• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
My friend Anthony and I were out taking photos in Chinatown one Thursday night, when we decided to consult good, ol’ Yelp for something good to eat. There were so many four- and five-star options in the Lower East Side that it was hard to choose, but the small plates and small prices of The Stanton Social appealed to us and our wannabe-struggling-artist sensibilities.
Both the dining room downstairs and all of the tables upstairs were full, so we were ushered to the lounge area by the very friendliest Pennsylvania-born server ever to work in New York City. The long, low couches and tiny tables made a fine dining area for such an informal meal, but with only candlelight to work with, I’m afraid my pictures are severely lacking. Try to look past them, because they do the meal no justice.
I wouldn’t have ordered this on my own due to still being a newborn when it comes to eating seafood, and I didn’t walk away from it feeling like it really opened my eyes to octopus or anything, but it certainly wasn’t unenjoyable. The chunks of meat were a little chewier than I would’ve liked, but the contrast of the extra-crunchy bread was nice. Anthony seemed to think this was more excellent than I did, so maybe a real seafood-lover wouldn’t be as picky as I am.
I guess I need to amend my admission that I’m not a real seafood-lover, because I am a real lover of lobster, especially lobster rolls. This was your usual chunky, creamy filling, but it had the advantage of a sturdy, pretzel-type bread and pickles. I understand that lobster rolls traditionally come with a pickle spear on the side, but to actually have the pickle in the roll somehow seemed like a great advancement in lobster roll technique. This was a pretty hefty price tag for two bites of sandwich, but it was certainly more delicious than the $12 and $16 rolls I’ve had.
Another great twist on a classic, with truffle and goat cheese fondue topping thin slices of tender Kobe beef. I might have actually liked this better than the lobster because its richness made the one bite I got seem more hearty and filling.
We didn’t order these, but I’m glad our server thought we did, because their menu description belied their deliciousness. I think of pierogies as homey but a little bland, but with those caramelized onions, chives, and truffle creme fraiche, they were like eating a baked potato with the works. The truffle in the creme fraiche was so perfectly warming on a rainy, chilly night, but the flavor somehow managed not to overpower the all-important chives.
This mini pizza had a great part-crunchy, part-chewy crust loaded up with tender, flavorful duck, sweet figs, and funky blue cheese. It tasted very composed, with plenty of every ingredient and just the right amount of each.
I want to describe these as my new reason for living but don’t want you to think me an overexaggerator. Never was an escargot plate used better than to house these six soup dumplings. If you’ve ever had the classic Chinese soup dumplings filled with pork or shrimp, these will seem familiar to you for the one second it takes for the skin to pop in your mouth and the French onion soup to spill out. The layer of melted cheese and the speared crouton on top of each were true to form, but the dumplings were so good on their own I would’ve been entirely happy even without them. Next time, I plan to eat five orders of these myself and still follow it up with one of Stanton Social’s enticing desserts.
The Stanton Social isn’t exactly cheap–two of us spent $120 with one drink apiece for a few bites of a few dishes–but being delighted by the flavor combinations over and over again made it seem worthwhile. I’m still thinking about the gush of those soup dumplings, that rich truffle cream, and the tang of blue cheese on fig weeks later. Even while relegated to the lounge, we got a good taste of our surroundings–candlelight, white furniture and dark woods, and a nightclubby vibe with beautiful people to match. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t really have to put out good food to draw a crowd, and yet everything tasted like some nerd back in the kitchen was hard at work, trying to impress the pretty people.
My boyfriend and I started going to Alta well before this food blog existed. We went there before we even knew about the Le Bernardins and the Jean-Georges of the city, before things like ratings and Michelin stars mattered to us, and well before I’d even consider eating seafood. It feels homey to me.
