HOME > Chowhound > Outer Boroughs >

Discussion

uhockey reviews Chef Carlo Mirarchi's Tasting Menu at Roberta's

Full review below, pictures in blog:

http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/03/r...

I generally prefer to write my thoughts on restaurants in the order in which I experience them – it is a stylistic choice mostly, but I also think it also helps to put my trips into context for the people who take their time to read. With that said, sometimes there is an experience that I need to write about immediately in order to capture the feeling of the moment – these occurrences are rare and in the past couple of years there’ve only been a few – my first visit to Alinea, an extended tasting at The French Laundry, and RJ Cooper’s mind-blowing 24-course tasting at Vidalia to be precise. On March 30th I was lucky enough to have another of these experiences, and this time in the least likely of places – a gritty pizza parlor in Brooklyn.

Starting with a bit of back story, I’ll admit I would be lying if I claimed to have discovered Roberta’s on my own – the blog whispers had become a hum even prior to my February visit to the Big Apple and the moment I heard I would be returning to New York in March I made contact about the restaurant-within-a-restaurant experience from Chef Carlo Mirarchi. Pleasant and prompt my first e-mail was handled by Cherie Burnett and the “rules” were explained – 3-4 people, arrive by 5:30, and $140-$160 per person – simple enough, I’d say. With a date agreed upon I’d never hear from Cherie again – from this point forth it would instead be a back and forth string of e-mails between myself, my co-diners, and Chef Mirarchi himself discussing likes, dislikes, and so forth – an impressive display of customer service on par with past experiences with restaurants garnering three stars from Michelin.

With my conference finished at noon and lunch with an old friend at Peter Luger’s in the rearview I will note that for the unfamiliar Roberta’s is not easy to find - all the more testament to the praise it has been getting since it is not exactly the sort of place one stumbles upon. Thankfully with the use of my phone’s GPS and making my way via Subway from the Brooklyn bridge to Bushwick I entered the small restaurant only a minute late for the reservation and thankfully found that my companions had already arrived (though they would later admit they had originally walked right past the small and unassuming space.) Greeted promptly by our server and led to our table, a small four top with benches being replaced by chairs at our request, it would be a matter of moments before we were seated and greeted by Carlo – perhaps the most humble, pleasant, and conversant chef I’ve met to this day.

With Carlo returning to the kitchen (at least for the time being as he would act as his own server for the majority of our 16 courses while also answering myriad questions about his training, sourcing, inspiration, and upcoming changes throughout the evening) the three of us were left to chat and browse the scene – hipster to be sure, but not overly so – and kitschy décor. With a collection of music ranging from Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes coming from the back and the sounds of the growing crowd and pizza makers from the front I’d say the best way to describe Roberta’s was “energetic” and while my co-diners were certainly the oldest in the room (much as I was the youngest the night before at Café Boulud) it was the sort of place where everyone was treated well – a friendly vibe, excellent service, and a conversational tone that was both casual and professional in equal balance.

With wine poured for one and water remaining full for all throughout the nearly 270 minute tasting would begin with “a snack” delivered by Carlo – House Cured Red Wattle Prosciutto with Roberta’s signature crusty house bread. Supple and fatty with a musty and nutty essence the charcuterie itself was a fine example and although good on its own, it was even more impressive as a counterpoint to the crusty and smoky bread – the first bowl served as a sliced bread stick and the second a larger loaf that allowed the delicate crumb more surface area to shine.

Making quick work of the pork our second course would arrive quite quickly and although the least successful of the night, it was still an intriguing exploration of unexpected flavors. Described as Sea Urchin with Bloomsday and Pea Shoots the bite size uni tongue was appropriately briny but unfortunately a bit soft for my tastes. Paired with an aromatic and fruity puddle of melted cheese and a single pea shoot for texture it wasn’t so much that the flavors didn’t work but rather that the ingredients seemed largely independent – none really adding anything to the others…then again, when a dish featuring good quality urchin is the “worst” of the night it speaks volumes of the other 15 courses.

