A Memorable Birthday Dinner at Degustation
Last night I went to Degustation for dinner. You might be wondering why would I choose this place? Well, I’ve been meaning to eat here for a while ever since I’ve read Frank Bruni’s review of this place, it seems very enjoyable in terms of atmosphere and food. Foodies at Chowhound likes this place a lot and the fact I love tapas. I ate this dinner with Ariel since he loves Catalonian food…or anything that tastes good and he’s willing to splurge with me.
We were the first ones to arrive, and a bit too early since the restaurant didn’t open its doors when Ariel tried to pull it open. So, we just hang out in the chilly, autumn night catching up what’s been happening in our lives. About a few minutes later, the maître d’ opened the door and welcomed us inside.
The place is small, as Bruni and other foodies I’ve spoken to indicated. But somehow its smallness feels intimate with the dimly lit candles, casual, and having the kitchen open to the diners is a very different experience from the myriad of places I’ve eaten out. Since Ariel and I were the first to arrive, they let us choose any seat we want to take and ended up taking the center, getting a full view of the kitchen. Then we look at the menu.
After much lengthy discussion what to order and whether or not to go for the Chef’s Tasting Menu. Eventually, we took our own route having six plates shared between the two of us and Ariel ordered a drink, the Black Velvet.
Even though I haven’t tasted Ariel’s drink, he said it was very smooth with a strong alcoholic kick at the end. If you had the Coming Up Roses before (at the Modern or elsewhere), it’s a similar idea except not as sweet since it’s made with beer instead of sweet liquors.
As we wait and chat along while the kitchen’s cooking our food, I noticed Chef Wesley Genovart prepping and cooking dishes along with his sous chefs in relative silence except for his conversations with his staff in Spanish. It’s kind of intriguing to watch them fire up the grill and see our squid being cooked, or Mr. Genovart seasoning the dish all done in front of us, amongst the plethora of things they’ve done without me noticing.
And soon enough, our first courses of sort are served.
The Spanish “tortilla” are tiny, savory packets of deliciousness. The paper thin slices of potato filled with gooey quail egg yolk and shallot confit just bursting with intense caramelized sweetness with the hint of onion-y flavor from the shallot. This would be an awesome amuse bouche or it can be a savory bonbon.
Usually, I have issues with croquettes (same with Ariel), that they tend to be fried, dense potato balls of blandness. But there’s none to be found here. These croquettes are “what croquettes should taste like,” as Ariel declared after eating them. They’re extremely crisp on the outside, almost tempura-like with an ethereal crust. The inside is light, sweet, and salty potato mashed in with some sweet corn kernels. Also each croquette is sitting in a small puddle of red pepper aïoli to give it a spicy kick.
Moving on to our second course, came out the stuffed squid and the seared scallops.
The seared scallops were succulent, meaty, delicately sweet, and cooked to perfection. The dehydrated cherry tomatoes offsets the sweetness of the scallops with tartness and a hint of sweetness as a finish, while the sea beans (also known as samphire) gave it a mild salty bite. The shallow pool of mussel broth is a good medium to combine all the flavors into harmony, giving it a seafood.
The stuffed squid was the least stellar dish of the night. I have heard that it was a really delicious dish except somehow the components didn’t take me away. The squid was cooked correctly. It’s filled with with Kurobuta pork cheeks sitting on top on a bed lentils. The reason why it didn’t make me swoon is because there aren’t the multiple flavors playing with my tongue. It’s basically two notes of flavors: salt (but not overly) with earthiness (of lentils and pork). There aren’t any contrasting flavors that elevates this dish to its potential.
Then finally, our last course.
The warm mushroom salad was one of my and Ariel’s dispute about foie gras, since we love it. Given the fact that we have our disparate views, Ariel asked the waiter for his opinion of whether to choose this warm mushroom salad or opt for the seared foie gras. The waiter replied that the warm mushroom salad is his favorite of the two, hence we ordered it. Was the waiter correct? Well, it was a bit curious to see a foamy sauce to top off an assortment of sliced mushrooms. The various fungi had slightly different flavor and textural characteristics that interplayed one another, that worked so well. The crispy, salty bite from the lamb bacon and sea salt and the foamy foie gras sauce made it very enjoyable. I don’t mind having this mushroom salad everyday…if I could make it at home.
The “cheese steak” is a gussied up, gourmetized version of the cheese steak that we all know of. It’s stacked with tomatoes and roasted red pepper escalivada, raclette cheese emulsion, pain de mie and herb salad. Since Ariel had first dibs with this sandwich, I was deprived of the herb salad that topped off this tower. Living without the salad, it tastes pretty good. The juicy, tender beef with the silky, slightly nutty cheese sauce worked well together. Spicy bites of jalapeño that was actually mixed in that escalivada mixture. A crunchy bite of thinly sliced, toasted bread as the supposed support to the entire sandwich. If that herb salad was still existent, it would provide that missing zing for this sandwich to be sublime.
After finishing the last bits of our dishes, we asked for the check and hightailed over to Chelsea for the Goatstravaganza.
Thinking of the overall dinner, everything was paced well in between courses. Service was prompt and friendly. It wasn’t particularly busy since it was a Thursday night and it we were there from 6 to 7 pm. Also the damage wasn’t so bad and much more filling than Jean Georges’ lunch that we had a few months ago.
This was a wonderful birthday dinner for myself, as well as Ariel thoroughly enjoyed it as he wished that he could eat that meal every night.
Note: I will not write about Goatstravaganza since we arrived there quite late and there wasn’t much to take photos of.
239 E 5th Street
New York, NY 10003