For our first and only outing to Brooklyn last December, we decided to try the tasting menu at Blanca. We first checked-in at Chef Mirarchi’s more casual and hipster pizzeria Roberta’s. Then we waited inside near their bar until we were escorted by staff through a maze of separate spaces and buildings to the Blanca dining room. We were seated at the bar overlooking the open kitchen in an airy and minimally decorated room.
The chef showcased 25 dishes, mostly bite sized with Italian, Japanese and Mexican influences. Personally 25 courses is a lot for a 2.5 to 3 hours meal. I’ve been to tasting menus where there were only 6 courses and I enjoyed every single dish. With 20+ the chef undoubtedly tucks in a few fillers. As a result, nothing blew my mind. What I appreciated most about this meal was that I was introduced to a lot of unfamiliar ingredients.
Except for the dining area, all photos were forbidden. Lately, some chefs are banning photographing food their customers are eating and paying for. Some of the reasons behind this include protecting intellectual property, preserving the element of the unknown for future customers or avoiding the publication of undesirable pictures.
So I’ll go through just a few of the dishes to peak your curiosity.
Course #2: Glass shrimp with blood orange with poppy seeds. The transparent bottom feeder had a distinctive chewiness but lacked flavour. The blood orange added freshness and the poppy seeds gave texture. Overall, a dish that appeared exotic but ended up being lackluster.
Course # 9: Soft tofu with purple kale. This was one of those filler dishes. If the ingredient can be easily re-created by everyday people, it’s the chef’s job to elevate it to new heights.The chef made the silken tofu from scratch with an apple juice broth with a piece of blanched kale. The tofu was in fact soft and very silky. Although he wanted to show case his tofu making skills, the dish was lifeless. I did not see how it added value to the meal. He could have and should have done something much more groundbreaking. Simply adding juice and a cruciferous was uninspiring.
Course #12: Mini plankton agnelotti. Plankton are “floaters,” organisms in the ocean including algae, zooplankton (“animal plankton”), phytoplankton (plankton that are capable of photosynthesis), and bacteria. The black plankton purée burst in my mouth with a fresh and creamy sea flavour. The most memorable savory dish of the evening.
Course #18: For our bread course we were presented with a home-made baguette, wheat loaf and a Hawaiian roll. I loved the Hawaiian roll. Instead of three different breads, of which two were just very ordinary, I would have much simply preferred two Hawaiian rolls. The airy half sphere was made with pineapple juice and topped with black salt. The bread had a honest pineapple flavour without being artificially fruity. There should have been more items like this one on the menu. Nothing too creative but still very special.
Course #24: Culantro sorbet with horchata (Mexican black rice) ice cream. Culantro is the spicy cousin of cilantro and sometimes called a Mexican cilantro. Keeping with the trend of incorporating leafy green veggies into desert items, the sorbet had a very strong healthy flavour. The black rice foam toned the sharpness of the culantro.
For a satisfactory meal I felt the dinner was overpriced at $195 per person, not including taxes and gratuities. And very few of the dishes were stand outs. The quantity was overwhelming and didn’t leave me longing for any one item. The mish mash of dishes clouded my memory. At one point, in the middle of our meal, I felt like trying his pizza. So we asked if there was a way to circumvent Roberta’s long wait list. For your information, apparently customers queue up for up to 2 hours. The wait staff kindly informed us that they could only add us to the list like every other customer and the optimal time to put our names down would be around 9:45pm, three-quarters way into our meal. When we were done at around 10:30pm and reported to Roberta’s front desk, there was still a 30 minute wait. At that point we decided our hunger for his pizza disappeared very quickly. If a customer is paying top dollars for a tasting in, of all places, Brooklyn, for a passable meal, a bypass to the chef’s more casual fare would be the honorable thing to do.