With dish three our table would be treated to the first of many breathtaking courses of the evening – on the surface somewhat surf n’ turf, but far more subtle and complex. Centered by a perfectly seared (IE caramelized outside, raw within) Diver Scallop caught and shucked that very day, the sweet bivalve was balanced with a shaving of headcheese – gamey, unctuous, and fatty. With the duo tasty on its own, the true beauty of the dish was in the details – specifically a slice of red onion and fresh squeezed tangerine juice that lent an acidic and sweet levity to the whole plate and acted to meld the two proteins into a stellar bite.

Course four would be presented by Carlo as his favorite of the night – he even took time to show us a picture of the fish pre-filet on his Iphone. Presented as Sea Perch with Ramps, Yuzu, and Firefly Squid the fish itself was mild and buttery with intensely crispy scales that particularly thrilled my co-diner who’d noted just the night before that he loved crispy skin on his fishes. Paired with beautiful early season ramps, tiny squid with plenty of bounce, and sweet lemon tones the dish was fish done right – the sort of thing you’d expect to emerge from the kitchen of Le Bernardin, or given the crisp skin perhaps Guy Savoy.

After reading my friend’s palate regarding scales with course four, course five was Carlo’s chance to wow mine. Still wobbly and extremely creamy, Poached Duck Egg with Morels, Dill, and Bread Crumbs was all one could desire from an egg dish and given the accoutrements a perfect entry to spring. Served with the whites barely set and creamy yolk pouring forth with minimal pressure from the fork I loved earthy fiber of the morels, the crunch of the bread crumbs, and the faint accent of the dill – again, no special tricks, just an exemplary preparation of quality ingredients.

Taking a quick step back to winter after teasing us with a handful of spring flavors, Oxtail with Lovage and Miner’s Lettuce was a luxurious stew with ample notes of carrot, celery, and parsley not unlike the sort one would expect from the crock pot of their grandmother. Ample and hearty but small in portion the beauty of this dish and its successor were their placing – a reminder that although spring was in the air, we’d still worn our winter coats from Manhattan to Brooklyn that day.

For course seven, another bucolic preparation – this time Trofie pasta with a ragout of Squab Heart and Liver. A sizable portion with thick spindles of flour and water as its base, this was potentially the most “gamey” dish I’ve ever tasted with only a bit of tomato tossed with the pasta to mellow out the offal. Indulging in the toothsome dumplings bite after bite the only way I can think to describe this dish is intense – not in a bad way, but in a way that says you’re not eating some gussied up Michael White dish from a $20,000 pasta machine, you’re eating heart and liver over pasta rolled by hand.

Likely aware of the heft of the previous two dishes, Carlo’s “intermezzo” as he described it was another pasta, this time hand torn Maltagliate graced with citrus and dusting of pecorino – simple, sweet, and an excellent segue to the courses that would follow.

Arriving next to the delight of the lady of the table would be an unmistakable personal favorite of mine as well – Foie Gras. Nicely cleaned and seared just long enough to char the surface, the liver itself was a top quality specimen, but it was the simple accompaniments of cracked black pepper and coarse black garlic that truly allowed it to shine. Generally fancying cold preparations over warm I have to admit that this was perhaps the best Foie Gras I experienced on this trip to New York.

Our tenth course of the evening was an encore to the seventh – the rest of the Squab, feet and all – served with Mascarpone, Gooseberry and Sorrel. Crispy skin, rosy flesh, a thin ribbon of fat – the squab breast was perfect and the legs surprisingly meaty. To be fair I honestly don’t remember the rest of the dish all that well – probably because I was too busy eating the leg by hand, something I’m rather certain I’ve never done during a “tasting menu” before but felt entirely justified (and comfortable) doing at Roberta’s.

