I’m vowing to complete this post without using the ubiquitous seven-letter word beginning with “h” and ending with “r” that springs – seemingly without hesitation – to the tip of the tongue when Williamsburg, Green Point, and Bushwick arise in conversation. Briefly, I’ve spent the duration of my time in New York living in North Brooklyn; I don’t have tattoos; while I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional beer/shot special at one of a few local watering holes and I now ride a vintage steel bike, I consider myself to be a normal human. I find north Brooklyn to be a congenial place to live and I prefer it adamantly to the chi-chi, stroller-strewn environs of south Brooklyn (meaning essentially everything south of Fort Greene.)
Perhaps no restaurant gathers more stereotypically arrayed and adorned north Brooklyners than Roberta’s in Bushwick. I lived off the Morgan stop on the L line when Roberta’s opened. It was a motley collection of long tables in a big open room with a pizza oven. There was no liquor license, but the pizza was tasty. Now, about five years later, Roberta’s is a vast compound that features multiple dining areas and bars as well as its own radio station and urban greenhouse garden on the roof. I visit Roberta’s once, maybe twice a year, each time marveling at its sheer growth and development since my last visit. Until my recent experience dining at Blanca, the most intricate meal I’d had at Roberta’s was an Easter multi-course tasting menu a few years ago featuring lamb that had been slaughtered and fabricated by the Roberta’s staff, paired with wines based on the Sagrantino grape variety. It was memorable. I suppose because I’ve watched it develop, garner national acclaim, and grow to epic proportions, I have a sort of fondness in my heart for Roberta’s. It’s an interesting and fundamentally good place; the folks behind it are creative as well as entrepreneurial; the food is generally excellent.
With these thoughts in mind, I happily accepted an invitation to dine at Blanca, a high-end, reservation only, sub restaurant of Roberta’s that is tucked away behind the main dining and drinking saloons. Blanca is an airy, open space in which diners eat in a semi-circle overlooking the kitchen. The space reminded me of the teaching facility in Astor Center above Astor Wines and Spirits, all gleaming and white and professional, quite the contrast to the rest of Roberta’s. In spite of the fact that one watches everything as it’s happening in the kitchen, it isn’t an interactive experience, save that the excellent sommelier, Shanti, comes by and gives a sentence or two summation of the beverage pairing (if you go that route; there’s also a more traditional wine list). The tasting menu is roughly 25 courses, and the accompanying tipples range from wine to beer to sake to tea. Unlike other tasting menus, there is no actual, physical document telling you what you’ll be eating, and since phones and cameras are disallowed at Blanca, it was a challenge to remember exactly what was what. Personally I loved the décor as well as the laid back vibe of the place, enhanced by a record player in the corner treating us to The Rolling Stones as well as Metallica while we ate. There’s something inherently and self-consciously “cool” about the place, yet there’s nothing sloppy or slapdash about the food, which is thoughtfully conceived and executed.