Degustation was the fourth stop on this week's Parents-Take-Manhattan foodie itinerary and the only restaurant I had visited before (except for EMP, although that doesn’t really count since our first visit was pre-Humm). I knew my parents would love the open kitchen concept and I hoped they’d love the food as well. I was blown away by Degustation when I was there a few years ago and I was hoping for a repeat experience.
I had heard some bad things about the service at Degustation of late and I’m happy to report that we encountered no problems. We happened to be sitting on the corner near the plating area, which was a terrific spot as it enabled us to see all the details. The woman who was running the pass was friendly and more than happy to answer any questions we had about the food (our own and everyone else’s). Our waiter was also friendly and helpful.
Because there were four of us, we were able to sample most of the menu. I was dismayed to learn that they had replaced the incredible, béchamel/cheese/bacon filled croquetas with something called Bomba de la Barceloneta, which were similar but filled with a spicy tomato sauce - however, they were quite delicious as well. The signature tortilla with soft quail egg was enjoyed by all. We then sampled a coconut soup with herbs and cherries, which was light and refreshing but underseasoned, and a special salad with ricotta, butternut squash, micro greens and caramelized pepitas. It was fine, but somewhat unbalanced to my palate - the sweet pepitas and sweet squash dominated and there wasn’t enough tang or salt - it almost felt like eating a dessert.
Our courses became slightly heavier as the meal went on. Highlights included an oxtail stuffed squid on squid ink oatmeal risotto, which was really delicious. Very salty, very savory. The oxtail covered up the flavor of the squid, though. The octopus with pork belly was another of my favorite dishes of the night - tender, meaty octopus braised in a flavorful broth, accented with crisp belly.
Other nice dishes included a scallop special with artichoke - it was one plump and sweet scallop on a smear of artichoke puree with a couple of grilled baby artichokes beside it. The sweetness of the scallop played nicely with the earthy puree, but the baby artichokes were underdone. The same artichokes played a role in my squab with foie gras - the squab was a bit tough and underseasoned, although using the small rectangle of foie gras terrine as a sort of sauce helped. Less successful was the flank steak with sauerkraut and rye, which sounded better than it was - the steak, though rare, was exceedingly tough and flavorless. Fried anchovies were relatively tasteless as well, which is odd since they are generally such a strongly flavored fish.
My final dish was the foie gras terrine with blood orange, which our waiter described as “almost a dessert.” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but I soon found out when the dish was delivered. It was a puck of foie gras terrine sandwiched between two crisp crackers (looked like an ice cream sandwich), on a plateful of blood orange marmalade, raspberries and edible flowers. Gorgeous, but unfortunately the foie was a bit too cold, underseasoned and lacked a prominent foie gras flavor (which made me feel as though they had loaded the terrine with butter or other less expensive ingredients and skimped on the foie). The marmalade was delicious on its own and the slight bitterness was lovely with the foie, but unfortunately the foie lacked both the salt and the liver flavor it needed to stand up to such a sweet accompaniment.
Everyone else had the torija for dessert, which ended our meal on a high note - I am not usually into bread pudding but this was incredible - the fresh grapefruit played so well against the rich, sweet, creamy-soft bread. The chef working the pass was more than happy to tell me how they make it, so I am looking forward to trying it at home.
Overall impressions: While we enjoyed our meal, I was not nearly as impressed with Degustation this time around as I was a few years ago. I just looked at my previous review (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/511075) and I can still taste some of those amazing dishes in my mind - nothing we had this time even came close (except maybe the torija. That was damn good!). Prices are a bit higher now as well (although that’s to be expected). The tasting menus, at $55 for 5 courses and $80 for 10, are still a pretty good value, but I won’t recommend Degustation as enthusiastically as I have in the past. Hopefully they’ll find a way to get Genovart back or find someone equally good to take over!
239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003