At Romera New York, a new restaurant in Chelsea, blazers are optional,

but straitjackets would be a fine idea. (from the NYT)































































































Dinner and Derangement


During thousands of elaborate restaurant meals over dozens of piggy years, I’ve received many exacting, even loopy, instructions.

I’ve been prodded to dab a special scent on my wrist before savoring my salad. To proceed through the five microscopic canapés before me from left to right, as if they were words in a sentence that would lose all meaning if scrambled. To exhale a particular way as I chewed an avant-garde popcorn cluster so that the smoke inside it billowed from my nostrils.

Romera New York is the first restaurant where I was told to “make a memory” of my water.

Romera is Manhattan’s newest culinary oddity, an elegant hideaway whose conceits include the pairing of each dish in an 11-course meal with a lukewarm flavored water in a lidded grappa glass. One water might be infused with leek and radish, another with jasmine and dried seaweed. Most taste like indecisive teas, commitment-phobic broths or pond runoff.

“Feel free to smell them,” said a server, as if I might otherwise feel jailed. “And to taste them.” He paused. “Make a memory of them.”

While blazers are optional at Romera, straitjackets would be a fine idea.

It’s the craziest example I’ve encountered of the way our culture’s food madness tips into food psychosis, at least among those with keen appetites and the means to indulge them.

But it’s hardly the only illustration. Surf the cable channels and clock the time before you spy a spatula, a strainer, someone chewing, someone oohing or Gordon Ramsay. I bet it’s less than 11 seconds.

Diners at the latest hot bistro or trattoria snap loving pictures of everything they eat, seeming to forget that it’s dinner, not “America’s Next Top Chicken Breast.” In New York, even the meatballs have paparazzi.

Steaks come with discourses on breed, feed and dry versus wet aging; coffee with soliloquies about growing regions, grinding methods and the optimal pour-over technique; beer with overwrought tasting notes.

We’ve tumbled far, far down the organic rabbit hole. And with Romera, which opened a month ago in Chelsea, we may have finally hit bottom.

It’s not just that this restaurant, which serves a single tasting menu for $245 a person before drinks or tip, seems wildly out of sync with the economic times. Many restaurants do, and some of them are necessary and praiseworthy.

Romera demands notice mostly because it’s such a florid demonstration of just how much culinary vanity we’ve encouraged and pretension we’ve unleashed.

Its chef, Miguel Sánchez Romera, is a doctor who worked for years as a neurologist. He has coined a whole new genre for his cooking, which favors squishy textures, kaleidoscopic mosaics of vegetable powders, and a wedding’s worth of edible flowers.

He calls it neurogastronomy, which “embodies a holistic approach to food by means of a thoughtful study of the organoleptic properties of each ingredient,” or so says the restaurant’s Web site. Organoleptic means “perceived by a sense organ.” I looked it up.

My server explained that each dish’s palette and aroma, as well as its flavor, were supposed to prompt a “sense memory.” He said that the tuna tartare with coconut, jasmine and orange blossom had brought him “straight back to Cape Cod when I was 8 years old and I tasted my first virgin piña colada.”

All of that from the tiny, six-bite portion? I must be a sense-memory slacker. I was brought back only to other, more voluminous tuna tartares, which I suddenly and sorely missed.

That tuna dish is called Cloris, after a Greek goddess of flowers. A subsequent dish of 12 kinds of grains encircling a black olive jam is called Omnium, a Latin term for the whole of something.

Euterpes is the name for the foie gras with white chocolate, referring to a muse of lyric poetry. Before you compliment me on my classical chops, I should confess that this education came from the gorgeous matte flashcards, one per dish, that guide a diner through the Romera phantasmagoria.

The cards, with a butterfly illustration on one side and text on the other, delve verbosely into etymology, ecology, horticulture, philosophy. “The objective of any pre-appetizer,” says one, is to “prepare the guest for the degustation that will follow.” Another: “By looking at nature with eyes of solidarity we will see that it is always expressing something to us.”

I looked at my companion, Tom, with eyes of solidarity, expressing my support for his attempts to wave down the woman with the breadbasket. The bread didn’t have a flashcard. It was just bread.

Purple basil, marjoram, geranium leaves and such grew in tidy clusters around the restaurant’s dining room, which was ringed by white mesh cloth. I felt like a cheese. An herbed, flowered, pampered, bamboozled cheese.

What kind of water goes best with that? Tap. Cold, if possible.

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