August 30, 2013
My Dinner at Blanca
Went out to Bushwick last night, enjoying the subway ride. When you change from the 2 line to the L, your fellow subway riders undergo a remarkable transformation. Suddenly they’re young, hip and very well dressed. The women all have bare legs, high heels, great makeup. Get off at Morgan Avenue and two food carts are waiting by the entrance; even at 9:30 the street is alive with people walking, talking, drinking coffee.
At Roberta’s the scene is even wilder, noisier, happier, a great jumble of people drinking beer, eating pizza. But you walk through the garden to Blanca in the back, and everything changes. Suddenly your surroundings are quiet, sedate, serious.
Blanca is a bit strange, a huge windowless white space, all kitchen, where 12 privileged people are slowly served a couple dozen tiny courses. The meal takes a few hours. The room was clearly designed to be something else, and what should be an intimate experience is overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. There must be six feet of empty space between you and the kitchen, so you feel disconnected from the cooks bending over the plates, tweezering each little tidbit with scientific precision.
And the food? What we had was almost entirely wonderful: the meal began with a small square of perfectly ripe white melon in a bright green, intense anise broth. It went on to a wedge of peach, and a single raspberry in almond milk.
Pictures are forbidden, and note-taking frowned upon so many details have escaped. What I remember best is crudo: shrimp so soft and white they might have been velvet. Rich, oily mackerel. a single circle of octopus. A magenta rectangle of tuna….
Raw shaved wagyu beef, a mineral mouthful, arrived bright red, then slowly darkened as the lovely young server poured concentrated beef broth across it. A pillow of tofu was brightened with fresh epazote. A bit of weakfish was brilliantly topped with black lime. Tiny tomatoes reveled in the sweetness of a corn puree.
The chef seems to be challenging himself to wrest the maximum amount of flavor out of every ingredient, wanting to satisfy you with a single bite. A little tortellini had a filling so powerful you sat there, your mouth pulsing with flavor, long after the dish had been taken away. I looked down the counter: everyone looked stunned, happy.
I enjoyed every minute of that meal. But I wonder where the restaurant will be five years from now. At the moment these expensive tasting experiences for a small, exclusive audience- think Ko, Aterra, Brooklyn Fare – are the meals of the moment. How will they evolve?
Every chef dreams of doing meals like these, but if they are to last I expect they’ll have to offer more than merely fabulous food and wonderful wine. Patrons will demand interaction with the kitchen, comfortable seats, good lighting, a more integrated experience.
American food is at a high point; we’ve never had more talented chefs or more interesting restaurants. But that’s precisely why the smartest chefs are thinking beyond cuisine to the total experience. When you leave a restaurant like Blanca, you want to remember more than the pleasant service and wonderful food.
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