Onward to course eleven, none of us showing signs of reaching capacity or palate fatigue, our next plate would feature whole roasted Normandy Duck paired with Kumquat, Turnip, and Swiss Chard. Unfortunately served plated and without legs due to “an issue in the kitchen,” this substantial portion of fowl was quite tasty, though much more mild than I’d have expected – the flavor almost chicken more so than duck. With crackling skin aplenty and well prepared vegetables I cannot say it was on par with some of the better preparations I’ve experienced in Manhattan, but those are some pretty high standards and I’d certainly not hesitate to try Chef Mirarchi’s duck again on future visits.

For the twelfth and thirteenth courses I have to admit I was hesitant – in general I simply do not order beef – it is both a texture thing and a taste thing since it always seems to taste “beefy.” Having mentioned this to Carlo when discussing preferences via E-mail he assured me that this would be different – that this cow (which he knew the arrival date of nearly a month in advance) was worth it. He was right.

Presented first in its raw state at the beginning of the meal, then whole-cooked, and finally plated, the 80-Day Dry Aged Wagyu with Fingerling Potatoes, Sweetbreads, and Ramps was nothing short of a revelation. Ignoring the potatoes, sweetbreads, and ramps – all things I love and all prepared exquisitely – the Wagyu itself was hardly “beefy,” the flavor instead somewhere between butter, mushrooms, and nuts while the texture was literally melt-in-the-mouth – the sort of meat that could be cut as easily with the edge of a fork as with a knife, and a portion so generous that my dining partners took a good 6 ounces home. In a word, it was perfect – the sort of dish I will remember for a long time to come not only because it was delicious, but because it challenged and changed a long held belief.

Accompanying with the steak and not to be forgotten we were additionally served a large plate of fat brushed bone marrow, parmesan, and toasted country bread – another item I’d have not ordered for myself yet another sensational preparation of which I ate the nearly the entire plate.

With my friends now getting full perhaps it was foolhardy to opt for a pizza in place of the cheese course, but I guess I never claimed to be rational when it comes to great food. Served hot, charred and bubbly from the pizza oven up front our Neapolitan style pie would be an off-menu compellation of Ramps, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Lemon, and Pine Nuts – a lovely amalgam of flavors with an elastic spring to the crust and excellent balance. Having taken a trek through what many consider to be Brooklyn’s best Pizza only three days prior I can say that Roberta’s isn’t quite Lucali or Paulie Gee good, but I preferred it to the slice at DiFara and Motorinio.

Finishing half the pie on my own it was at this point that I started to feel *gasp* full – but certainly not too stuffed for dessert. For course 15 our palate cleanser would arrive as Grapefruit Sorbetto with Olive Oil – a clean, bitter/sweet, and smooth scoop that tasted the very essence of the fruit – a significant accomplishment since I generally find most sorbet overly sweet.

With palates cleansed our final flavor of the evening would be a slightly deconstructed version of one of the house desserts - Kumquat Gelato with Cream Soda, Candied Olive, and Blood Orange Cream. Typically served as a parfait but sized down according to Carlo because he thought we were getting full the gelato was again a perfect representation of its namesake fruit while the thin crisp of cream soda candy, candied olives, and sour blood orange cream lent plenty of nuance and textural variation with the overall flavor something like a mature creamsicle.

With an epic meal behind us and a full service coffee bar up front our last taste of the night was coffee; a bold pour over cup of Finca Juanita for me and an Espresso for my friend. Sitting and sipping our coffee while chatting with our server and later with Carlo I was perhaps at my happiest – full of great food and drinking coffee with friends while listening to Led Zeppelin in the presence of a gracious host – a moment, much like the meal, that I won’t soon forget. With the bill settled – a veritable bargain at $160 per person – and Carlo walking us to the door it was a quick trip via Subway back to Manhattan with much chatter about the wonderful experience just passed – an experience I can’t wait to revisit on my next trip to New York and an experience I would suggest anyone who values great food and great people check out for themselves before the “secret” that is Carlo Mirarchi and Roberta’s is out and reservations become unattainable.

