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Degustation. Sweet Mother of God.

Today was day 2 of hippie-chef little brother’s (LB) visit to NYC. We spent the day wandering most of Manhattan, from Zabar’s down through Central Park, down to Times Square, then down to the village/Chinatown/Little Italy/Soho. Good times, good food. Bought a baguette at Fairway and devoured it in the park with a burrata that I bought yesterday on Arthur Ave. Stopped at Centro Vinoteca and talked politics with the bartender while enjoying a quartino of a Bastianich rose (LB had a gin and tonic with a splash of ginger ale – wtf?). Went to Russ and Daughters and shared a pastrami smoked salmon and horseradish cream cheese sandwich on a bialy. Chilled at an outdoor café on Mulberry with a couple of cocktails. Walked up Bowery and stopped into Bowery & Vine for a tasting – three fairly good whites and a fabulous cocktail made with white wine, St. Germain liqueur and a splash of club soda. Finally, after all that, it was time for Degustation.

As soon as we walked in, we could see that we were in for a unique food experience – the place is about the size of my living room, with about 18 bar seats around a “kitchen” that is about half the size of mine (just a grill, a fryer, a couple of burners and several prep areas). However, despite the tinyness, we could see that the chefs were pumping out some awesome looking food. We looked over the menu and briefly considered one of the tastings, but they asked that the whole party participate and we didn’t want to be locked into having the same dishes – we figured we’d get to try more stuff if we each ordered separately. The 5 course tasting was 4 dishes from the regular menu plus a dessert, but the 4 dishes they had chosen weren’t the most interesting ones in our opinion. There are only 12 dishes on the regular menu (plus they were offering a new foie gras special). The 10 course tasting was mostly improvised, with a few courses from the regular menu. The waitress suggested that we order 3-4 dishes per person, but we decided to go with five each (knowing that we would probably skip dessert). I am sorry to say that I can’t remember everything that was on the regular menu, but we did sample most of it – I think the only things we missed were the crudo sampler, the Wagyu beef flank, the lamb loin and one other thing from the “starter” section – maybe a salad of some sort.

LB started with the “Tortilla,” I got the “Croquetas.” I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting – I mean, it’s a croquette, right? Wrong. I broke through the crispy outer crust to find an oozy, silky center – a blend of béchamel sauce, goat cheese, apple bacon and onion. There were 4 of them on the plate and I could have eaten approximately 163 more. Fantastic. LB’s “Tortillas” were actually tiny little potato packages with a poached quail egg inside, topped with a thin slice of piquillo pepper. These were also delicious but since he only got two, I only got a tiny bite. BTW, both of these dishes were very attractively presented, as was the entire meal – I’m not going to comment further on the presentation, but suffice it to say that everything that we were served was absolutely beautiful.

For our next course, I ordered one of the signature dishes – a poached egg with Serrano ham, chorizo foam and rice cracker-crusted asparagus. I am not a fan of runny eggs, in general, but this was delicious. The crispy crust around the asparagus soaked up the egg yolk to great effect – it stayed crispy but also got chewy (kind of the way Fritos do in Frito pie). The foam added just the right touch of sausage richness without the substance. LB had the grilled red snapper with avocado puree, which was lovely but not a standout in the context of so much fabulousness. The fish was perfectly seared and served with a smear of avocado and a little citrus relish – at any other restaurant I would have been thrilled to receive such a perfectly cooked piece of fish, but here it was just a little meh.

Next up: wild mushroom salad with lamb bacon and Swiss raclette for me, grilled octopus for LB. Two more winners! There were both grilled and deep fried mushrooms of several varieties served atop a few dollops of “raclette,” which was actually more of a mornay-style sauce than actual raclette. The lamb bacon was crisp, but melted in the mouth. LB’s octopus was exceptional – extremely tender, and served with a couple of condiments, one of which was octopus mayonnaise. The chef explained that they make a confit of octopus, and then use the oil from that to make the mayonnaise. It REALLY tasted like octopus, which kind of freaked me out if I thought about it, but it was fascinatingly tasty.