Now that I’m a fish-consuming machine, we decided to go back last weekend to see what we’d been missing out on. It’s giant menu full of small plates, and every one sounds delicious in its own way. (Which is why I really should’ve tried harder to talk Dr. Boyfriend into trying the Whole Shebang: $310 for the entire menu.) Plus, I’d gotten a new 35mm f/1.8 lens and wanted to see how it would perform under the nothing-but-candlelight conditions. (Not too shabby, but it was clearly not happy with me.) Here are the very few dishes we were able to summon up the bellyspace for:
This is the dish I associate Alta with. I’ve ordered it every time we’ve eaten there . . . until this time; we decided to branch out and give some new things a try. But lucky for us, the kitchen said they made extra and didn’t want to throw it out. It may have just been that they saw my camera and thought I might be important (ha). Whatever the case, I love these things. The crispy outer shell collapses into sweet, creamy goat cheese. Roll all of that in the honey, and you basically have dessert. For an appetizer. Which means life couldn’t be better.
The surprise is that this will make you sick of truffles! No, just kidding, but these little purses aren’t for the faint of heart: the cream cheese is almost runny from the amount of truffle oil mixed into it. Luckily, the plain crunchy stem of phyllo gathered at the top really tones it down and balances it out. I really, really liked this, but one was definitely enough for me.
This was like eating a better version of chicken salad. The chicken was spicy at first, but then the sweetness of the fruit kicked in; I’d thought the sauce was some sort of hummus, so the sweet tang of the yogurt and molasses was a welcome surprise. There was a nutty crunch (possibly pine nuts) and the crisp leaf to add texture. A nice twist to your usual rice-only grape leaf stuffing.
I don’t know if a photo can convey the wildness and unexpectedness of this dish. We thought we’d be getting a neat, little square of foie gras, and we did. Only it was covered in a wrapper of what I can only describe as fruit skin. It was like a huckleberry Fruit Roll-up made of Jell-o, and it was entirely appropriate to the dish. The texture contrasts between the gelatinous skin, the slick foie gras, and the caramelized nuts were really nice, and while the dish was almost offensively salty, I’d rather have too much salt than too little. This was definitely the most interesting dish of the night and was a welcome addition to Alta’s menu of usually more straightforward preparations.
This was probably my favourite dish of the night, and again, it was just a lucky gift from the kitchen. It was everything I like: spicy, sour, cheesy, rich, hearty, and bacony. The corn retained a bit of its crisp freshness and was complimented by the chewy, thin slivers of bacon on top. The truffle flavor added depth, and the spice brightened everything up. I would order this for sure on my own next time. Serendipitous!
My boyfriend was pretty nice and let this be the only seafood dish of the night, and it couldn’t have been more tame. Well, partly because he ate all of the whole fish (I’m definitely not ready for heads), and partly because it tasted like French fries. The seafood was very lightly battered, but the hearty sprinkling of lemon juice and salt covered up any fishiness. (It couldn’t cover up the chewiness of that squid, though.) The shrimp, my favourite part, were buttery as can be, and the deep-fried parsley added a nice crunch. This fulfilled the weird craving I’ve been having for fish & chips lately.
We’ve had the cheese plate at Alta before and think it’s improved since last time. The ratio of cheese to bread to strawberry paste couldn’t have been more perfect, and the card showcasing the cheese names was a very welcome addition. The roncal was meaty, the patacabra like Swiss. The nevat had a rich nuttiness, and the mont enebro was pungent and blue-like. The idiazabal was almost flavorless to us, but we luckily finished off the plate with the woody valdeon.
This was the fresh version of a strawberry Starburst candy; it was more strawberry than strawberries are. The ice cream was like a cream cheese icing, and that of course perfectly complemented the dense, strawberry-juice-soaked cake serving as a base. This was easily my boyfriend’s favourite of the desserts.
I was under the impression that the torija at Degustation couldn’t be touched, and while Alta’s version just didn’t have the same juxtaposition between very crunchy and very doughy, this was easily my favourite of the desserts.