-----
Roberta's
261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Another excellent report. I'm eager to read about your pizza comparison.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Nancy S.

      Lucali >>> Paulie Gee's > DiFara Square > Roberta's > Motorino > DiFara Slice >>>>>>> L&B

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

      1. re: uhockey

        I'll have to trek to Brooklyn for Lucali, Paulie Gee's and Roberta's. Motorinio is my favorite in Manhattan. I know the ovens are different styles in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I'm wondering if this makes a difference.

        -----
        Lucali
        575 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

        Paulie Gee's
        60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

        1. re: uhockey

          The 4 of us that went pizza crawling last Sunday all had different orders of preference. Mine was DiFara square >>> Lucali >>> DiFara round >>> Roberta's (we didnt hit it that day... this is based on my other experiences) >>> Motorino >>>> Paulie Gee's >>>> L&B square.

          I've been eating both DiFara's and L&B most of my life so I have some major bias due to familiarity, but I've only been to the others once. I think that uhockey really likes sweetness added to pizza (we had black cherries and honey on one pie at Paulie Gee's) and, although I like it well enough that way, it doesnt say "NY Pizza" to me. Although Dom had some char on the round slice, the crust just doesnt hold firm against the ingredients & I mind this less than most folks. His square, and the pie at Lucali's, were close to perfection... for me at least.

          In addition to not getting to Roberta's that day, there's more to be had in Bklyn. Besides the snub of Franny's (which I recognize as quality but just cant get into due to the context), we didnt go to S.Bklyn, Fornino's (Williamsburg... wood oven, not P.Slope's grilled pizza), Totonno's, Anthony's (P.Slope) and others written up on this board. Next time.

          -----
          Lucali
          575 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

          Di Fara Pizza
          1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY 11230

          L&B Spumoni Gardens
          2725 86th St, Brooklyn, NY 11223

          Motorino
          319 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

          Paulie Gee's
          60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

          Fornino
          256 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

          1. re: uhockey

            It's very difficult to compare such different styles of pizza, I think. Overall rankings like that are very tough.
            What about Paulie Gee's did you feel was superior to Roberta's, if I might ask?
            And have you been to Keste? Do you like it?

            -----
            Paulie Gee's
            60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

            1. re: tupac17616

              I've not been to Keste - it is next on the list (along with Co.) but I'm a man with only so much capacity.

              What I really liked at Paulie Gee's was the spring to the crust - it wasn't quite as Neapolitan "wet" at the center as Roberta's or Motorino and had a good "chew" to it without being "chewy." Tough to describe - plus I'm sure I was jaded by a pizza with cherries and honey. :-)

              Your review was one of the ones that inspired me to visit, so kudos - I've always enjoyed your writing.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              -----
              Motorino
              319 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

              Paulie Gee's
              60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

              1. re: uhockey

                Thanks a lot, Mike, I appreciate it! As you might recall from one of my old blog posts, Keste is my favorite. But I've tried basically every notable pizzeria in the five boroughs, and there's a whole lot of good pizza to be had here.

        2. I have to admit, upon looking at the sheer length of your review I thought reading the entire posting would prove too daunting a task..i'm very happy I gave it a whirl. It turned out to be beautifully written and a pleasure to 'digest.'
          The Mgmt at Roberta' s should feed you gratis: ....Forever.:-)

          Thank you.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Tay

            I write wordy - hence the reason I usually confine it to my blog, but I think cross posting it here helps more people see it (my blog garners me nothing - I simply enjoy writing it) and therefore helps the restaurant.

            Considering the attention it is getting I don't think Roberta's needs my help - I'm nearly positive they are about to become Brooklyn Fare-reservation difficult for the tasting,

            Thanks for reading - and do check them out.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: squid kun

                Thanks, as always squid kun for getting to the source!