By this time, the chefs and wait staff had obviously noticed that we were seriously into food and intensely interested in everything coming out of the kitchen, so they sent us an extra course, which was part of the 10 course tasting – an eggshell filled with soft scrambled duck eggs and duck bacon. Again, I am not a fan of soft eggs, but again, these won me over – they had the texture of soft polenta, almost, and were studded with tiny chunks of intense cured duck meat. I now believe that all animals should be made into bacon. LB liked this but thought it more appropriate for a brunch dish. Whatever. If it’s that good, I don’t care what time of day you serve it.

My next choice was the rabbit with white bean parsley puree and fried artichokes. LB thought this a bit pedestrian until he tried the puree – it was perfectly silky, with a great herbal kick and plenty of garlic. It accentuated the flavor of the rabbit loin beautifully. The artichokes were coated with an amazingly thin and crispy coating – still not sure what it was, but it was fabulous. LB had quail with porcini mushrooms and pine nuts – the sleeper hit of the night. I was expecting plain grilled quail and mushrooms with some pine nuts scattered about. Instead, they made a butter out of the pine nuts that was satin smooth and impossibly rich, served alongside marinated, grilled, juicy, crispy, delectable quail. Not sure what was in the marinade, but the pine nut butter brought everything together perfectly. It was the best quail I’ve ever had, bar none.

For our final course, we both chose the foie gras special, with sherry-date consommé and watermelon pickle. Oh. My. God. In. Heaven. I was totally unprepared for the reaction that my entire being would have to the first bite of this dish. Tears came to my eyes, it was that good. I had to put my fork down and allow my body to process what I can only describe as a food orgasm. Luckily, LB was having the same reaction so he wasn’t too embarrassed by my behavior. The foie was perfectly seasoned and seared, in a shallow pool of the most delicious date flavored liquid imaginable, with julienne strips of watermelon pickle and micro greens strewn about. The sweet date flavor with the rich fatty foie was perfectly offset by the fresh crunch of the watermelon. The date consommé became more and more amazing as the foie melted into it – I scraped the bowl as clean as I could with my spoon and would have licked it clean if I could have. Truly, words cannot do this dish justice. No other foie I’ve ever had even comes close, and I would have to say this is one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten, EVER, anywhere.

Now, I would have been MORE than happy to end the evening on that note, but the kitchen wasn’t done with us. After I had had sufficient time to recover from my out-of-body foie experience, they brought us yet another course (from the 10 course tasting menu) on the house. I was served crisp pork belly with grilled scallion and mushrooms, LB received grilled squab with beet-ginger puree. The pork belly was wonderful – fatty and rich with an awesomely crisp layer on top, and the grilled scallions (plus a green sauce that I couldn’t identify and some other things) were delicious. I was wary of LB’s dish because I DETEST beets. I mean, HATE them. This puree, however, would make a convert out of anyone. It was sweet and earthy but without that characteristic nasty “dirt” flavor that beets usually have, and very spicy from the ginger. This was yet another inspired meat/sauce pairing, as the beet complemented the squab perfectly. The squab itself was tremendous – the breast pieces were perfectly rare and tender, the leg and wing were grilled crispy and tossed with some type of lemongrass business that also went well with the beet puree.

We were much too full to consider dessert (yes the plates are small, but if you order five courses you will have plenty of food), so after chatting with the chef (he and my brother hit it off and bonded over their favorite restaurants in Chicago) and the manager about how awe-inspiring everything was, they brought us the check. Which was also awe-inspiring, because it was $116 (without wine). ONE HUNDRED SIXTEEN DOLLARS. Seriously??????? We had seven courses each of some of the greatest food I’ve ever tasted for half of what you pay for ONE person at Per Se?????? This place is quite possibly the best value in all of NYC – it’s certainly the best value I’ve encountered. The total WITH a bottle of wine and tax was only $164. Unbelievable. Everyone needs to go eat here before they catch on and start charging what they’re worth, because they could EASILY double their prices for that food quality. Also, the service was impeccable. The one quibble I had was that the AC was set to a fairly low temp and blowing constantly – I realize they probably have to do that because the grill would heat up the tiny space in a hurry if they didn’t, but I hate drafts when I’m eating because they tend to cool off my food too fast. Even with the small plates here, some of my courses were pretty cold by the time I got to the end.

