In the backyard of the hipster foodie haven, Roberta’s (see prior Photo Hungry! post), is a new chic and sophisticated boutique-sized tasting-menu-only room, Blanca. Although Blanca only officially opened this summer, it’s already made quite a splash. Bon Appetit just named it 2nd on its list of “America’s Best New Restaurants” in 2012. It’s location in the remote edges of Bushwick, Brooklyn may be a bit off the beaten path, but that hasn’t hindered its (or Roberta’s) popularity; reservations can be made on the first of each month but they’ve flown so quickly that within a day or two, they stop taking reservations until the first of the next month. It really is quite difficult to snag a seat! Dinner is served at 6pm from Wednesday through Saturday and there is only 1 seating a night for 12 lucky diners. Carlo Mirarchi (who also oversees the kitchen at Roberta’s) is always cooking in the kitchen.
To enter, you have to walk through the Christmas lights, large wooden tables, dim lighting and loud chatter that is Roberta’s, past the tented patio and garden filled with skinny jean/artsy/random piercing/tattoo types and down some steps. Suddenly you arrive at this very serene and exquisite separate loft space; it’s light, bright and airy, and the diners are perched at the white counter surrounding the large, stainless steel open kitchen. There’s a record player and old vinyls set on a nearby table where diners can choose their own tunes to accompany their dinner.
To prepare for this marathon-length meal, I had a bagel at 8am, ran about 16 miles that afternoon, and showed up ready to pass out from hunger. Which was good because our meal at Blanca consisted of 30 courses. I’m pretty sure that’s an all-time record for me! But don’t worry, we won’t go through each course. While Blanca (unlike Brooklyn Fare) allows pictures, they request that pictures not be published, so as not to ruin the “surprise” for later diners. Well…. since Time Out, NYTimes and Bon Appetit have already published pictures of certain dishes, I took the liberty to post pics of the same ones. No surprises ruined there! I’m pretty sure all of their readerships are bigger than mine ;-).
The meal commenced with several one-bite dishes (starting a bit lighter and progressing in richness), including the above: glass shrimp in celery juice, garnished with poppy seeds. Wow. Light but flavorful, with the poppy seeds adding such a nice little pop to the shrimp that could otherwise just slide down your throat.
The next course: geoduck with Tuscan melon and sea lettuce. This packed a bit more chew than the last bite, although remained consistent with the clean, vibrant tones.
It was followed directly by a tempura-style soft-shell crab claw served atop smoked paprika aioli. Holy sh*t. Is this what all soft-shell crab tastes like? I think not. This one little bite was ridiculous! Fried and crackly on the outside, but so sweet, tender and juicy on the inside. The crab flavor itself was so pure and unadulterated; paired with the creamy, smoky aioli, it was heaven.
Skip three courses forward to another standout bite (maybe in my devastatingly hungry state, any form of fried food was divine): fried veal sweetbread with cracked pepper and lime cream. I usually find sweetbreads a little too chewy, but this serving just melted in your mouth like butter. Delicious!
Immediately following was a little “salad” course: celtuce (a stem lettuce) with clementine, goat kefir, kumquat, almonds and tuna flakes. Fresh and bright.
And a couple bites later we came across the uni with house-made tofu, taro, yuba gremolata and cucumber flower. I decided I would try uni again. And yes, it was still too fishy for me. But ATO gobbled it up!
An aside: during the meal, the raw proteins that comprise the upcoming main meat dishes sit out in the kitchen in clear view. For ATO, this was super distracting. He could barely contain his excitement, constantly checking on the status of the ingredient and gibbering on about what might be made with it. Above is a dead duck, waiting to be prepared.
On to the more substantive dishes. Not pictured are the oysters and squid, both surprisingly delightful. And then there was an unforgettable Wagyu carpaccio, splattered on the plate with sunchokes, duck yolk and large disks of summer truffles. One of the best dishes of the night; I’m sad I can’t post the pic!
It was followed by 3 solid pasta courses. My personal favorite was the corn ravioli in sungold tomato broth, seasoned with savory (an herb in the mint family). Actually it might just be the bestest corn dish I’ve ever had! ATO agreed that this was the best pasta of the night, and has brought it up in multiple conversations since. SS and JM, however, both proclaimed the garganelli with braised goat ragu and nasturtium (pictured above) the pasta winner of the night. To each his own. Really, we all won when it came to the pastas.
A couple of courses later came the most amazing snow crab served with an ugly green mess of a sauce made with crab brain, uni and sake (not pictured); well, you definitely can’t judge a sauce by its looks, because this sauce was incredible. One bite and I got over my squeamishness in eating crab brain. And just as I started complaining about needing carbs, here comes the bread with fresh house-made butter with cultured yogurt. In the battle of me versus butter, I won. I took down that huge wad.
Finally, the meat courses. And there seemed to be a common theme. Dry-age the sh*t out of everything!!! In a good way of course. Each course was more intense than the last….
We started with the month-aged lamb with mint jelly, rat tail radish and ground cherries. Well executed and served on the rare side of medium rare - you could cut it with a fork. The mint jelly was a very nice touch.
We moved on to the duck, aged with innards intact (but not served with innards!), and served with sucrine, blackberries and pickled chanterelles. Mmmmm definitely getting more musky. Aging a duck with the innards is rare (even Eleven Madison Park doesn’t do it, see previous post) but definitely gives it that extra funk. The skin of this duck was cooked to absolute perfection. I have to say though, I thought the pickling of the chanterelles was a bit too tangy and distracting (ATO disagrees).
Finally, the craziest dish of all (picture above): the 85-day dry aged beef sirloin with sungold tomatoes, hearts of palm and vin cotto. WTF. Funkiest, stankiest piece of meat I’ve ever had. I took my first bite and thought I might have thrown up in my mouth a little bit, and then happily swallowed it. It’s a mind f*ck. It’s soooo bad and soooo good. Am I eating rancid meat, or is this the most delicious hunk of sirloin I’ve ever had?? I’m just so confused! And I can’t stop eating! Agh!!
The desserts continued to enthrall us: we had (1) a pungent wash rind cheese course with apples, radishes, Romano beans and honey from their roof, (2) a beach rose gelato with strawberry and chickpea crumble, (3) blueberry soup with cherry sorbet, coconut cream, shiso granita and tomatillos and (4) most interestingly, a watermelon radish gelato with macadamia nut crumble, sour watermelon gummies and condensed watermelon (above). The radish flavor in the gelato was very apparent, and honestly threw me for a loop. In the end I decided I didn’t like it. And the sour gummies were an amusing twist, but also a tad too weird.
But, we finished on a high for me: carrot gum. I mean, c’mon, where else will you be served this stuff? And it didn’t taste half bad either….
So start trying to make a rez, and hopefully within 6 months, you’ll be able to try this all for yourself! Warning: this meal doesn’t come cheap. $180 per person with an $85 wine pairing, plus tax and tip. I’d do it again in a heartbeat though!