Degustation Chef’s Ten-Course Tasting Menu – Spanish/Tapas – East Village
May 24th, 2011 by plumpdumpling

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: fish skin, sherry vinegar

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: ham and apple croqueta

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: Spanish tortilla, quail egg, shallot jam

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
uni, sunchoke panna cotta, ramp?, pepper

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
monkfish liver

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
asparagus soup, bacon, salmon roe

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
Littleneck and razor clams, pasta, butter beans

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
sardine, cucumber tzatziki

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
chicken egg, bacon, crouton

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
rabbit tasting: liver, pate; baguette, salad

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
lamb, Romesco sauce, barley, olive breadcrumbs

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu

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.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
caramelized torija, grapefruit

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.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarZero Stars

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?

239 East 5th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)

13 Responses  
  • Hessa Phadie writes:
    May 24th, 201111:46 amat

    Oh man…I’m not sure there is even a single dish here I would enjoy all that much. The chicken & bacon egg creation looks somewhat tasty I guess. This just isn’t my bag baby :P Even the desserts…where’s the chocolate?

    I’ve never tried pate…another thing I really need to try. Man…I’m such a Debbie Downer…you eat at all these high-end places, while I’m stuck at the diner…not that I mind that I guess…gimmie a fat stack of pancakes covered in butter and maple syrup any day…but honestly…I need to get out to some of these places.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 201110:33 amat

      Funny–I totally crave pancakes all of the time and die a little inside whenever I see an IHOP commercial, since the only IHOP in Manhattan is in, um, the ghetto. You really need to get back to blogging your food adventures!

      Trust me when I say that the torija is perfect just like that. But yeah, I’d take chocolate over that grapefruit any day.

  • Jessica R. writes:
    May 24th, 201111:48 amat

    I am amazed that you will try anything. Raw lamb makes me want to run and hide, as does that organy rabbit dish. However, bring on the seafood and dessert!

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 201111:10 amat

      I do like to try things just to be a more well-rounded person, but the things I choose for myself off a menu are usually much less exciting than the things I eat at a chef’s tasting where I don’t get to make any decisions. I like organ meats as a starter, but my main dishes are usually familiar porky and beefy ones.

      I did eat part of a softshell crab this weekend, though! That gives me some cred in your eyes, I hope.

  • kimz writes:
    May 24th, 201112:10 pmat

    I’m sure Degustation is a culinary term, but what an unappealing sounding name for a restaurant. Hand over that egg with bacon, though.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 201111:20 amat

      No kidding! It’s a little bit better when you pronounce it day-gus-tah-see-own, like one of their reservationists rudely corrected me one time, but I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it that way since.

  • han writes:
    May 24th, 20112:00 pmat

    uhm, i totally see that torija, and it has my name all over it! again, envious of your tasting menu meals – degustation has been on my list for awhile. everything looks beautiful, and i cant wait to try it sometime…with someone who will let me eat their torija. :)

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 201111:24 amat

      That torija is so unassuming that your date probably would never know how good it is if you don’t let on! Bring someone who doesn’t care much for dessert and offer to trade one of your savory courses with him or her. Genius!

  • LawandFood writes:
    May 24th, 20116:09 pmat

    When was this meal? I was there this past weekend and had many of the same dishes during our 10-course dinner.

    Two things to note. When asked about the tasting menus, our server informed us that it was going to be seafood heavy. Also, the 10-course is now $80/person. Still a great bargain.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 201111:33 amat

      Funny–it was the weekend before last. It would’ve been so weird had we been there at the same time, but that’s already happened to me once at Ko with another blogger, and you know the whole thing about lightning striking twice.

      Oops, I guess you can tell I’m not the one paying the bill; I’ll change that, thanks. I knew it was seafood-heavy from our first visit, but I thought I was a grownup now and could handle it. Guess I’ll have to stick to Ko and Brooklyn Fare for my counter-cookin’ enjoyment.

  • Mrs. Bachelor Girl writes:
    May 25th, 201112:22 amat

    Monkfish LIVER? I’m happy to say that Shreveport is a lot more culinarily adventurous than one would think, but I can assure you, NO ONE around here is serving monkfish liver.

    Clearly, they should be, though.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      May 25th, 20113:02 pmat

      Yeah, you don’t see a whole lotta monkfish out there in the bayou. I never thought I’d eat it just because it’s SO FREAKIN’ UGLY, but you know my mama raised me to eat everything on my plate.

  • NYC Restaurant Reviews –» Blog Archive » Alta – Tapas – West Village writes:
    October 4th, 201111:32 amat

    […] was under the impression that the torija at Degustation couldn’t be touched, and while Alta’s version just didn’t have the same […]

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