First, the breakdown. The restaurant's concept: creative. The dining experience: unique. The cuisine: exceptional. The execution: flawless. The service: impeccable. The cost: cheap, considering the quality of what's being served. When you take each of those pieces and put them all together again, you get Degustation, a restaurant that ranks amongst New York City's finest.
And yet, somehow it seems that very few people have heard about it! Having no website for 4 years, no real publicity, and nothing that attracts street traffic by drawing attention to the entrance, Degustation takes flying under the radar to the next level. Good thing too, because with less than 20 seats, securing a table would be near impossible if it was the talk of the town. So, let's pretend that everything I'm about to say is our little secret, and be sure to keep it just between me and you.
The dining area is more like a sushi bar than a dining room, with bar seating wrapped around a miniature, open kitchen that sits center-stage. So, for those who get all warm and fuzzy at the idea of getting a behind-the-scenes peak at a restaurant's kitchen, Degustation puts the whole production on display. Not to mention, this arrangement puts the rather cute executive chef, Wesley Genovart, on display as well. Feel free to stare.
While watching the kitchen staff may be a treat for some, the real eye-candy is the food. These are not the sort of tapas you're used to eating: heaping mounds of fried calamari served with a lemon slice and side dish of aioli, or large-cut patatas bravas covered haphazardly in spicy sauce. At Degustation, each ingredient is carefully placed on the plate, and the presentation of every dish is precise, artful, and beautiful. This sort of attention to the plate is one of many examples of how Chef Genovart is elevating tapas to a new level of sophistication.
Now, the taste. Tapas are tricky. One may even say dangerous. Why? Because a diner orders far more dishes in one sitting than they would at a more traditional restaurant; they aren't judging two dishes, they're judging six. It can be difficult to find that wow-factor in every dish, and at most restaurants, the tapas end up being hit-or-miss. But on the flip side, creating a menu where every dish adds its own unique character, and where each plate is expertly executed, is both rare and extremely impressive. And this, my friend, is how Degustation truly shines.
While many dishes may sound somewhat straight-forward, like Croquetas or a Crudo of Seasonal Fish, every plate that leaves the kitchen is high-minded (using local ingredients to influence the Spanish menu) and unique in flavor. In my two (lengthy) dining experiences, not a single dish disappointed, was mediocre, or was even just "good." Every dish was exceptional, and although every plate is delicious in its own way, some of my favorites (other than the "simple" selections listed above) have included the pan-seared cuttlefish with radish and nasturtium (pictured above), any dish with the squid ink oatmeal risotto (generally served with some kind of seafood that changes regularly), and the Poached egg with mushroom salad, braised greens, and serrano ham. However, after having tried half of the menu selections, I'm confident that different dishes will speak to different palates, and that there are simply no wrong choices.
And speaking of wrong, only paying $55 for 5 courses of that caliber definitely feels slightly wrong...and yet...so very very right. At that price, for that type of cuisine, made with that level of talent, it's a steal.
While I could go on and on raving about this restaurant's every detail, at the end of the day, Degustation holds an extra special place in my heart for one major reason: there is nothing else like it. Anywhere. If anyone knows of an intimate, engaging restaurant that is reinventing tapas through local, seasonal ingredients and elevating them to a level of fine-dining worthy of Michelin recognition, please tell me about it, because frankly, I think Degustation is unique in its field.
And its originality comes from so much more than just innovative food - sitting down at the bar, seeing the process behind how each ingredient ends up on your plate, and finally tasting the end result completely envelops the customer in the dining experience, making any meal nothing short of memorable.
239 East 5th Street
New York, NY 10003-8507