While I realize that it’s sort of apples and oranges, I can’t help but compare Degustation to Momofuku Ssam, since we ate there the night before. Sadly for Momofuku, there is NO comparison. We spent almost exactly the same amount of money ($20 more at Degustation), but the food was LIGHT YEARS apart. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who suggested Degustation – LB loved it and obviously, so did I!

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  1. Hi biondanonima,

    I am so glad to hear that both you and your brother had a great time at Degustation. It is a place where you can enjoy the food and the open kitchen - watching the chefs preparing the food in front of you and interacting with the chefs, that makes the dining experience a special one. I hope your brother got some inspirations and good exchanges with the chefs. Even if not, it sounded like the food had made the dinner worthy a trip from Chicago!

    I guess you didn't get to go to WD 50 with your brother, but overall it appeared that you two had some wonderful time! Thank you very much for your detailed reviews. It is always helpful to hear back from hounds if the suggestions provided worked out or not.

    Lastly, please don't give up on Momofuku yet! I think I proposed both Degustation and Momofuku in your original post, and I personally like Momofuku better because I like unusual food (like offals) and Momofuku is very good at that. There are some dishes like veal head terrine, spicy tripes, banh mi, and the vegetables like brussels sprouts and cauliflowers; they are all winners. Their ham selection, particular the Benton's, is also amazing. I hope you will get to visit Momofuku again and sample more!

    Lastly, I want to say that besides the food and the great foodie experience, the most important thing is that it sounded like you and your brother had some great bonding time. I think that's the most important! Food tastes better when you enjoy it with someone you love!

    1 Reply
    1. re: kobetobiko

      Hi Kobe - yes, the trip from Chicago was definitely worth it! LB had a great time and really enjoyed both restaurants. We didn't get to WD-50 but we will next time - we actually mentioned that to the chef at Degustation and he urged LB to go and see for himself how it compares to Alinea. I really enjoyed his visit too, in large part because I got to check out some places I wouldn't normally go with someone who's just as into food as I am!

    2. Nice. Thanks for reporting back. I'm glad you guys both enjoyed it.

      1. Fantastic report. Degustation currently holds the position of my number one favorite restaurant in the world, and I'm really looking forward to an upcoming visit to see if it keeps its spot (hope they have the quail and the foie you described... those sound amazing!). I'm really excited about the 10 course tasting, which wasn't an option the last time I was in NYC. The chef is truly talented (and genuinely nice and humble, to boot), and, as you said, the value is incredible.

        1 Reply
        1. re: daveena

          Daveena, you're right about the chef - SUCH a great guy, really laid back, self-effacing, modest. He told us how they made the date consomme and pine nut butter and described in detail his process for making a beer foam for another of his dishes, saying "it's really nothing you couldn't do at home." Maybe not, but I don't know that I would ever have come up with inspired flavor palettes like that on my own, and I'm a darn good cook! When we mentioned that we had chosen his restaurant over WD-50, he immediately said "go there next time, Wylie is an amazing chef and a great guy, you will love his food." I hope Wylie appreciates having friends like that!

          Keep your fingers crossed for the foie especially - truly, I can't remember eating anything so delicious ever in my life. If it's not on the menu and they're not offering it as a special, BEG to see if they can make it for you. The quail, croquetas and squab were my other faves, but really everything was just amazing. The couples on either side of us both did the 10 course tasting and I would have been jealous, but the chefs were kind enough to comp us several of the best looking dishes from that menu anyway. The only things I saw that I coveted but didn't receive were a scallop dish and a whole prawn. It boggles my mind that the prices are as low as they are. Given all of those factors, it might be MY new favorite restaurant too!

        2. Great report. I must try the foie gras dish. Thanks.

          1. sorry ssam didn't hit the spot, but my wife and i are going to degustation on saturday (her first time, i'm going back because i've craved it) and it's good to hear what the current menu is there. glad that some of the suggestions hit the spot...

            1. How far in advance does Degus take reservations?

              9 Replies
              1. re: jwcolo

                They didn't say when I called, but I would assume a month or two. FYI, I called only 5 days before I wanted to go and was able to get an 8pm Saturday night reservation for 2 people.

