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Nouveau Tapas Face Off: Degustation

We liked daveena‘s idea of comparing Degustation in New York with the Bazaar in Los Angeles, since both are doing nouveau tapas with a molecular influence. And daveena’s initial thought that “Genovart’s food is less elaborate but more soulful than Bazaar’s” turned out to be pretty much on the money.

Degustation has no tables, just a small wraparound counter, like a sushi bar that serves tapas. Décor-wise, Degustation and the Bazaar have absolutely nothing in common: The Bazaar is huge, multiroomed, with all that crazy decoration we talked about while we were in Los Angeles. (Recap: Mismatched furniture, glass and mirrors everywhere, black lace panties in glass display cases, Tim Burton/Marie Antoinette/Alice in Wonderland.) Degustation is simple, and the focus of every diner is the cooks and the kitchen, where you are facing. It looked like most people were at Degustation on dates. It looked like most people at the Bazaar were looking to get picked up.

We started with cold almond soup. Bowls were brought containing sliced Muscat grapes, sea beans, borage flowers, and crispy cod skin, which the waitress said she liked to describe as “cod chicharrones.” The creamy white almond soup was poured over everything before the bowls were set down in front of us. A fluke crudo was comically tiny in portion, three little slices of fish topped with lime foam in a tiny bowl, but it was bright and punched you with salty lime flavor.

Our favorite dish of the meal was a riff on Caesar salad. Salt-and-pepper aioli was hiding out under what seemed to be quarters of butter lettuce with really crunchy cores. On top of it was a bright green herb vinaigrette, pickled onions, hard-boiled quail eggs, and “sardine croutons,” which looked like chunks of sardine that had been sandwiched with superthin slices of bread and fried. The final, more meaty dishes we had—a squab with dirty rice and a short-rib-stuffed squid—were much simpler, rustic presentations.

Turns out, there is really isn’t much ground to compare the two restaurants. The Bazaar seems to be as much about the experience of eating the food—surprising you with a cube of foie gras in your cotton candy while you are looking at all the cool stuff around you and gawking at the metallic minidresses while trying not to run into a mirror—as the food itself. Degustation was about the food: Since you stare right into the open kitchen, the cooking is inevitably the focal point.