The Annotated Dish: Romera's Abstract Vegetable Soup
Romera New York, a $5 million temple of avant-garde cooking the Barcelona chef Miguel Sanchez Romera opened on Friday at the Dream Downtown Hotel in the Meatpacking, is the city’s most anticipated high-end restaurant opening of the fall. It’s also the most ambitious.
The food is—and looks—radical; some Spanish critics, who’ve been following the exploits of Ferran Adria and his disciples for years, say Romera’s food is the most high-concept cuisine in the world. It’s even got its own language: the chef, a doctor by training who maintained a neurology practice while running his Michelin-starred Barcelona restaurant L’Esguard, describes what he does as “neurogastronomy.” Which means that his precision with such banal details like temperature and color of the food is on another level that that of most other chefs; it is, appropriately, a scientist’s precision.
The dining room at Romera New York
A lot of the hype might just be marketing, but it’s obvious this isn’t everyday dining. “It’s the same as an art show,” Romera told me via a translator when I went to visit him at the restaurant prior to its opening last week. “You go three, four times a year.” We were standing in the basement-level dining room. The $245 tasting menu (it’s your only option) is served on a dramatic stage: the room slightly raised on a platform, everything pristine and white, a bit like a canvas for his colorful dishes.
As a youth growing up in Argentina, Romera had studied to be a painter, and it’s clear that he’s built these artistic aspirations into the foundations of his persona as a chef. On at least three occasions the chef, who has a professorial demeanor—earnest, excitable, playful, endlessly tangential—referenced Picasso or Van Gogh to make a point about his cooking. What the food more closely resembles, however, are the geometric abstractions of Donald Judd. (At least the dish that I tasted, a sort of idealized veggie soup Romera calls “Isis,” did.) If Judd’s boxes were more about what was excluded than included, then their minimalist purity have found a new incarnation in the plates of Chef Romera.
I asked the chef to break down the process of how “Isis” is made. Here are his notes: like Judd’s sculptures, what looks simple on the surface is deceptively complex.
“In the traditional vegetable soup, you peel the vegetables, add them to the water, turn on the burner, add salt, and cover it. When it’s done, each one of the elements are still there, but it doesn’t exists in its purity. You’re not eating a piece of potato or a piece of celery; you’re eating something that tastes and smells like vegetables, but they’re not the individual vegetables themselves. The temperature of the water has created a fusion. To make the flavor of each vegetable independent, you cannot use a pot. Which is why I divide the plate into three parts: The dried mini-vegetables; the steamed vegetables; and the consommé.”
“The vegetable squares are dried at 90 degrees Celsius in the oven. There are 15 different vegetables at the bottom of the plate in a mosaic of 48 little squares: including spinach, tomato, daikon radish, carrot, tomato, red pepper, artichoke, broccoli, beet, and green onion.”
“In the second phase, I make individual vegetables one by one. In Barcelona, I grew my own miniature vegetables; here, we have collaborated with the Chef’s Garden farm in Ohio. They are exceptional. I steam them in bamboo steamers, and then we warm them up in butter.”
“Then a consommé made up of the same vegetables is poured over the plate, dissolving the mosaic into broth.”
Photos: courtesy of Romera New York