                1. re: biondanonima

                  I just called, and there are a number of reservations tonight for two people.

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    ok thanks, in May coming out to do a foodie vacation and was still kinda open for one of the nights may have to try that!

                    1. re: jwcolo

                      Do it! You won't be sorry! I can't thank all the hounds who pointed me in that direction enough.

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Is there any truth to the DeathWatch piece I saw on Eater about Degustation? I would like to try it when we come in the summer, but am a little bummed as they say it won't be around.

                        1. re: KateMW

                          From what I can tell, no. I really do hate those "deathwatch" pieces - I think they do restaurants a real disservice (sp?).

                          1. re: KateMW

                            I certainly hope not. I will say that although I was able to get that 8pm Saturday time (and was offered 6pm, 8:30 or 9 that night as well), there was not an empty seat in the place when I was there on Saturday. We were there for around 2.5 hours and each time someone left, another couple came to take their seats.

                            1. re: KateMW

                              I think the Deathwatch was a little premature, and based a lot upon the entire Lamb empire falling, including sister restaurants Jewel Bako and Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar. Plus, the Deathwatch was based primarily upon what would happen if the head chef left -- which he clearly hasn't!

                      2. re: jwcolo

                        1 month. I called recently for a reso in May and had to call back a few days later. After this report, I am looking forward to it even more!

                      3. went with my wife. i'll include her thoughts, since when she goes to places like this, it's out of my dragging her (a little!) we had:

                        croquetas, tortilla, snapper (citrus puree / avocado), quail. she was blown away by these.
                        kampachi (really solid).

                        wagyu beef - she didn't like it because she prefers the red meat cooked more. i know, i know...

                        she wouldn't touch the foie gras.

                        my thoughts on foie gras; this is the first foie gras dish at a very upscale that i haven't been really knocked out by. the first couple times i had foie gras, i didn't like it...but i had the dishes at tailor and ko, and said "wow, maybe i just need it at a good place?" here, if you're into foie gras, i can tell it was amazing - but just not for my palate.

                        the wagyu was a little less flavor than i wanted, but quite solid. i thought the kampachi was outstanding as well.

                        as always, the service here was impeccable, the hostess behind the counter was on top of things and made sure everything went to the right people. the couple to our left got a comp. pork belly (oh, how i wanted it!)...i spoke with chef wesley for a minute outside, since our meal was excellent...skipped dessert there, as we were going to chikalicious...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bob gaj

                          My wife and I were there on Friday. I called earlier that day on a whim and got a 7:30pm reservation. We sat down at 8pm. This was one of the most exciting food experiences I have ever had. Better than sitting at the counter at Robuchon. Being right on top of the kitchen and being able to watch the cooks and ask questions was fantastic. The food was wonderful. We had the 5 course menu with a wine pairing. We loved the wines and they were happy to give us a list. Often restaurants pride themselves on having wine that is not available retail -- not here, the next day I was able to find the wines we were interested in locally. The foie gras (which my wife subbed in for the mushroom salad) was delicious. I loved the mushroom salad, the sea bass, and the lamb. Next time we want to do the 10 course. One thing -- I can't figure out how they can possibly know how to time the reservations. Some people are there for 2 or 3 plates, others for 10 courses. I suggest you get there early to avoid a wait. There were tons of people waiting when we left about 9:45pm.

                        2. It is amazing to me that Degustation and Chef Genovart don't get higher marks from the food world. It's been my favorite restuarant in NYC for the past two years and it sounds like its only getting better. The care and ingredients put into every dish is top notch, but what really puts it over the edge is the intimacy of the restaurant itself. Being able to ask Wesley how he created the bone marrow foam or what that "green" sauce may be is an unmatched experience. And to think he is only in his late 20's, the sky is the limit for him, but I hope he keeps doing what he's doing at Degustation and doesn't end up behind a wall in some kitchen somewhere else.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ginsbera

                            I agree, there's talent here that should shadow whim and pack mentality.
                            The snapper course last week was outstanding.

