The set-up is relatively intimate at this East Village eatery. From the street it provides nothing more than a “peep hole” where passers-by can catch glimpse of a wrap-around bar in a tight and dimly lit space, with the open kitchen at centre stage. Twenty-odd seats offer front row viewing of an organised flurry of cooking activity; white tunics, pin-striped aprons, concentrated expressions and tweezer action as each plate of food is meticulously constructed.
The menu is a partnership of Iberian, French and American flavours and cooking styles, offering the choice of à la carte or an $80 seven-course tasting menu by Chef Nicholas Licata, featuring many dishes that can’t be found on the regular menu. A degustation at Degustation? How could we not?
A lone oyster with mignonette foam was a nice place to kick things off. Also topped with caviar, it was good slurp of brininess with a slight edge from the vinegary foam.
A duo of hamaki slices (similar to yellow tail) raft a minimal arrangement of crisp corn, lemon curd, cocoa nibs and lime pulp. It’s a clean couple of bites, but not enough to get a sense of what the chef was aiming to achieve with such an eclectic combination of elements. I needed more to appreciate it!
The next plate is like a nest of deliciousness. A poached egg does its oozing business in the centre of the bowl as a medley of toasted cashews, grated white cheddar and snap-fried Brussels sprouts await some mixing action. The unusual addition of crumbled Funyuns brings come salty crunch to the mix. Who would have thought that a puffed onion flavoured corn “chip” that resembles an onion ring would make it to an establishment that uses tweezers to construct its dishes? And it works.
Stepping away from the processed packet snackages was the beet salad. I reckon half of the contemporary menu’s in New York had some kind of beet dish up for grabs at that particular time of the year. Not that I was complaining. Bring on the beets! Here they were brought together with white peaches, lemon-scented goat cheese, caramelised walnuts and pumpernickel soil. Loved the use of celery leaves. A herb that deserves more exposure.
Scallops make it to many a New York menu, and here at Degustation they’re looked after nicely. Perfectly seared and tumbled with clams, salty capers, raisins, crunchy radish and earthy potato foam.
I haven’t tried many risotto‘s that blow me away, but the hobbit-sized one we got came pretty close with its flavour combination. Creamy, cooked with a bite with bacon, peas and small chunks of Hawaiian shrimp. Less than three spoonfuls is never enough when you want more than a cup full. I know a degustation is about a journey of “small tastes” but sometimes you just want to pause and ask for a larger second serving.
I loved the look of the next dish, the rabbit loin, but there wasn’t a great deal that excited me. Half a roasted carrot that was still quite crunchy and unseasoned, dabs of carrot purée, unexciting couscous and a minuscule medallion of rabbit that was lukewarm in temperature and flavour.
The tastebuds perked up when it was time to cool down with the cucumber & lime granita. I was thinking that gin or vodka would do the trick perfectly but the element that made things pop, literally, was the addition of pop rocks. It was like a sip of an icy slush that smacked your flavour senses around a bit.
A degustation usually gives you a couple of sweet plates, but everything abruptly ended with a French toast brûlée doused in maple syrup. It may sound like it was a piece of egg-dipped bread that’s cooked and toasted, but the result was a tad more refined than that. It was like a soft-yet-firm custard that was blistered by direct heat; yet melted to creaminess when it hit the tongue. A sexy couple of bites that concluded a generally fine line-up of food.
Degustation – 239 E 5th Street, East Village