Since Romera opened its doors in New York last month, it’s provided both critics and casual observers with ample fodder for disgust, indignation, and grudging awe, usually simultaneously. Owned by Miguel Sánchez Romera, a Barcelona neurologist and self-trained chef, the restaurant, quoth its website, “offers guests an opportunity to experience neurogastronomy,” which “embodies a holistic approach to food by means of a thoughtful study of the organoleptic properties of each ingredient.”
Small wonder, then, that Romera, with its $245 11-course tasting menu, “Aqua Gourmand” pairings, mini vegetables, and gold-rimmed Versace plates, has already managed to provoke such pronounced reactions.
“This valentine on a plate was staggering to behold,” The Wall Street Journal gushed, describing a “mosaic of dried herbs” and vegetables submerged in green soup.
“It’s the craziest example I’ve encountered of the way our culture’s food madness tips into food psychosis,” fumed Frank Bruni in The New York Times’ Op-Ed pages. “It’s such a florid demonstration of just how much culinary vanity we’ve encouraged and pretension we’ve unleashed.”
“Ambitiously flawed, strangely misconceived,” concluded Adam Platt in this week’s New York magazine.
To be sure, opening a restaurant armed with a $245 entrance fee and flavored waters while the 99 percent occupies Wall Street fewer than three miles south is a wee bit tone-deaf. And providing a box of butterfly-embossed tasting notes to accompany each course is certainly an effective way to signal your pretension.
But is Romera really that much more pretentious than the farm-to-table joint that serves you a $14 plate of minimally adorned beets or a single nectarine, or the “ice cream subscription service” that charges about $16 per pint? For all the excellent products and progressive ideas it has birthed, the artisanal/sustainable food movement has enabled plenty of (handcrafted) snake oil salesmen. What makes them different from Romera is their ability to fit with prevailing fashion. These days, Kool-Aid is far more palatable served in a Mason jar than in designer stemware.
In other words, Romera is not gastronomically correct. Its pretensions are flamboyant, not disguised in a Trojan horse fashioned from reclaimed barn wood. It’s a reason to be grateful for Romera, in all its insufferable, insane glory. Every week seems to bring another restaurant serving urban barnhouse food, rustic Italian, or self-consciously “authentic” barbecue; it’s a rare treat to find a place so unapologetic about its ambitions. Romera is arrogant and self-absorbed—and maybe even misguided—but at least it isn't afraid to flaunt its ideas, the pink flamingo in a flock of sparrows.
Image source: romeranewyork.com