Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I knew I'd come across Dr. Romera before...

The New York Times’ new restaurant critic, Pete Wells, tears Romera New York a new one in his review of the restaurant that, by most accounts that I’ve read, is way too pretentious and self-important for its own good

I don’t usually like to read the take-down of a restaurant, because restaurateurs really put their hearts into them. But Wells did have some great lines. I wanted to tweet them, but they were more than 140 characters.

Then I remembered that I have a blog.

And so, please let me share two sentences that I really enjoyed:

Yet as much as you might admire Dr. Romera, you can’t help feeling that you will never be able to admire him quite as much as you’re supposed to.”


But to eat at Romera New York is to be told repeatedly that you are in the presence of greatness, while the evidence of your senses tells you that you are in the presence of, at best, okayness.”

Wells also did me the service of reminding me that I had met the chef, Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera, before, in a surreal experience that itself reminded me that, when it comes to self-importance, Americans, even American artists, are wannabes compared to Europeans.

The Times critic mentioned that Romera eschewed “chemicals” used by such culinary artists as Ferran Adrià (and by now many fine dining chefs in the United States) and instead used a cassava derivative called Micri.

Micri! I remembered Micri.

I was introduced to it years ago, near the turn of the century, at an event in New York hosted by the French Culinary Institute.

It was very well attended by many of New York City's coolest chefs. I'm pretty sure Wylie Dufresne was there. I know David Burke was there because he sat next to me and began thinking about what to do with Micri — instant shake-it-up-yourself milkshakes was one idea, but I'm pretty sure nothing came of it.

On stage, David Bouley made fascinating dishes displaying Micri's seemingly endless capacity for soaking up liquids, and Dr. Romera gave a lecture that seemed to last for at least three hours, but that was probably about 35 mintues, about his gastronomical philosophy, his own epistemological notions of how we perceive taste, I think from some sort of gastro-historical perspective, but I don’t really remember and couldn't possibly find my notes on the subject. 

It was all in Spanish and I don’t know whether it was translated badly or if it simply didn’t make sense, but the charts describing Dr. Romera’s thought process were equally obtuse and absurd. And it was without a doubt a display of the sort of colossal self-importance that Wells indicated was on display at Romera, and I don't doubt it.

At the time of the demonstration, I was not only awestruck by the ridiculous way that Micri was presented, but also by its seemingly magical properties. But I was young.

Since then I've seen lots of those ingredients and was more intrigued by the scallop quenelles Josh DeChellis made with a slimy Japanese tuber called nagaimo than anything I saw the Micri do, and I didn't have to endure a lecture.