To arrive at Rattle is no cinch. The journey begins at a downtown bodega, where commences a Kabuki dance. You ask the man behind the counter the prescribed secret question, and he, whispering, gives you the secret answer, to which you then react with the set secret wisecrack and he, in turn, with the appointed secret pique. Then comes your secret smooth-over, his secret grudging forgiveness, and, finally, the secret laugh-it-off, after which his face turns serious as he beckons you follow him, please, into the kitchen. Back, back into the kitchen you go, now downstairs, upstairs, watch your head, crawling on all fours, was that a skeleton, and finally you emerge into the darkened, serene space that is Rattle.
You have, of course, already been granted a reservation after you were contacted months ago by someone calling from an undisclosed number who said he had received the package you discretely dropped behind a park bench, thanks very much, reviewed its contents—including notarized copies of your and your companions’ unexpired passports and a one-page letter explaining your group’s desire to dine at Rattle—and determined that, though you neglect the serial comma, he would fit you in on a Tuesday in November at 4:13 p.m. You had really been hoping for something closer to early May but said, “Thank you. We’re so looking forward to it,” and then agreed to meet with associates of the unnamed caller to begin negotiations over collateral for the reservation just accepted.
But you’re here now, and the seraphic hostess whisks you to a table.
There are, to be sure, no menus at Rattle. There is but one option: a pre-fixe offering of dishes of the chef’s choosing. The cuisine is not difficult to place: it is baby food.
Bibs are proffered, and shot glasses appear before you and your companions. “Amuse-bouche of chilled stewed prune and mashed little finger carrot soup,” says your server. “The chef suggests overturning the contents on the table and finger painting with them.” And so you do, each creating his own scenic worlds of purple and orange. The colors are robust, and when you lick the table the flavors reveal themselves as even more so, the coy tartness of the prune playfully batting the carrot’s sweetness. The server returns and scolds you while cleaning up the mess.
Now the sommelier stops by and suggests a Darkhan Uul 2009, Mongolian yak milk, and you accede, ordering a half gallon. It is excellent, rich, the high fat content that in certain Nepalese vintages can overpower is here restrained, deliciously nourishing. You lap the stuff from sippy cups.
A word about the chef, Breccan Thomas. Several years ago he dropped out of design school to pursue his psychotic dream of recreating infancy. He regressed to his childhood home, sequestered himself in the playroom, and underwent nine months of concentrated study of Piaget’s oeuvre, while subsisting on nothing but Gerber pureés and formula. “It was the cupcake craze that started it,” Thomas said last year (he has since ceased bestowing interviews). “The popularity of such a patently stupid dessert was significant to me. I thought, ‘If a food can turn grown people into five-year-olds, why not into little babies? Fetuses, even. How far could we go?’” Rattle is his bid to find out.
Back to the table. The first course at Rattle is usually a pureé, as are most of those subsequent, an homage, perhaps, to Thomas’s months of isolated, mush-fueled lucubration. These dishes are, almost without exception, delectable. This afternoon you slurp down a gazpacho-like concoction made from luscious Brandywine tomatoes, brightened with a dollop of cilantro foam and a crushed jungle green crayon. Another occasion brings a luscious goopy rice mixture atop which have been crumbled bits of animal crackers, tigers and monkeys only. And in yet one more offering, sweet corn and cranberries provide the base for a further mélange of complex flavors. The texture you sense here? Legos.
You have been spoiled rotten. But Thomas saves the best for last, his creativity sparkling brightest with the onset of the dessert course. After several bites, you begin to feel, well, a touch odd—something, you think, isn’t right here. And then it happens. Magically, intensely, you puke. Your companions puke, too, uncontrollably, authentically, spilling their undigested dinner on the table and the wall, the floor and their shoes. It is at this moment, when the house-made syrup of ipecac madeleine has you on hands and knees, panting and heaving, that it happens: you are verily borne back through the years.
You see a familiar, friendly face. A young woman guides a spoon into your mouth, taking her time, mimicking the undulations and reverberations of aircraft. She smiles. You smile. You disgorge the food she just gave you. She sighs, chuckles, and wipes your chin. And you realize that this afternoon, at Rattle, you have been fed by a genius.
**** (Four stars)