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Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo: No Reinvention of the Wheel

Hecho en Dumbo, the former DUMBO-Brooklyn and now Bowery hipster Mexican hangout, has introduced a Chef’s Table. For a dark and ‘artfully grungy’ restaurant not necessarily known for its cooking, the introduction of a sleek Momofuku Ko-style table at the open kitchen is an interesting maneuver. And to mixed results, the Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo doesn’t whack the concept out of the park, but it isn’t a failure either. The five course prix-fixe menu is $55, a wonderful value for the generally high-quality cuisine; however, the food wasn’t so good or so innovative that it reinvented the wheel and I left not entirely sure what the kitchen meant to showcase through the Chef’s Table set-up.

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is in the back of the restaurant, past the bar and the slightly grimy dining area. It’s a smooth pale wooden bar, overlooking the kitchen, with high-rise seats for eight. For bar seating, it’s surprisingly comfortable, and spacious enough so that you’re not knocking up against your neighbors. The only unfortunate element of the Chef’s Table design is that it’s meant to allow diners to watch the kitchen staff work, yet because of the bar’s height, all of the counter-top work and plating is hidden from sight. Only views of oven, the stovetop and the fryer are available – not exactly where all ‘the fun stuff’ happens! Despite being completely ignored by the kitchen staff for over 2 hours, the service was actually quite efficient and very friendly.

Of course, at a Chef’s Table, the emphasis on the food and not much else. The five-course meal at Hecho en Dumbo is elegant and tasty, though not mind-blowing. The progression was classic, starting with ceviche and ending with dessert. The official meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of a Wellfleet oyster on the half shell with an extremely spicy tomato soup ‘shot’ – the brine of the oyster, topped with a chunky salsa verde, and the sinus-clearing heat of the soup shot complemented each other beautifully and readied the taste buds for what was to come. The first course, a sea scallop ceviche perched atop a crispy tortilla with a generous swipe of creamy queso fresco and a thin slice of cucumber, was a study in textures. The crisp tortilla and crunch of cucumber contrasted with slippery ceviche was exciting; everything tasted so fresh and bright, it was a refreshing start to the meal. The second course was an interpretation of a classic octopus starter; the thick cuts of octopus were tossed with hearty florets of marinated caulflower in a generous drizzle of hot chorizo oil, which was so concentrated that it tasted exactly like bits of hearty chorizo; a Mexican surf n’ turf, this is a contender for favorite course of the night.

As someone not necessarily in love with fish, the third course, a grilled Spanish mackerel, was not my favorite. However, my friend Diana, a fish fan, argued that the preparation was just lovely – light, flaky, and moist – and that the accompaniments, including a silky celery root puree, balanced out the fishiness of the mackerel. In between the third and fourth courses, the kitchen offered a palate cleanser that almost stole the show from the prior three offerings. A lime and mezcal sorbet, this cleanser erased all the brine of seafood and tasted like a kicked-up frozen margherita; more please! With the fourth course, the meal took a turn for the richer, much to my delight. The kitchen delivered squab bathed in a bright orange pumpkin seed mole with a cactus souffle; the bird, while slightly difficult to eat elegantly, was perfectly cooked with a deep pink center and golden crispy exterior; the mole, a most unusual shade of orange, was complex and flavorful, with a hint of warm spice and some lingering heat. While the cactus souffle had very little flavor of its own, the lovely pale green hue looked lovely on the plate and the fluffy texture contrasted well with the meatiness of the squab. All in all, the fourth course was one of the most successful, striking a nice balance between familiar elements (bird, sauce, souffle) and surprising flavors.

The last course was absolutely the highlight of the night. A panna cotta made from Mexican chocolate and vanilla atop a hazelnut crisp and in a pool of house-made caramel and hibiscus creme anglaise, the dish was both beautiful and absurdly delicious. The panna cotta itself was just the right texture, firm and gelatinous, and the caramel was the type of stuff you would just want a bowl of to snack on. The swirl of pastel pink cream through the pool of caramel was stunning (and tasted great also). This dish was just about everything you could want out of a dessert course – bravo!

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is a little of a strange experience. On the one hand, the food is mostly very good. It isn’t excellent and it’s not the most innovative ‘show your stuff’ Chef’s Table out there, but its generally delicious. On the other hand, I could not stop asking myself: “why is this a Chef’s Table?” I couldn’t grasp the point behind it. The chefs weren’t animated; there were no cooking pyrotechnics; the food wasn’t blow-your-mind innovative. That being said, if you’re a fan of modern Mexican food and you’ve got an appetite, it’s hard to say no to a $55 five-course fine dining prix-fixe!

Perfect For: people who love to cook, foodie couples, a great prix-fixe value, adventurous eaters

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