Degustation is the newest restaurant in Jack & Grace Lamb’s East Village mini-empire, anchored by the Michelin-starred sushi emporium, Jewel Bako. The two restaurants are located at adjacent storefronts, and they are physically connected via a narrow passageway. But they couldn’t be more unalike.
The menu at Degustation is loosely reminiscent of a tapas bar, although many of the dishes are well adrift from their Spanish moorings. Small plates range from $4–15, and the server suggests that three or four is enough for a meal. There’s also a tasting menu for $50, offering five savory courses plus dessert, and we went that route. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a full-size image of the menu.)
Slow poached egg, rice cracker crusted asparagus (left); Scottish langoustine (right)
The first course was arguably the best: a slow-poached egg with Serrano ham in a cheese foam, with rice cracker crusted asparagus. We were oohing and ahhing at the progression of flavors. Up next, a Scottish langoustine (shown on the menu as Cigalas) was split and cooked on the plancha. Nothing more was done with it, and it was gone after a couple of bites.
Grilled Spanish Mackerel (left); Grilled Quail (right)
Grilled Spanish Mackerel on a bed of apples had a crunchy crust, but was perfectly moist and tender inside. Grilled quail with pistachios and endive was delightful, yielding more meat than I expected from such a tiny bird.
Grilled Ribeye (left); Apple Tart (right)
For the last savory course, grilled ribeye was once again topped with foam, a needless repetition. Not much was done to the meat, but it was top-quality beef and perfectly prepared. The dessert, an apple tart, was not especially memorable.
The restaurant is tiny, with just 19 seats at a rectangular bar that “wraps around” the kitchen. Three chefs and three servers struggle a bit to avoid tripping over each other, but most of what they produce is delightful. We were seated right next to the finishing station, and we received a miniature culinary education while watching many of the dishes receive their finishing touches.
Most of the clientele are couples, as the bar line-up doesn’t really work for larger parties. Degustation is sometimes listed as a romantic restaurant, but I wouldn’t really think of it that way, unless you’re plotting a foursome, as the next couple is only a few inches away.
Not long after Degustation opened, Frank Bruni awarded two stars in the New York Times, in a double-review that conferred just one star on its older sister restaurant, Jewel Bako. There’s other evidence that perhaps Jewel Bako is no longer the main attraction. While we were there, we saw servers carrying plates out of the bar area. It turns out that Jewel Bako takes Degustation’s overflow.
We had a terrific time at Degustation. At $50 for five courses plus dessert, the tasting menu has to be reckoned one of the better deals in town.
Degustation (239 E. 5th St. west of Second Avenue, East Village)