The bread tasted like bananas were used in it, and the ice cream, though not nearly as sour as I would’ve wanted it to be for lebne, had a layer of what seemed like raw sugar underneath (but may have been a marcona almond croquant, if the menu is correct), creating a contrasting crunch. The sour, buttery sauce tasted of lemon and maybe cardamom and was probably the best part of the dish, but bread that dense and sticky doesn’t even need sauce.
A lot of the restaurants I love are stark and pristine, with overly-complicated dishes and perfect, borderline-robotic service; that’s the exact opposite of where I come from, so the novelty is fun. But sometimes I just want a relaxed, pretension-free meal, and that’s why I keep wanting to return to Alta. I love the warm colors and candlelight, the rustic small plates menu, and the feeling that everyone there is having a good time with much-loved friends. It’s not quite perfect for the diner who cares more about the food specifically than the experience as a whole–when I asked our server what was in the torija sauce, he neither knew nor offered to ask anyone–but Alta isn’t trying for any James Beard awards. And what they’re doing is working for them: just try to come without a reservation, and you’ll see what I mean.
Degustation is designed entirely to facilitate a relationship between the chef and the diner. With only 16 seats arranged in a half-rectangle around a bar that encompasses the prep area, you don’t miss a moment of your dinner being made. For better or worse.
Do you want to see the plastic storage bowl your rabbit liver came out of? Do you want to look at a whole container of cooked bacon slabs on the counter throughout your meal and know that you only get two tiny pieces? Is that worth it to get to watch your chef so delicately place a single slice of Fresno pepper on top of a sardine with a pair of forceps? It’s not exactly the most romantic of date spots, but dinner at Degustation is special in its own way.
Being served this the moment we walked in the door was kind of hilarious, if you know me. While I can at least eat seafood without much complaint now, I still don’t find it the least bit comforting or homey. And it was actually my first time at Degustation that I tried fish skin for the first time. At least that was attached to a piece of actual fish, though; this was just straight-up skin.
And I actually kind of liked it! It was only slightly fishy, and the texture reminded me of Cheetos: crispy, puffy, and full of tiny air holes. The sherry vinegar was so sour it made me wrinkle my nose, but I liked the combination.
Clearly this is much more my speed. A crunchy exterior, a creamy potato interior punctuated by ham bits, and a smoky emulsion underneath that I kept coming back to, trying to scrape more off my plate. This still wasn’t as good as the one at Tenpenny, but I think it was improved over the last time we were at Degustation.
This was our favourite on the plate because it was the most original and complexly-flavored. The tortilla had the texture of a Shanghai bun skin, and the filling was like caramelized onions: sweet and sour and like it came off the bottom of a cast iron pan. The shallot jam is just really nice, too; it has all of the flavor of an aged wine with all of the texture of a homemade jelly.
• hamachi crudo
I somehow didn’t take a photo of this, but it was served on a spoon with pickled vegetables. It wasn’t fishy but had that distinctive fresh ocean flavor that you find in mild seafood like scallops and shrimp. The refreshing bite was a nice palate-cleanser for the more intensely-flavored amuses.
I love a savory panna cotta; you just don’t get enough creaminess in savory foods. Panna cotta topped in sea urchin is a little bit different, but I understand that uni is considered a major delicacy, and I’ve only had it a handful of times at this point, so I was open-minded.
It tastes like iron, looks like orange chicken skin, and has the texture of mousse. Which is not to say that I didn’t kind of enjoy it. The spice of the single slice of pepper really pervaded the entire bowl, and I can really get behind the idea of uni pudding, which is basically what this was.
The problem is that everything in the bowl was just so unfamiliar. About halfway through, it started seeming just, you know, something someone should eat only if beef isn’t available. I ended up mixing the rest of my uni into the panna cotta so I could disguise it. I’m still a work in progress, I guess.
On the other hand, I think I can honestly say that I like monkfish liver. I had it first at an Asian buffet (Ichi Umi), but it was drowning in some sort of sweet sauce that I figured was the only thing making it palatable.