                    1. re: tupac17616

                      Great review, tupac. We stand on the shoulders of those who go before us!

            1. uhockey - another great report.

              RGR - just curious how this meal stacked up in your opinion (as well as Mr R) in your "lifetime rankings". uhockey gave us his ranking (4th place, he wrote).

              I already booked this for May. Looking so forward to this.

              BTW, CHers, it's on available on Wed and Thurs now.

              8 Replies
              1. re: deepfry7

                I did not give it a ranking - I merely stated it was one of those meals that I felt the need to write about immediately.

                If I were to "rank" it, I'd say 8 or 9th - still quite the accomplishment all things considering and of the top 10 I say that Roberta's and RJ Cooper's new "Rogue 24" have the best chance of improving and evolving which is exciting to say the least.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                1. re: uhockey

                  Ha - sorry for misquoting uhockey. I've done TFL extended menu as well and thought that was the best meal of my life (so far). Visiting Chicago and hitting up Alinea and Schwa in a couple of weeks. It's going to be an awesome next few weeks of dining finishing off at Roberta's.

                  1. re: deepfry7

                    NEXT opens on April 6th - you should probably try to get a seat when they go on sale. If you haven't already reserved Alinea and Schwa - good luck. I'd put both in my top 20 all time, and Alinea at #1.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: uhockey

                      Yea, I've already booked Alinea and Schwa. I'm already on the mailing list for Next, but I doubt I'll get in with such a long list. Although Paris early 1900's doesn't really interest me.

                      CH - sorry for going off outer borough NYC.

                2. re: deepfry7

                  deepfry7,

                  Neither Mr. R. nor I ever do rankings. I really don't understand how others do it. We have been fortunate to have had so many incredible dining experiences that it would be impossible to even say which have been the best of the best.

                  One major reason our dinner at Roberta's will always be a standout -- a truly memorable experience -- is the fact of where it took place. We're still having difficulty wrapping our brains abound the idea that we had this extraordinary haute cuisine meal in a pizza joint!

                  I do plan to write about it. Meanwhile, my Roberta's photos are here:
                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                  1. re: RGR

                    Once the new room opens I'm coming back to New York and if you and Mr R. are agreeable I definitely want to go back. :-)

                    I think Roberta's and an Extended Tasting at Per Se would be an astounding apples/oranges back-to-back.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: uhockey

                      It's a date!! :)

                      Actually, I suggested to Mr. R. that he and I should go back to Roberta's to have some of the other pizzas + the haute dishes on the regular menu. I recall when you read them that they were similar to what we had. But so what? I could easily stand to have them again! I'm also thinking that as the seasons change, Carlo is bound to make changes to the menu.

                      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                      1. re: RGR

                        We had a big dinner at Roberta's recently and our order included almost every pie they had on the menu that night and i really don't think you can go wrong. One item we ordered that was new to me on that trip was the calzone which was phenomenal - pesto, roasted peppers and prosciutto inside perfectly crisp but still toothsome crust, really on another level from any other calzone (including Lucali's calzone which i think is the only thing i'd order there if someone forced me to go back, and whcih i had previously thought of as my favorite in brooklyn).

                        from the non-pizza menu we tried the sweetbreads w honey and herbs which i thought was a tad over-seasoned (the coating on the fried chunks of sweetbreads was a bit salty, but not beyond the range of acceptable) the pork chop which was just delicious although served on the side of medium some people might not appreciate (but just deliciously juicy and intensely porky) and a special for the nigh which was a lamb breast w fried artichokes - the lamb was extremely fatty and could have been mistaken for pork belly if it were not so thoroughly permeated with awesome lamb gaminess, with a crispy skin that reminded me of chinese duck preparations it was so crackly and good.

                        -----
                        Lucali
                        575 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                3. Brilliant review for an amazing meal. Bravo!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ellenost

                    Knowing how you feel about Ko I think this should top your MUST visit New York list - the food and scene are better, the price on par, and Carlo is essentially the Anti-Chang.....a truly humble and giving sort who wants more than anything to make you enjoy your visit.

