Restaurant Review: Blanca Is Not for Beginners

Aesthetically, philosophically, this is all rather thrilling, and arguably incredibly cool, the culinary equivalent of jolie laide. But taste is an experience of reflexive sensation, not of intellect. Both of my meals at Blanca began exuberantly, with petite vessels of citrus segments and a chile grenada granita, sweet-tart and clarion-bright—then, digging in a fork, the diner unearths one of the tiny fermented brussels sprouts buried beneath, relatively bland little spheres of dark, sulfuric mush. The dish is an exclamation point that becomes an interrobang and then slumps into a question mark. Whenever a course arrived that was just straight-up delicious, no sleight-of-hand—like Blamey’s tortilla al rescoldo, a Chilean bread studded with hunks of chewy pork belly and baked in ash, served with a frosting-like smear of daffodil-yellow cultured butter—I was almost giddy with relief. (That bread, it must be said, is so wonderful—dense and chewy and funky with pork fat—that even if you’re a cautious, risk-averse diner, it may be worth the price of admission on its own.) And there are times when the flavor-chemistry esoterica feels revelatory. A hunk of Spanish mackerel, oily and rich, sings atop a fuzz-green emulsion of lemony sorrel. Tempura-fried morsels of taro nome (angelica tree buds, with a broccoli-ish shape and a tender chlorophyllic flavor) dusted with powdered sugar offer a cockeyed, springtime take on funnel cake.

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Little is made of dessert at Blanca. After a climactic savory course—an excellent play on roasted pheasant, on my visits, complete with souvenir feather, though the kitchen has recently switched to lamb—things never quite go fully sweet. You’ll get ice cream, but it might have a dollop of parsnip purée beneath and a wodge of briny caviar on top, a callback to the original Blanca, where the roe was served with a parsnip granita. Then there’s a cheese plate, a pale slice of something creamy and a little bit sour, with a pool of honey and a few gloriously crumbly oat crackers, like house-made Hobnobs, which are decorated with pepitas. After such a high-wire act of a meal, this is a strikingly homey closing note: soft, tender, nostalgic. I kept waiting for something to jump out, to twist the pleasure a little bit, to make me question what the hell was going on: a lashing of chile? A note of bitterness? No, it was simply lovely cheese, lovely honey, a lovely cracker. It was delicious—but Blamey had trained me to wish, a little bit, that it was something more. ♦

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