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Bottle of Red, Bottle of White, Whatever Kind of Mood You’re in Tonight

June 17, 2012

It was a random April morning when I found an email in my inbox.  I did a little double take as I slowly processed the content of this long overdue reply.  It has been over 6 months since I emailed Roberta’s to join their waitlist for the chef’s tasting that I had pretty much given up hope of ever hearing back from them.  After a little bit of back and forth with a friendly hostess, I was finally able to pin down a date and two seats at this little outpost in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

So there we were on a Wednesday evening almost a month ago, fresh off the L train at Morgan Avenue, and feeling slightly overdressed in our suits in this truly hipster neighborhood.  We were a little on the early side so the hostess at Roberta’s showed us to the Tikki bar in the backyard of the restaurant.  Soon enough, another hostess came to lead us to our ultimate destination for the evening.

The tasting was held at a space that was separated from the main restaurant by a yard.  We were told that this was a brand new space that they had just opened to the dining public, especially designed for the tasting.  Once inside, we were immediately transformed out of the hipster Bushwick into an elegant and bright restaurant with organic Japanese inspired decor contrasted with an open professional modern kitchen.  With apparently over 1,300 on the wait list, I felt rather privileged to have a first glance at the new set-up.

Since we were the first to arrive, the hostess gave us the choice of seats along a long bar with beautiful and plush bar stools.  With a strong pour of a hard cider from Spain, we settled into a long relaxing night to the notes of Billy Joel spinning off of an old fashion record player at the corner of the restaurant.

The meal was executed by a small staff in front of the guests as the friendly hostess played sommelier for MD and others who chose the wine pairing.  I was mesmerized as I watched each dish was being put together in front of my eyes in a flawless dance.  The first few bites were small and light, like sweet raw shrimp, crispy soft shell crab claw and small bites of horse mackerel.  The standouts for both of us were the goats milk granita with caviar (a perfect balance of sweet and savory) and fried sweetbread with lime aioli (like the best fried chicken bite you will have had).

a) Golden osetra caviar with goats milk granita and mother of pearl spoon
b) Raw shrimp with celery and poppy seed
c) Striped bass with chrysanthemum
d) Soft shell crab claw
e)Horse mackerel with almond and blood orange
f) Veal sweetbread with lime aioli
g) Black colored sea perch with pickled rhubarb
h) Bonito with purse lane

The next courses were much more substantial, graduating from lighter seafood dishes to pasta.  Among these were some of the best silky beef carpaccio I have ever had and an impeccably prepared and artistically composed plate of fruit di mare (an amazing diver scallop to put others to shame).  The pasta courses were small but packed with flavor from a surprising hit of onion from the chive blossoms in the troffiette to the tender braised goat.  The best of them was the Andouille filled pasta.  We were instructed to slide the whole thing in our mouth at once as the Andouille is prepared in a runny form to mimic egg yolk.  A bite released a smokey and salty flavor intensified by the pecorino and hot pepper.

a) Porcini mushroom with carrot juice and pea flower
b) Pen shell clam with locus flower sourced wildly
c) San Diego sea urchin with tofu, bread crumbs and bean flower
d) Baby squid with Meyer lemon and wild onion
e) Beef carpaccio with egg yolk and arugula
f) Fruit di mare: Diver scallop, geoduck, Spanish octopus, Japanese sea urchin
g) Troffiette with razor clams and chive blossom
h) Garganeli with goat
i) Andouille filled pasta with pecorino, mint and hot pepper
j) Sweet potato with watercress water, watercress and chili flakes

By this time, 2 hours have already passed.  The wine tasting already took the diners from various vineyards in France to Italy and Spain.  The sommelier even surprised with an orange wine – a mistake from wine making many years ago that has since gained a reputation of its own.  The unique wines combined with the generous refills had MD concluding 3/4 of the way through dinner that the wine pairing has more than paid for its price tag (even before tasting a seriously amazing dessert wine).

While he was sipping away, my eyes were drawn to our upcoming main courses, or rather the predecessor to our main courses.  A marbled deep red almost purple piece of aged wagyu beef and a whole crispy roast duck with its head and feet still in tact were indeed sights to be seen.  I was getting more and more excited to race to those courses.

A beautiful tender sable belly served with kale from the garden and kumquats led the way.  The duck made a spectacular appearance in small pieces with shattering skin, the best part of any roast duck worth its weight.  Our server was nice enough to bring out the two legs of the duck for us to nibble on when I inquired about what they do with the rest of the duck.  The nibbling did not at all ruin my appetite for the the aged wagyu beef highlighted with ramps and hearts of palm.  The meat was so beautifully beefy and sweet and that marbling I saw before was indeed critical to this dish’s success.

a) Sable belly with pumpernickel, clementine and kale
b) Duck with kumquat and broccolini
c) Aged wagyu with hearts of palm and ramps
d) Rhubarb sorbet

After a tart rhubarb sorbet that made our faces pucker has refreshed our palettes, we moved on to the last leg of our meal.  My favorite parts came early in the form of a unique cheese plate featuring an epoisses, a cave cheese from Cote d’Or of France, and fresh chickpeas and honey comb.  The travioso brought a bitterness to the dish that was mildly stinky and sweet.  A fantastic cheese plate or a starter salad for a simpler meal.  The goats milk gelato with caramel and the passion fruit sorbets were delicious as well, each with all sorts of textures and flavors.  The last and final dish of the night left us a little perplexed.  I gapsed a little at how beautiful it was when the lovage gelato was presented to us.  This was a thoughtful dish that really summarized our meal beautifully, unique uses of common ingredients (garden granita made with fresh herbs from the garden) with surprising new items that I have never experienced before (lovage anyone?).  Nonetheless, I knew that the look on MD’s face after the first bite mirrored mine.  Something about it just didn’t really come together, making us craving something that resembled a more traditional perhaps pedestrian dessert to wrap up the meal.

a) Travioso with fresh chickpeas, epoisse and honey comb
b) Goats milk gelato with goats milk caramel, chickpea quinoa cracker and rhubarb
c) Passion fruit sorbet with passion fruit meringue, hemp seed crumble and mascarpone
d) Lovage gelato with garden granita and angel food cake

One thing you will have noticed that did not escape my eye was that almost every dish featured a little flower or leaf that provided an unexpected burst of flavor such as the chive blossom, the chrysanthemum, and bean flower.   The plating was all beautiful and I loved the fact that they really focused on highlighting the local as well as seasonal ingredients (perhaps sometimes a little too much as in the lovage dessert).  And eating in the open kitchen environment with the crew assembling the dish in front of our eyes made it feel like a fun dining theater at the same time an experiment where we were able to sample the results.  Whether or not we realized, all these small courses did in fact fill us up to a comfortable feeling.

By the time the meal at Roberta’s wrapped up, it was already well into 10PM.  We were led out the restaurant via a garage door this time, held up by the chef himself.  Into Bushwick we go, such a contrast to the space we were just in two minutes ago.

Roberta’s | 261 Moore Street  Brooklyn, NY 11206 | http://robertaspizza.com/

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