                    RGR asked for butter - she got butter. I wanted pizza in place of a cheese course - I got pizza in place of a cheese course. RGR asked to have the benches at our table replaced by chairs - THREE people dropped what they were doing to make it happen.

                    I wish the very best for them - but not TOO good, because I want to get back there some day and not fight for a reservation. :-)

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: uhockey

                      Indeed, the "Anti-Chang" is a perfect description of Carlo and the staff, uhockey! :)) That bench vs. chairs situation is an excellent example.

                      To clarify, iirc, Carlo overheard me saying something about the benches to Mr. R. and immediately suggested that we try switching to the table next to us, the only one that had chairs. At first, I thought the chairs seemed too low for the table, but I sat in one, and it would have been fine. However, I commented that I felt bad taking up a table that could seat six, at which point, one of the staff suggested that they replace the benches at our table with chairs. You said they should just do it for Mr. R. and me, and you would sit on the remaining bench. But I wanted you to be just as comfortable, especially since I remembered how you felt about Ko. So, three chairs it was.

                      It wasn't just the chairs and the butter. Carlo and everyone on the staff were extremely gracious and made it very obvious that they wanted us to be satisfied with everything about the experience.

                      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                  2. I strongly suspect Chef Carlo Mirarchi will be getting much more press attention by this time tomorrow.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: oysterspearls

                      The buzz has been growing - I think it was only a matter of time. I'm guessing you know something I don't with regard to a coming review vastly more important than mine, but whatever accolades he gets are deserved.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      1. re: uhockey

                        Dana Cowin has been tweeting hints today regarding Food and Wine's Best New Chefs. One of the hints leaves little doubt Carlo Mirarchi is one of the 10.

                        unhockey, Another captivating review! Thoroughly enjoy your blog and I'm really looking forward to trying Roberta's.

                        1. re: oysterspearls

                          Uhockey - no N. :-)

                          I thought he'd already been named to that list, though I guess I'm mistaken.

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                          1. re: oysterspearls

                            It's offical: http://ny.eater.com/archives/2011/04/...

                            Booked a similar dinner for next month...seems like Roberta's is poised to become the next big thing. Congrats Chef Mirarchi, this is well deserved, just hope I'll be able to continue to eat without 2 hour waits!

                            1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                              Fantastic - having also experienced Izzard and Mendes this year I'd give Carlo's cooking the edge - even if his spot isn't quite as fancy. :-) Once the new tasting room opens up I imagine Roberta's should be quite the Brooklyn gem.

                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                              1. re: uhockey

                                I would say tasting menu or no tasting menu, Roberta's is already a Brooklyn gem. Having been multiple times for brunch/lunch and dinner I feel that Chef Mirarchi is finally getting the credit he deserves and am looking forward to experiencing a larger format meal similar to the one you enjoyed.

                                While it does not have a tasting format, given your love of foie gras, you may want to consider a meal at M.Wells Diner on one of your future visits...even Sifton gave it two stars!

                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                  Noted - and the list continues to grow.
                                  Here's hoping a solid job in Brooklyn/Manhattan opens up between now and June 2012. :-)

                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                  1. re: uhockey

                                    In case you were curious, I just wrote about a dinner I ate last night at M.Wells. Pics and post will follow, but I wanted to get something down now in light of Sifton's review.

                              2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                Wow! I'm absolutely thrilled for Carlo! A well-deserved accolade.

                                Same goes for George. When he left Tocqueville, a restaurant we've patronized with some regularity through the years, to open Aldea, the first time we went soon after, we told him we had no doubt it would be a success. Like Carlo, he's not only talented but a truly nice person.

                                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                1. re: RGR

                                  RGR agreed. While I never got to sample his food while he was at Tocqueville, I really like Aldea and just had a great lunch there last week.