One of my ex-colleagues in Boston shares the same surname as me (and no, we are not related) and she loves her food, so there was a running joke in the company that we were the London and Boston representatives of Chow With Chau guide on the company intranet. She is now living in Manhattan. So when I was out there visiting, I thought I’d meet up with her for dinner, and let her decide on the restaurant. After consulting some of her friends, she informed me that she’d made a reservation at Degustation in East Village, based on the recommendation from a friend of hers that “it was the best meal I’ve had in NYC”.
The restaurant was smaller than I expected, and it’s basically an open kitchen with customers sitting at the bar (though we were sitting on chairs and not bar stools). Having experienced the rather “warmer-than-average” open kitchen setting at Momofuku, this one was a lot more pleasant. As our reservation was rather early in the evening, the restaurant only had a small handful of people in there, though we were still “asked” to wait at the tiny reception area for a minute, for no apparent reason, before we were led to the table.
The menu contains a selection of small dishes, a bit like having tapas really. We were told that we could either order a la carte (in which case, we’d order about 3-4 dishes per person) or go for the 5-course or 10-course tasting menu. We decided to go for the 5-course menu, as I was still quite full after a heavy lunch earlier in the day.
The first course was Ajo Blanco with cherries and fine herbs: the white garlic gazpacho was creamy and a welcoming soup for a humid summer evening (it was the evening before New York City went for a complete shutdown due to hurricane Irene – so the outside was rather stuffy). The cherries gave a bit of extra sweetness to the taste of the soup.
The next course was marinated sardines wrapped in nori and served with salmon roe – the thin slices of sardines were sandwiched between the seaweed and then deep-fried to a very beautiful crispy and light texture. This was probably the best dish in the whole meal.
The third course was sturgeon with vegetable caviar and sea beans – the vegetable caviar was essentially tapioca, which was nicely cooked. However the sturgeon was verging on the tough and dry side. While the taste was nice, the texture and presentation was a let-down.
The fourth and last savoury course was flank steak on rye, sauerkraut and served with a spicy mustard – I was not keen on this dish at all. The flank steak was cooked to a pastrami style: unfortunately it was rather tough and even with a good steak knife it was still a bit of an effort to cut through the meat. The spicy mustard had a very strong bold flavour – maybe a little too strong if more than just a little dab of it was used with the meat.
There were two choices for the dessert: Caramelised Torija or a chocolate pudding with vanilla marshmallow and granary cracker. I was going to opt for the chocolate, but then they could not tell me what chocolate they used, so I thought to be on the safe side, I’d go for the former. It turned out to be a good choice – the torija was like a brioche-based bread and butter pudding, with a nice thin crust of caramelised sugar on top.
By the time we finished the meal, the restaurant was completely full and there were already customers on the second seating. It’s a nice cosy restaurant and a fun place to take a friend or two to for dinner. However, due to the layout, it’s probably not a good idea to go with more than 4 people as you can’t really have a conversation with everyone without shouting across. The waitress was friendly and very helpful in explaining some of the dishes.
If I didn’t have such a big lunch a few hours before, I’d probably have happily gone for the 10-course tasting menu. Ah well, there’s always next time!
Address: 239 East 5th Street, Manhattan, New York City, NY 10003 , United States
Telephone: +1 (212) 979 1012
Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 7.00pm to 9.30pm
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in August 2011]