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Romera is a great restaurant

r
ricweiss Oct 1, 2011 09:02 PM

Just got back from a great dinner at Romera. Before I go through some of the details, I want to say that I'm not a shill -- yes, this is my first post, but I felt impelled to post something after reading some of the negative reviews and almost being convinced to cancel my reservation (as others have been apparently). I have dined at pretty much every "great" restaurant in New York (Per Se, Daniel, Corton, Eleven Madison Park, Brooklyn Fare, Masa, etc) and would say that Romera deserves a place next to all of those. Just two dishes into the meal I was astounded at how some of the negative reviewers could have gone to the same restaurant that I did.

The location is unfortunate -- the Meatpacking district, while fantastic when I was 23, isn't the greatest setting for a fine dining establishment (nor is the Dream hotel for that matter, where Marble Lane is probably the worst steakhouse I've been to). That being said, once you descend the stairs into Romera (and they're not "dingy", as others have said), the setting is great and as impressive as the pictures indicate. You are first invited to sit in a small library/waiting area of sorts, where you can order a glass of wine/cocktail. I thought that was nice and relaxing, albeit a bit awkward since you didn't know how long you would be there. Sure enough, just after we had gotten our glasses of wine we were escorted to our table -- if the idea was to enjoy a pre-dinner drink in a relaxed atmosphere, then fine, but it was a little strange to order and then immediately be escorted to your table after receiving the drinks. But whatever, not a big deal.

The dining room is pretty impressive, and reminded me of a warmer version of Corton -- similarly white-themed, but more wood tones and not quite as sterile. It wasn't dark at all as others have claimed, and I quite liked the spotlight on each dish as it really enhanced the dining experience. We were presented with a menu of the dishes that were in store for us (seemed like to get you prepared and help you decide how you wanted to do the wine). I didn't opt for the wine pairing but instead ordered a Burgundy from the well-priced list and the sommelier was quite helpful in choosing.

Before I continue -- a couple notes on the two most "pretentious" things that people seem to have a problem with - the menu cards and the waters. The menu cards are not that intrusive -- they come in a box (and actually fit a little with the scientific theme) and you can pull out the proper one for each course. I actually found it helpful on occasion to identify ingredients, albeit a bit wordy at times and clumsy to pull out and set aside when the food came. All in all, not great, not that bad. The waters on some occasions really enhance the dish, though most of the time they didn't do much for me. Again, they didn't feel that pretentious/intrusive but didn't really lift many dishes to another level.

First course was a flaky, almost Moroccan-type bread with a small plate of olive oil with olive puree and other flavors -- in a word, awesome. I'm not a big bread person before a meal but this was one of the most integrated ways of presenting bread (as an actual course) that I have seen and since it was an actual course, you portioned yourself a bit more than you do at most restaurants (where there's an endless supply of butter or olive oil and you're starving having prepared for a large meal).

After that the composed dishes started -- the seafood mousse wrapped in Daikon was fantastic. And it was all but bland -- in fact, I thought it had a touch too much salt (and this coming from a salt lover). But the textures and flavors were fantastic -- probably my favorite dish of the night. Almost equally good was the toro/hamachi with coconut cream, which actually worked better than it sounds like it would. The grain dish was interesting -- you definitely have to like Indian food for this. The sauce is very Indian and quite spicy -- the whole dish was very south Indian, so if you're into those flavors, you'll love it. If you don't like spice, it might not be for you. This is also one of the dishes where I thought the water actually enhanced the experience. Next was the famous vegetable soup on top of a mosaic of spices. This was actually quite cool -- scraping up each individual spice made each bite different (depending on the combination). Also, the vegetables were incredibly fresh and full of flavor (actually reminiscent of Blue Hill in that way). The cold cooked salmon was very good and possibly the most visually stunning of all the dishes -- not raw but similar in texture to great salmon sashimi.

At this point I was not totally full but very satisfied -- I was actually quite surprised how full I was, given what I had heard about the "healthy" nature of the food (no butter, etc). The final two savory dishes were probably my least favorite but certainly not bad by any means. The white chocolate/foie gras was quite good although I would have liked to see the portion cut in half (due to the richness) and the foie cooked a little less. But if you're a fan of rich food you'll love it -- it was similar in feeling to the shaved foie gras at Ko (which I also don't love) without being quite as sweet. The wagyu beef was the last savory course which was enhanced with myrrh and incense table side -- I loved the beef but could have done without the sensation of being in church (although my dining companion liked that feeling of comfort).

