Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blanca, new home of Mirarchi's tastings at Roberta's

I'd read about Roberta's Pizza Chef Carlo Mirarchi's elusive tasting menu quite a while back, and I spent too much time dragging my feet and didn't get on the waiting list to partake until last November, and it turns out that was a bit too late, for at that point demand was such that my wait would be longer than 6 months. In any case the wait was well worth it (and should be much less of an issue in a month or so going forward, see below).
Course 20: aged lamb,fresh coriander, mint jelly - oh dear lord the delicious fat!
For a couple weeks ago, I finally received the long awaited email granting me a spot to sample Mirarchi's higher end fare. Being well aware of the awesomeness of the stuff from the menu at Roberta's proper (as well as their specials), I booked at spot for six, choosing from several available nights, which confused me, as I had thought that the limit was four persons and that I would not have the luxury of choosing from several dates. It turns out that the logjam has begun to break ever so slowly over the last month or so due to the opening of a new space called Blanca, named after Mirarchi's mother, dedicated to serving the tasting menu at a chef's counter seating 12, whereas previously they served a maximum of eight diners per week, four on each of two nights. Blanca is open four nights a week (but currently only when the Chef is in town and able to cook), with potential to eventually open five nights a week and do two turns per night. Granted, a max of 120 spots a week hardly qualifies, in NY terms, as eminently accesible, but it's a damn sight easier to get into than at most eight people per week.
Plating the (outrageous) beef carpaccio for course 14
Of course, I had no idea about the new Blanca space until literally the day before when I read Sifton's article breaking the news. (I call it a space, but I'm unclear if it is a part of Roberta's or a separate restaurant, not that the distinction really matters. We entered through the normal Roberta's entrance and snaked our way through the dining rooms, past the bars, through the garden and event space to arrive, but I think there may be a separate street entrance they will eventually use.
the resting Poulet Rouge (Course 21)
(Oh, it just occurred to me that with a little math, knowing the current and previous run rates I can roughly figure how much longer I'd have under the old system. I figure I'd waited more than 6 months, and I'd have another 6 months or so the wait had they not expanded, since it took me ~ a month to get into Blanca (not counting the month of friends and family) and they are doing 6x the diners per week.)
Charring the Pen Clam (Course 11)
Truth be told, I'm of two minds about the new space. I definitely like the interaction with the chefs and getting a front row seat for the action, but with more than 2 or 3 people it can be hard to talk whilst sitting at a counter, and we were 6. And I do quite enjoy the casual conviviality in the main Roberta's dining room where the tasting was formerly served. But beggars can't be choosers, and in any case in the old format they limited the party size to 4 anyway, and I may have never gotten off the wait list without the expansion. When it comes down to it, I think it was just a matter of having to quickly shift my expectations and it will be a non-issue in the future. We swapped around a bit and our party of 6 worked out great.
Course 1: Golden Osetra Caviar, Goat Milk Granita
But enough blathering, onto the food! By my count, we got 27 courses, which roughly speaking ranged from really good to freaking awesome. As Sifton noted, Blanca is right at home in the company of Momofuku Ko or Brooklyn Fare in spirit and quality of food, though obviously one difference is that photography is allowed at Blanca. Take this with a grain of salt, because I've only been to Brooklyn Fare once (when I may have gone a bit overboard on the BYO) and though I've been to Ko many times, it's been quite a while, but I think Brooklyn Fare _might_ have a very slight overall edge on the seafood courses, and Ko _might_ have a bit more flair, if only for its inventive Asian twists, but Blanca at least holds its own on those fronts, but utterly blows away anywhere else on the planet with its meat courses. I know that sounds (and feels as I type it) like absurd hyperbole, but a week later it still feels true to me.

I'll spare you photos of all 27 courses, but if you want to see them they are all on flickr, as well as picasa (also embedded below). Please forgive me if I misdescribe a course or two, I didn't take notes so I'm relying on memory and hints from the web, but it should be mostly right. The first course was Russian Golden Osetra, which I'm actually not sure if I've ever had before, here served with goat milk granita. In case you are wondering it's damn good.