                          2. Just got back from dinner. Well, it certainly was a delight. We followed your example and ordered 5 courses each and shared dishes. My only disagreement is about the foie gras, which we ordered 2 of, so we could each have a whole plate, and it was no better or worse than so many others we've had. Delicious, but a VERY small portion for $16. The standouts were the snapper, croquetas, lamb loin, and quail. Octopus, mushroom salad, rabbit and crudo ran a close second. The presentation was very impressive. We had a really nice bottle of wine for $45, and the service was impeccable. Next time, we will go earlier, and have the 10-course tasting.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rrems

                              Sorry you weren't blown away by the foie - chacun a son gout, I suppose! Glad you liked everything else though. I really enjoyed the quail as well, and I will definitely try the lamb next time.

                              1. re: biondanonima

                                totally agree with you biondanonima....the foie & quail are close-eyes great.

                            2. Made a reservation after reading this post—am SO glad I did!!! Started with the poached egg and croquetas. Croquetas were SO delicious, we were ready to make a meal of them. Simply the best snack food in the city, I think. The filling was so unexpectedly complex and flavorful. The egg dish was a little liquidy for my taste, but the jamon was delicious and the chorizo's flavors permeating the whole dish were interesting. Moved on to the quail and the warm mushroom salad. The quail was so amazing—perfectly cooked, amazingly tender, and tasty with the roasted pine nut puree. I loved watching the chef monitoring the quail on the grill right in front of us—but I must say it was a little warm sitting there in front of the flames! This was the best quail dish I have ever eaten. Mushroom salad was not as mind-blowing—I loved the one fried tempura-style, and the sauce was nice, but the quail was definitely the winner. We followed that with the lamb loin. Couldn't taste the whiskey that was mentioned on the menu in the sauce, but the lamb was perfect cooked, tender, lamb-y, delicious. A perfect specimen of lamb, with tiny little vegetables underneath. The pork with tomatillo sauce was not as much of a standout, good but not worth ordering again—I felt that the sauce, though delicious, overpowered the pork, which was about a two inch square, half of which was fat. Finally, we had the torija dessert, a sort of french-toast-custard that was carmelized with a torch in front of us. AMAZING.
                              What a fabulous experience. Quite reasonably priced for such sublime dishes. I was a little surprised how young all the chefs were!!
                              Would love to return and do the 10-course menu...

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: maggiej

                                Just made reservations for mid-June. Can't wait as I have not been in over a year. One question though, I asked about the 10-course menu (they didnt' have that a year ago) and was told it is $50 a person. Is this true? If so that is absurdly inexpensive.

                                1. re: ginsbera

                                  No, the 5-course tasting is $50 per person, the 10 course is $75. Still absurdly inexpensive, if you ask me. My brother and I ordered 5 courses each and the bill was $116. The chefs comped us each 2 extra courses, though, so we ended up with a 7 course meal. Ridiculously cheap for the quality of food they're serving.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    Not bad. I didn't do the tasting last time I was there since we wanted to select our food. Did they give you both the same dishes as each other? I'd love to be able to get different ones letting us share a wider assortment of things (a la Ko). Either way, really looking forward to getting back there.

                                    1. re: ginsbera

                                      If you do the 5 or 10 course tasting, you get the same dishes as each other. My brother and I wanted to try more things, so we just ordered 5 separate courses each. With the 2 courses they comped us, we got the same thing (scrambled duck eggs) for one course and different things for another (pork for me, squab for him). As much as the 10 course tasting is a steal, I think I preferred what we did, since we had more control over what we were getting but still got to taste 10 courses (actually 13 in our case).

                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                        gotcha. Sounds good. When I was there last I think I shared 8-10 courses with my girlfriend and just ordered off the menu as we wanted, worked out fine and was probably $50 a person without drinks. I'm interested to see how they have changed the menu since I last went. Seems like a few key dishes are still there, but definitely some great sounding new ones, wild mushroom salad with lamb bacon sounds very interesting.

                              2. Crap. Why didn't I see this review sooner? I will definitely be hitting Degustation the next time I'm in NYC. Great writeup!

                                1. I dont' see anything on here about the cost of the wine pairings? I know the tasting is either 50 or 75, but how much is a pairing with that? Just trying to figure out what my bill for two if I go all out would be.

                                  -----
                                  Degustation
                                  239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

                                  1. yes. i just ate here last night.
                                    sweet mother of god is right.