The first dessert was a mixed sorbet of different fruits in a comforting strawberry/lychee base -- very good and one of the best desserts I've had, mainly because it's not that sweet. The chocolate soup was ok but a little too much orange peel for my taste. The meal finished with some petits fours which were great (and typically not something I eat) - some dark chocolate, carrot cake, and mint macaroons.

Overall, it was well worth visiting Romera. At times the dining room felt sterile and without much life. Granted, it seemed like they had kept the reservations to a minimum as they work out the kinks early on, so there weren't a ton of people. A handful of the dishes (mainly early on) were among the best I've had in any restaurant and the whole experience actually reminded me of Arzak in San Sebastian more than anything else. The presentation is the most visually stunning of any restaurant I have been to and if you're into that you will not be disappointed (although no pictures -- I saw another table get reprimanded for trying to take pictures). The service is good but not great, but it does feel like they're still ironing it out -- always the case with a new restaurant. The waiter and sommeliers were very friendly and enthusiastic about the food and wine.

Finally, a word on the price -- I think this meal should be more in the $180-200 range rather than $245. It didn't quite have the grandeur and substance of Per Se but was actually more like Corton or Eleven Madison Park, both of which are priced a bit better.

I would be shocked if Romera does not have 2 michelin stars soon -- it's certainly as good as the other 2 michelin star restaurants in NY. Three stars is a bit of a stretch at this point until they iron out the service and find a less clumsy way of integrating the menu cards and waters. That being said, I would probably go here again before I went back to Per Se, even at the current price.

So if you're considering going to Romera I would highly recommend it. I think this will be one of the hotter reservations in NY soon, especially if they lower the price point a bit.

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Romera
355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

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  1. Winterpool RE: ricweiss Oct 1, 2011 09:38 PM

    I might feel more charitable towards Romera if they permitted photography. Every -NYT- four-star restaurant in town permits photography and has been thoroughly documented in the blogosphere. Heck, even Noma permits photography. (I'm somewhat willing to indulge the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare in this regard because the dining space -is- the kitchen...) Doesn't Romera want the publicity? Isn't dinner there supposed to constitute an event?

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    Romera
    355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

    1. f
      fm1963 RE: ricweiss Oct 1, 2011 10:42 PM

      It's always good to read a first hand report. Thanks for this.

      1. kosmose7 RE: ricweiss Oct 2, 2011 03:23 AM

        Corton's tasting menu is currently $155 and if Romera decides to lower the price at all, it had better do that significantly. I think Romera's unreasonably high price, unprofessional service (as I hear from those who dined there), no photo policy, and a series of suspected shills were the biggest mistakes of all. (I will not comment about their food since I never tried it, although I can pretty much imagine what it will be like) To me, a restaurant needs to improve those first to be ever called 'great'.

        I tend not to think about money too much when it comes to eating out (yes, it is my most enjoyed hobby), but that does not mean that I spend it at any restaurant. I have been to most of the fine dining restaurants in the city, but given the above mentioned problems, Romera currently does not attract me at all.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kosmose7
          t
          The Cookbook Addict RE: kosmose7 Oct 2, 2011 09:33 AM

          Kosmose I wrote the review that everyone is calling a suspected shill so, while there may be many reasons not to eat at Romera, I wouldn't let concern that they have posted a suspected shill review deter you...Agree with you that they need to address their other issues quickly since they are clearly getting a lot of bad press on the internets, some of it deserved. I do hope that they address the issues because we thought that the food was actually really delicious and interesting.

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          Romera
          355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

        2. m
          Mella RE: ricweiss Oct 2, 2011 07:53 AM

          Thanks Ricweiss. My husband and I also dined at Romera last night and we are in complete agreement with your review. I might add though that although we were full by the time of the Wagyu we felt that that dish, probably the most "substantial" of all the other dishes, was very satisfying in the sense that it "completes" the meal (before dessert) which at times was more like delightful concoctions of morsels of food and ingredients rather than a "meal". I should say the desserts really are to die for, especially the sorbet dish.
          Agree it is a real shame photography isn't allowed.
          Would I go back? Probably not. Was the meal worth the experience? Definitely, although we second Ricweiss' comment on the price point.