Course 2 was a highlight of the evening: Glass Shrimp, Celery flower and juice, poppy seed. Exquisite balance with the shrimp sweetness, celery's subtle tartness, and textural contrast provided by the poppy. The poppy reminded me of Ko's excellent but richer scallop, buttermilk, sriracha and poppy course. (Interesting, just discovered that Chang got the poppy&seafood idea from the langoustine carpaccio at (soon to close) L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. The glass shrimp bite was every bit as good as Robuchon's carpaccio, which I now recall was my favorite dish there.) Oh, I noticed that the glass shrimp dich (or a similar variation) has been part of the tasting menu for quite a while; it very deservedly continues to remain in his repertoire.  
Course 2: Glass shrimp, poppy, celery flower and juice
Course 4: Soft Shell Crab Claw

Course 4 was a singular expertly tempura'd soft shell crab claw. One wonders what became of all those bodies and legs; family meal treat perhaps?

Course 6: Sweetbread
6th course was an excellent sweetbread, I'm not sure if the preparation is the same as is available a la carte at Roberta's but it was similar. If anything I might prefer the plate at Roberta's,but that's probably only because there are more.

Course 7: Bonito
I have to mention the next course of Bonito, as it was every bit as good as I've had at sushi places both in NY and Tokyo.

Course 8: Sea Perch, Rhubarb

Alas, I must also mention the next course of Grilled Sea Perch with Rhubarb, another course that would find itself at home, if not lording over, an excellent Robata in Japan:

Skipping a bit, course 12 was my beloved Uni:
Course 12: uni, tofu, ash leaf
Mirarchi eased us into the later courses with a mind blowing beef carpaccio. Carpaccio is often a quite pleasant but mild dish, and I don't know what they did to this beef (though I assume aging was involved), but it had the complexity of fine ham. Truly excellent; I yearn for another taste.
Course 14: beef carpaccio, egg yolk, arugula
Next came 3 small pasta courses:
Course 15: wheat pasta, razor clam
Course 16: garganelli w/ ragu
Course 17: nduja raviolo

Followed by a spot prawn with aleppo pepper & tarragon
Course 19: spot prawn, aleppo, tarragon
Course 20 was my absolute favorite of the night, and the aged roasted meat I'd heard so much about and had been waiting for. Chef Mirarchi's aged rack of lamb (pictured at top) was truly a thing a of beauty, I can't do justice with words. I barely have a reference point to start to describe it. Suffice it to say that evan a bite of pure fat was heavenly. Luckily he was judicious with the serving size, for I surely would have eaten any and all that was put in front of me; I would not have been able to stop. And there was more goodness to come.

We were walked back from the brink with an excellent but less lustily rich whole roasted poulet rouge:
Course 21: plated poulet rouge, porcini
Then after a palate breather of Strawberry Buttermilk Gelato, he came at us hard again with the aged beef.
Course 23: aged (wagyu?), hearts of palm, vin cotto
Though surpassed by the lamb in my opinion, the same superlatives apply. Fair warning: you are at risk of ruining yourself for other meats by dining here.
After the last several courses of such power, a cool down was in order. Not a dead stop mind you, but a bridge, yet powerful in its own right, leading to a softer landing. The well conceived choice was a stinky cheese, I believe Époisses, tempered with freshly scraped honeycomb and garnished with radish.
scraping the honeycomb to plate cheese course
Course 24: stinky (Époisses?) cheese, radish, honeycomb
There remained three dessert courses, I'm sorry to say the details of which elude me after the stupor of happiness the aged beef haymaker left me in, with the Époisses jab landing even as I was falling towards the mat for the count. I direct you to the full picture set for the desserts and other courses I left out, thoguh I will mention that memorable elements included in the various desserts were of herbs from Roberta's garden, quinoa, and an hempseed crumble.

l if you'd like to see accounts of similar meals on other days, Eater has one, here is another, and one more.
winding down after service