Ballarò is a little Italian bistro on 2nd Avenue that is one of my favorite places for a coffee or modest lunch. They have excellent panini, including some breakfast specialties, good well-selected wines, and real Italians behind the counter. So when manager Stefano Sasselli announced that he was hosting a special dinner of crudo – raw seafoods and meat – with chef L.J. Wiley (of The Station in Williamsburg), I was in. It was a friendly affair, sold-out, the courses paired with wines from Ballarò’s regular stock, a cool repast of the unheated and uncooked, a spread, in short, that deserved a spread.
As the chef prepared the first course at the counter, Long Island fluke resting in a citrus, olive oil and violet liqueur broth (or marinade), we enjoyed some of Ballarò’s signature appetizers, a selection of the complimentary snacks they serve for happy hour, petite bread squares topped with mushrooms, chopped tomatoes or artichokes, a little ham skewered with a baby tomato. The fluke, when it came, was delicious, and the cold liquid that drenched it one of the most memorable flavors of the evening, sweet, cool, tart and refreshing. While the rest of the table soaked it up with breadsticks, I brought the bowl surreptitiously to my lips to sip the last of it.
We moved to the oyster course, a meticulous layering on of ingredients – Blue Point oysters, cucumbers, frozen grapes, a bit of horseradish, the liquid of the oysters themselves – nicely paired with a crisp white; then thin-sliced, fatty, ribbony tuna, garnished with kimchee and accompanied by the only red wine of the evening; then beef shavings so soft as to all but dissolve in the mouth, topped with perhaps the most unusual garnishment and most striking flavor of the meal. What looked like small poached eggs were in fact globes of truffled sunchoke puree. It was like eating the scooped-out pulp of some newly discovered tropical fruit, salty, savory, and gelatinous.
Dessert was not a crudo, technically, but, I suppose, a fresco, braised pineapple in a sort of creme brulee. It was tinged with jasmine, a floral and colorific denouement. The chef – culinary artist, really – came from behind the counter to accept our well-deserved thanks.