaurant serving a no-choice menu has something of an advantage over one with an extensive menu, as they can be completely sure about what is good that day, but that is perhaps the point; this is the same formula used at Astrance in Paris.
Service was very good, and much more charming than I had expected given the remarkably prescriptive nature of the booking email. I find it truly bizarre that a restaurateur, someone by definition in the hospitality business, would go to the lengths taken here to curtail the activities of paying customers when dining. It was as though the "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld was being used as a training video rather than a comedy sketch. Yet once you are actually here, the service seemed perfectly friendly, with staff that were able to answer questions about the dishes, and flawless topping up of wine. I understand that with so many dishes and multiple seatings, the chef does not want unnecessary delays, but the customers are paying a lot of money here, and a quick snap on a camera phone is hardly going to disrupt proceedings unduly. Also, given the “no note taking” stricture, why not at least give a list of dishes at the end of the meal, which would cause no disruption at all?
Given the peculiar pre-booking experience I came in here expecting to dislike the restaurant, but was won over by the genuinely good food. Ingredients are of a high standard, and the cooking was hard to fault for the savoury dishes. Other than the relatively weak desserts, the food at the meal this evening was as good as I have eaten in New York.