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          Romera
          355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

          1. t
            The Cookbook Addict RE: ricweiss Oct 2, 2011 09:24 AM

            Thanks Ricweiss for posting this review. I am the person who wrote the review on Yelp that everyone is calling a shill...sad that my writing style apparently comes off to everyone as clumsy PR :-) Anyways I agree with the points on all of the posts on this thread, both good and bad - the service is not good, the menu card descriptions a little long and silly, the no photography policy is short-sighted. (My husband and I were one of the couples reprimanded for taking photos, I believe that some of the other online reviewers may have been there the same night as us and seen that happen). Foodies love/need to take pics and it is largely foodies who are going to appreciate this food for more than novelty value...Overall we thought the food was spectacular but I could see many hating this restaurant and definitely would not recommend it to everyone. I am actually usually not a big fan of molecular gastronomy type places (I am in the very small minority that did not like Alinea) but I thought the food at Romera was delicious and thought-provoking.

            Anyways a few additional notes on my experience that I didn't necessarily spell out in the Yelp review but might be of interest to Chowhounders:

            (i) the tasting waters - Some of these were more about a particular smell or tasting note and not necessarily delicious, full-flavored beverages. For example we thought the tandoori water was largely about capturing the very intense smell of toasting, freshly-ground spices. The smell of the water was exhilarating, the taste not so much. Some of them ultimately tasted flat but we were surprised at how well most of them complemented the dishes in some small way. I usually despise this type of pretentiousness but we did enjoy the waters and thought they added to the meal. The smoked water (served with wagyu) was delicious and there was one that they called "cinnamon water" which did not in fact taste of cinnamon but was really interesting (when we asked, they told us it had cloves and leeks).
            (ii) sweetness level - It seems as if a disproportionate number of the dishes had a sweet note to them, maybe because he relies less on fat. I happen to like sweet/savory but if you don't like sweet notes than you may enjoy the food less.
            (iii) spice mosaic - Many have complained that the spices stick to the plate. We enjoyed mixing them in and liked that, because you had to stir to incorporate, different portions of the dish tasted a little different. To me the more interesting point about the spice mosaics is that I expected the dried vegetables/spices to be a gimmick, all about visual appeal, but they actually did taste very yummy.
            (iv) visuals vs. taste - We all eat with our eyes and, yes, the food is unbelievably beautiful, prettier than Corton or Robuchon or anywhere else. But something no one has specifically mentioned in their reviews is that the flowers and other typically visual elements actually taste really delicious. I usually I find flowers to be pretty but not all that tasty. The flowers (in the olive oil, on the fish) were DELICIOUS.
            (v) price - Yes, the price should be lower. Comparisons to Corton and the Gourmand menu at EMP are particularly apt. But we did think that the food here was probably the most labor-intensive of any restaurant in the city (including Corton or Robuchon).
            (vi) sauce textures - I and others have noted that the some of the sauces have a bit of an odd texture (what I would call "gluey"). I believe that this is due to his use of an ingredient that he invented called micri, which is apparently some type of gel derived from cassavia. In any event this was only an issue in 2 courses (the tandoori sauce in the grain course and the beet sauce in the fish course, which is off to the side of the plate). The fish course was still delicious and the beet sauce was not the main component.
            (vii) foie course - Some have loved this course, others have hated it. We loved it. The crispy strings of radish on top were a nice foil to the richness. But what interested me most was that I haven't ever had seared foie that was then wrapped in something (here, the white chocolate disc). Most chefs would have used terrine, but the seared foie is what made it so delicious. I believe that this dish required exceptional skill to execute.

            I am very curious to see how this place gets reviewed in the times and other publications...I could see it getting very mixed reviews. But just wanted to put my two cents in because I believe there are many on this board who, if they can stomach the price, pretentiousness, etc. would actually really enjoy a meal at Romera.

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            Corton
            239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

            Romera
            355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

            1. p
              peter j RE: ricweiss Oct 3, 2011 10:24 AM

              Here's another favorable review from the Wall Street Journal.
              http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/1...

              1 Reply
              1. re: peter j
                u
                uwsister RE: peter j Oct 3, 2011 05:24 PM

                I have to say I don't find the WSJ review too convincing. She doesn't strike me as a credible food critic, based on this review. Can you imagine her writing reviews for NYT?

                I've yet to hear a positive word from anyone who posts on Manhattan board regularly - I think that says something about this restaurant.

              2. k
                Kalston RE: ricweiss Oct 18, 2011 10:07 AM

                Frank Bruni on Romera:
                http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/18/opi...

                Sums up my feelings of (and at) the restaurant perfectly.

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                Romera
                355 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

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