At last, my final post about my trip to New York last month. If you’ve read the other posts, you’ll know my dear friend Adi took me on a little culinary adventure. For two days we ate and walked our way around Park Slope, Chelsea, the West Village and SoHo. We re-visited some of my favorite places, went grocery shopping and checked out the new High Line Park.
But the highlight of my week-long stay in the city was not only a great experience, but was an exceptionally unique and intimate experience. The restaurant is Degustation in the East Village. The layout, itself, is a unique concept – a gourmet spinoff of a Japanese sushi bar. As you can see, it is a pretty small space that only seats 19 with all the cooking being done in the middle by four chefs. There was a grill/fry station, sauté station and plating area. It is categorized as a tapas bar due to its small-plate-style. While some flavors and ingredients are definitely Spanish, I would sway more towards American cuisine.
We had the pleasure of sitting in the far left corner of the bar next to the plating area. And we took full advantage of eyeing every single plate that was assembled. They even let us replace one of the dishes on the 5-course tasting menu. The chefs were really nice and accommodated all of our questions. Correction, he accommodated all of MY questions! But it was so much fun watching the intense concentration, the artistry, the flow. If one vegetable was plated facing the wrong direction, it would have to be thrown out and re-plated anew facing the right way.
For me, this is what made the experience foodie heaven. It was being so close to the action. It was seeing exactly why they call it Culinary ARTS. Each plate was the artist’s blank canvas. His mise en place (all the prepped items) was his paint palette. Even if the food had not turned out to be amazing, I would have enjoyed this experience. It’s one thing to watch sushi chefs but a whole other thing to watch a chef make such delicate, thoughtful food. (That’s not meant as an insult to sushi chefs, especially since my brother is currently training to be one!)
The entire restaurant, as Adi put so eloquently, was like a “finely choreographed song and dance”. Every plate was timed perfectly. The moment you finished your dish, it was removed in the most nonintrusive manner. And voila your new dish was placed in front of you. The waitstaff was very friendly and knowledgeable, and (at least when I was there) all the patrons seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
But now to the food. As I mentioned, we ordered the 5-course tasting menu but we also couldn’t resist trying the ham and apple croquettes. Croquetas are a classic Spanish tapa. It’s a small, lightly fried fritter and is usually made with ham (the Spaniards do love their ham!). It’s a wonderfully delicate little morsel of crispiness and creaminess. Having both studied abroad in Spain, Adi and I have had our fair share of croquettes. And I have to say that I never ever tire of them. How can you say no to something fried? Something creamy? Something with ham? The best croquettes are the ones that are almost fluffy and don’t leave you feeling greasy (like fried mozzarella sticks do). And Degustation’s version were perfect. The crunch, the explosion of flavor and gooey-ness. I could have eaten 50 more if anyone let me.
Thank goodness for the next dish. A very light order of crudo, also known as Italian sashimi. Traditionally it is dressed with olive oil, sea salt and a citrus juice. Degustation’s version was also served with garlic chips and some micro greens. This dish, although small, was a great start to the 5-course tasting menu due to its freshness.
Next up was grilled octopus. Now I do not normally like octopus as I find it’s usually overcooked and tough. But this octopus was perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was served with a caper sauce and caper berries and topped with celery leaves. The smokiness of the grilled octopus, the saltiness of the caper sauce, the freshness of the celery leaves and the crunch of the caper berries all made for one of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever had.
I’m going to skip to the Wagyu beef “cheesesteak” next even though it was the last dish. While it wasn’t an entirely unique dish, it was clever and the quality of the beef was high. You can’t see in the photo but the beef is piled onto a crispy parmesan disk (hence the cheese). This dish didn’t blow me away, but the beef did melt in my mouth. Just a side note, if you think Kobe beef is good, you must try Wagyu.
Now I save the best for last. Pork belly with fried egg, winter greens, a parmesan-infused broth and Asian chili sauce. It was so hard to decide what to eat first, so I tried my best to get a little bit of everything in each bite. First some of the fried egg and yolk; then a little bit of the greens; next a piece of the pork belly; topped with a small piece of the crispy pork belly skin; and finally dipped in the chili sauce. Mmmmmm. What a beautiful combination of ingredients. I feel like I should be Alton Brown or that old guy (Jeffrey Steingarten) who’s always a judge on Iron Chef America. They’d probably be better at describing such a unique dish. What made this dish more fun for me was watching the chefs blow torch the top of this egg before plating it. I might have to try that with the mini blow torch Dave and Tae got me for my birthday last year
Can you believe that after all that food (and sharing a bottle of wine) we managed to order dessert? After seeing several dessert plates go out in front of us, how could we not? I was so full and in serious food euphoria that I’m not even sure exactly what we ordered. I only remember that it was brioche and tasted like heaven. And that I really really didn’t want to share it with Adi. And based on reading the Yelp reviews, I can confirm that it was so amazing because it was soaked in crème. So imagine, caramelized “bread brulee” as one Yelp fan put it. I stole one of the pictures that was posted on Yelp to try and show what the dish was. I don’t remember ours being served with grapefruit. But who notices fruit when you have brioche in front of you!
Sigh. And with brioche, it was over. After being completely stuffed and satisfied, we finished our very reasonably priced wine ($35) and talked about how guilty we felt eating so well without our significant others. Poor boys, next time. The great news is that their menu changes frequently, so you’re always guaranteed to be trying something new! In the end, we stumbled out of there. Both of us unable to stop moaning in awe of our foodie heaven experience. It was just – amazing. I know I need to come up with some more words to use. But I’m having foodie-writer block. But it really was more than just food. It was an experience. Think of the feeling you get when you’ve walked out of a really great concert or (and I can’t really relate to this) have just been to visit the Louvre or some equally prestigious art gallery. You know that feeling that you’ve just seen artistic perfection? Well that’s about as close as I’ll get to a metaphor. And if you don’t believe me, check out one of the 141 reviews on Yelp. And please please let me know if you go and what you thought of it!
And that wraps up my trip to New York. My trip that was first intended to be able to meet up with Chris (le boyfriend) which turned into a trip to also see all my friends whom I hadn’t seen in over a year but ultimately (like all of my trips really) turned into a foodie-driven trip. Nevertheless, I got a little quality time with Chris and enough quality time with each of my close friends. A big thank you to all of you for making my trip so much fun. I just wish it could happen more often!