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