Mere moments after we sat down at the ash-wood counter at Semilla, chef José Ramírez-Ruíz slipped out of the kitchen to give us a peek at our entrée for the evening: a golden-brown, brioche-wrapped daikon radish that he'd just pulled from the oven.
Personal touches like that are what make the new Williamsburg restaurant, which offers only a $75 tasting menu, not feel like a restaurant. There's that stark, U-shaped 18-seat counter—the only seating in the restaurant, reminiscent of a stately dining room table. There are the conversations that start after guests eye each other's food coming out from the teensy open kitchen. And there are the chefs themselves, who emerge from said kitchen to introduce each dish individually.
"We're really trying to feed people and take care of them—we want to interact with the guests and share our passion for the product we offer," Ramírez-Ruíz says.
Chef Jose Ramírez-Ruíz | Celery root with turnip yogurt and dried olives
He and his partner, pastry chef Pamela Yung, used to run the Chez José pop-up, and the chef's mantra here is similar: mostly vegetables, elegant plating, dishes that change often.
You're not handed a menu. Instead, nine thoughtful, nuanced courses appear from the kitchen: Gorgeous charred leeks were served with an aerated romesco, a lighter version of a classic pairing. Charred onions were topped with a flurry of cold ice milk and parsley leaves—a ballsy play on temperature and texture. And that daikon radish entrée, once sliced akin to a vegetarian beef wellington, was buttery and earthy, anointed counter-side with a rich kale-onion jus.
A dried leaf wreath | Pamela Yung's fig-leaf ice cream
Yung's a talented baker—the thick slices of house-made sourdough, served with a little dish of butter and buttermilk, were some of the best bread we've eaten, ever—and wrapped up the meal with two beautiful but not overly precious desserts, including a small disc of grassy fig leaf ice cream over a grape-buckwheat crumble.
Ramírez-Ruíz says, "Some days we might serve more courses, some days less. And sometimes the dishes will be shared—it's part of the experience to share a meal with the people you're dining with."
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