But no, it tasted like any other totally non-fishy organ meat and had a wonderful flaky, chunky texture. And, as I’ve probably made abundantly clear, I hate tomatoes despite years of trying not to, yet these were weirdly delicious. The cilantro and red onion overpowered that gross not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory thing tomato has going so that the topping tasted like a fresh, crisp salsa. I really loved the way that nothing could get soggy because of the way it was cut into little slivers.
I was really excited when this was set down in front of me. I was ready for something earthy and familiar. We sunk the contents of our spoons into our cups of soup and were delighted by crunchy bacon and artichoke tips and . . . SALMON ROE? I wrote in my notebook, “Just give me something without fish!” Even the wine this was paired with tasted salmony to me. At least the soup itself was delicious, with a savory foam on top that reminded us of eating garlic and onion potato chips.
We loved the salty, garlicky flavor of this dish. After a pretty dismal experience at Flex Mussels recently, this brought me back to bivalves a little. The textures in the dish were all of a similar chewiness, but luckily, I like chewy.
My boyfriend was worried I wouldn’t like this due to its silver-skinned fishiness, but on the contrary, it was just a big, salty, crunchy fish stick. I loved the spicy pepper against the cool pickled vegetables, and the tzatziki was like a better version of tartar sauce.
This one kind of overwhelmed us and sent us into a five-star-dish coma, starting with the adorable presentation of the brown egg on blue-and-brown-striped plates and ending with the tiny chunks of ham hidden in the cheesy egg filling. We loved the texture progression from creamy egg to chewy ham to crunchy crouton.
Watching a chef form your rabbit liver into a quenelle with two spoons right in front of you is kind of a joy. So is eating different preparations of the same animal in one dish. The liver was smooth and organy, but the pate was like eating a really fine lunch meat–spicy, flavorful, but so likeable a kid would eat it. Spread on the crisp baguette and topped with some pickled greens, it was hearty and filling.
This lovely little chunk of rare lamb was wrapped in lamb bacon and proved once again that any kind of bacon is good bacon. The Romesco sauce was nutty, garlicky, and sweet from the red peppers it’s made from; we weren’t sure if it was just the color, but when we swiped our barley through the sauce, we swore it made them taste like orange Nerds candy. We loved the sour dirt-looking topping, and I was shocked to learn it was made from my enemy, the olive.
I wish I had any memory of what this was, but between wine pairings and my not writing anything about it in my little notebook, it’s pretty hazy. Some sort of meringue, an orange supreme, and a slice of jelly. I remember liking it, but I guess it wasn’t quite memorable enough to overcome the wine.
On the other hand, it’s almost like I can still taste this little square of French-toast-like brioche. It was our favourite dish on our first visit to Degustation and definitely did not disappoint the second time around, even without the benefit of newness on its side. The way they torch the outside but leave the inside doughy and uncooked makes for such interesting taste and texture contrasts. The chef in front of us, sensing our delight, informed us that the bread is soaked in heavy cream for twenty-four hours. And that explains that.
We didn’t, however, care for the grapefruit segment on the side. I really, really love grapefruit, but next to the super-sweet caramelized bread, it became savory; usually I love the play between sweet and savory in dessert, but in this case, the grapefruit just sort of lost all its flavor, like fruit does when it’s out of season.
I wasn’t using a ratings system at the time of our first visit, but I think I would’ve given Degustation four donuts back then, too. It doesn’t exactly reflect how I feel about the place in certain circumstances, though. I don’t think the food is technically perfect, and for me, it’s way too heavy on the fish. But for diners who are just getting into high-end food and don’t mind a little roe here and there, I think it’s one of the best values going.
For $80, you get to try ten tasty and creative courses and watch the chefs make them right in front of you. Things can get pricey if you opt for the wine pairings, which run the same as dinner itself, but it’s still several hundred dollars less than you’d pay at many of the restaurants I’ve rated five donuts. Of course I’d argue that the several hundred dollars is worth it for a five-donut meal, but while those might be once or twice in a lifetime meals, Degustation serves more of an everyday dinner in a less-stuffy environment. Plus, did you see that torija?
