The lead-up to my meal at Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar was something akin to digging in a cereal box to reach a special toy surprise. Over the past few months I’ve eyeballed the restaurant from afar and wondered what went on beyond its diminutive and unassuming doors. Anticipation grew as I continued my mental digging and then learned its name. Last Friday, I reached the little treasure.
Also overcome: my high school French (“Degustation” means “tasting“) overpowered my anglican interpretation (“Disgusting”) of the little restaurant’s name located at 239 E. 5th Street between Second and Third Avenues in New York City’s East Village.
Previously, I have visited its sister restaurant Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar, and the right-next-door, sushi champ, Jewel Bako is well-known among friends who have made an infrequent visit to empty their wallets on raw fish.
After being seated promptly for a 6:30 p.m. reservation, the evening began with alcohol. The sparkling rose looked tempting in the hands of a foursome to my left, and so rose it was – at $14 a glass. I noticed NY Magazine has listed Degustation as one of its top “Cheap Eats” places. Don’t be fooled. This is the most expensive meal I’ve had this year in the East Village vicinity. Sure, you can have tapas plates in the single dollar digits, but once you tap the booze, it’s over. Nevertheless, the rose was pleasant and the decision was made to order the five-course tasting meal at $50 a head.
What a curious and cozy space they have at Degustation – owned and operated by Jack Lamb. The stone tile walls reminded me of a sauna or luxury bathroom. It’s sad that I can’t recall what the bathrooms were like given its decor. Temperatures were quite pleasant, though.
It is definitely intimate as 16 or so people sit around one side of the kitchen area and watch the chef (not sure his name… Jean Luc or Henri or Data…) and his minions stir up choice vittles.
The horseshoe seating arrangement makes me think two things: being at the altar of a church of my childhood and waiting for the sacrament; or, waiting for the dealer to deal the blackjack cards in Atlantic City. The first food deal of the night turned out to be three, Band-aid-sized pieces of fluke. It was just like the commercial where the couple goes to a nice restaurant only to be served food fit for mice. Flavorful for the instant it existed in my mouth, I felt like it could hardly “count” for a first course.
Later a crunchy mushroom dish arrived with thinly-sliced jalopeno. That, too, was pleasing and slightly more filing. All the while, I watched the Degustation chef and his team preparing the next dishes for patrons. It’s good East Village theater. I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more trash talking from the food crew, though, for entertainment purposes: “What’s wrong with you?! Don’t like my fluke, pretty boy?”
An egg dish with a piece of shrimp in a seafood soup followed. Another winner, I lapped up every last drop of fatty, caloric nectar.
Then, a well-cut piece of red meat arrived. Barely cooked, it might not appeal to some. To my carnivorous soul, it was a succulent appetizer-sized entree.
For what was supposed to be the final dish – there was a dessert: grapefruit foam overlay a custard garnished with small shavings of fresh grapefruit. It worked for me and I was starting to fill up. The two roses and one Stella Artois brewsky likely had something to do with my now satiated appetite.
As the meal attendant (she worked the aisle in front of needy eaters like a flight attendant) came toward me after the final course, I could not help but order more. I need to be stuffed and uncomfortable, “american-style,” after a meal.
She suggested the pork tapas. “Bring me pork!” I said.
Pork soon followed and was as attractively displayed and equally satisfying as any dish I had had all night. At this point, someone must have thought a reviewer was in the house or it was time to award a freebie to the people who can’t stop ordering. Another dessert arrived – this time a banana covered with brown cookie crumbs that had been scorched by a flame. Off to the side, a dab of chocolate goo awaited the mingling of said banana. Once again, it was good (not great) – I still preferred the custard.
The tab for the evening came in at $240 for two people including tip and a significant bar tab with multiple $14 glasses rose.
In spite of the cost, I recommend visiting Degustation.
In fact, I’d return to Degustation if:
- Another year passes.
- Someone bankrolls the evening with their expense account.
- I win the lotto.
February 14th, 2008
Entry Filed under: Food