At a communal table last Saturday night, sat a gentleman from Munich and his partner from France, a couple from Trinidad, a Texan, a Venezuelan, and a handful of others from around the city & world, served by a charming & talented Nigerian chef, Aya Balogun -- at Dept of Culture Brooklyn.

Aya made a point that stuck with me, that may be the first time I've acknowledged it: I'm as much a New Yorker now as anything else. Despite our differences in language, culture, color and customs, he told us all midway through the meal (and I'm paraphrasing), all of us around that table - we are all New Yorkers, and that is our common bond. Simple, but true.

And this was certainly a kind of night only New York City can provide; one the New Yorker captioned well: “Every Night is a Party at Dept of Culture Brooklyn."

Ari & I had the pleasure of meeting Ayo, and enjoying one of his highly sought after meals, using recipes from his motherland, Nigeria.

BYOB, and get to know your neighbors, over four courses -- each one delivered with a story, and some context as to the dishes' origins. Aya chats about other ideas, feelings, and thoughts about running a business, New York City, and, I presume, what might be on his mind generally that night.

In doing so, he just slows it all down a bit, forcing patience, and inspiring presence & connection. I didn't see anyone pull out their phones to snap photos of the food... we were too busy chatting, sharing, and listening; and then, of course - eating. His food is delicious.

We started with a fish soup, perfectly spiced and delicate; and then Wara - a spongy fried cheese topped with a flavorful red sauce (my favorite!); and our last savory dish: Amala, a staple of the Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria, a fermented cassava, unlike anything I'd ever eaten before.

The meal was excellent, truly delicious and unique in expression, setting, and energy. So much so, that Aya is cooking this week at the James Beard house; and has been named Top 50 New Restaurants of 2022 by Bon Appétit magazine.

We're not surprised... Book a Reservation Here.