My boyfriend got a sudden urge for a tasting menu last week, so I posted to Chowhound seeking a menu without much seafood to suit me. Someone suggested Degustation, where we’ve been meaning to go anyway, and even though the restaurant has no website of its own to post a menu on, other people’s reviews seemed to suggest the place was right up my alley.
It’s basically located in an alley, so we almost missed it, and then when the friendly hostess came to greet us, it turned out we weren’t on their reservation list. I chalked it up to the unpleasant telephone exchange I’d had with the reservationist the day before in which I supposedly mispronounced the name of the place, but then the hostess asked, “Is the reservation for day-gus-TAY-shun or our sister restaurant, Jewel Bako?” After I finished mentally rejoicing that someone who actually works there pronounces it the same way I did, another employee came over and led us to our seats, even though it was clear we didn’t have a reservation. So A+ to the restaurant staff for clearing up the issue, and F- to reservationist for mucking up my self-esteem and my good name (kidding).
We loved the set-up of Degustation. The 16-seat wooden bar makes a half-rectangle around the kitchen so that you can see your food being prepared and the chef can watch you enjoying it. The diners were a mix of young couples like ourselves who were all ordering the 10-course tasting menu and older couples who had obviously been there before and were enjoying glass after glass of wine. The couple next to me seemed to order every single dish on the menu, and I only noticed because the old man kept punching me in the side with his elbow and cutting his meat with his arm all up in my business, and I was dying for them to leave. Of course I assumed he was mistreating me because he knew I was too poor to be eating there, but I tried to keep my paranoia in check.
Our amuse-bouche was a croquet of corn and pork and a tortilla folded around a nearly-raw quail egg over shallot jam. The croquet was a little too mushy inside, but the shell was perfectly crisp, and corn can do no wrong in my book. I made the mistake of not eating the tortilla in one bite, so the egg leaked out all over my plate, but it gave me a better chance to mix it into the very complimentary shallot jam.
Our first course was a chilled almond soup with champagne grapes and raw almonds. The combination of grapes and almonds was even better than I expected, and as someone who doesn’t care for the texture of almonds, I loved being able to experience the flavor without finding nut bits in my teeth for hours afterward.
Our second course was broccoli rabe two ways with parmesan broth and pineapple foam. The fried rabe was probably the best preparation I’ve ever tasted, but it kept getting soft in the parmesan broth before I could get it into my mouth. The pineapple foam was delicious and inventive, but Kamran didn’t think it mixed well with the broth.
The third course was a heirloom tomato summer salad with basil, egg vinaigrette, and a hunk of pork. Tomatoes are the one food I absolutely can’t bear to eat, so I was extremely disappointed to see an entire course centered on them. When the server asked if I was allergic to anything, I should have just told her I can’t eat tomatoes and bypassed the whole thing, but I thought I could tough out anything they brought me. Kamran told me that his tasted sweet, so I tried a bite of each of the five kinds on my plate, but it took everything I had not to make disgusted faces. He tasted some of mine and agreed that they weren’t as good as his. Luckily, I love basil, and the pork was done really, really well, with an extra-crispy skin.
The fourth course was smoked sea trout with red onions and scallion cream cheese. I don’t generally like fish, but I can eat raw salmon, and this reminded me a lot of that. I didn’t notice the smoky flavor until Kamran pointed it out to me, but the onions were a great addition, as were these tiny green cubes of something incredibly spicy. We couldn’t name them, but we loved them.
The couple around the corner of the bar from us were one course ahead of us, so I knew ahead of time that sardines were coming. When it comes to fish–and especially the very last kind of fish I’d ever eat if given a choice–having more time to prepare myself for it isn’t the way to go. Knowing what was coming, I kept asking questions about it to Kamran, who could do nothing to assuage my extreme horror at the idea of having to eat fish skin. Let me just show you the picture so you’ll have an idea of how gross this plate looked.
I was even more horrified when ol’ Jabby Elbow next to me asked if he and his wife could have the sardines off the menu. “We just love sardines!” the woman said. The server told them the dish was only part of the 10-course tasting menu, so as much as I wanted to slide my plate over to them, I reveled in the fact that I had something they couldn’t have.
The first preparation was pickled with a sort of tartar sauce underneath. The taste of it didn’t bother me all that much, honestly, but I just couldn’t get past the slippery skin. Seeing the shiny silver was bad enough, but feeling it slide across my tongue was just awful. I had to give it to Kamran, who told me he’d buy me ice cream later just for trying it.
The second was fried with pickled onions, and it was the best of the three for me, simply because it didn’t look like fish.
But to be honest, the grilled piece actually tasted the best. I love the taste of blackened anything, so it really helped me enjoy the fish. As much as I could ever hope to enjoy a sardine, I mean. (My friend the bachelor girl tells me that she actually likes sardines, though, so it’s not just old people.)
I was very much bored of fish at this point, and the next dish only made it worse. It was a skin-on dorade with matsutake mushrooms and dashi broth. The fish seemed to be cooked well and all, but the dish was just plain boring. It looked bland, and it tasted bland.
I was really looking forward to the seventh course simply because I’ve always wanted to eat something out of a hollow egg. We’d seen a carton of eggshells with their tops cut off sitting on a high shelf above the chef and were excited about the possibility of being served something in them, and what we got was more interesting than I had expected.
It was a duck egg custard with maple syrup, brioche, and bacon. The custard was a little thin, but the sweetness of the maple syrup with it was really nice, as was the crunchiness of the brioche. The dish itself was just good, but the presentation of the egg in a bowl of salt was great.
The eighth course was the first one that really left me impressed. It was chicken confit on toasted bread with a smear of curry and a salad of watercress, celery, and huckleberries. Neither of us had ever had huckleberries, so that was exciting in itself, but the chicken confit was exactly what I’d needed all night. It was comfort food, but the curry and the confit preparation added an exciting twist.
I was just watching something the other day where a chef complained about how sweetbreads are always fried and how he’d like to see them grilled just once, but it turns out there’s a reason they’re always fried. Grilled sweetbreads are like a glob of gelatin with a bit of organ flavor.
If that doesn’t convince you, let me give you a nice close-up.
Now, I had sweetbreads at wd~50 and was blown away by how surprisingly pleasant they were, but this would’ve been a much better dish had it just been the summer corn, the tomatillo salsa, and the delfino, a wonderful herb that we’d never even heard of. But it wasn’t.
Thank god the dessert was amazing. I was extremely disappointed when I heard the server tell another patron that their dessert menu consisted of exactly one item, a caramelized torija. I didn’t know what a torija was, but I knew it wouldn’t interest me. It turns out, though, that you only need one dessert when it’s this good.
It was a hunk of bread, torched until golden on the outside and left doughy on the inside, served with three kinds of berries. It was DELICIOUS. And I’m not the sort of person who thinks chocolateless, ice-creamless desserts are delicious. It was definitely the highlight of the meal, Kamran and I both agreed. One of the servers asked us how we liked it, and when we made gurgling sounds of appreciation, she told us that a couple in the night before had ordered one round of the dessert, then another, then another. And when he requested thirds, the man said, “Make mine a double.” That’s how good it is.
We consider Degustation an experience that we’re glad we had, but it just doesn’t compare to our dinner at craft or wd~50. We think part of the problem might have been that everyone hyped it so much to us that our expectations were too high. We also think that the overabundance of seafood was a problem, and I’m sure that had I asked, they would’ve prepared something else for me. (Or just given me four of those wonderful desserts.)
The tasting menu is a value, though, undoubtedly. For $75 each, we got 10 courses of good food with a couple of great moments in a unique atmosphere. I wouldn’t necessarily go back myself, but I’d certainly recommend it to others as a one-time experience. Plus, it gave me the chance to write my first half-negative review, which is pretty exciting.