spanish


Emma, a fellow UofC alum was in the city for training, and Karen decided to introduce her to me over a girlie dinner last week. Coming from the gustatory capital of Hong Kong and in a line of business where there is no lack of exposure to fine dining, Emma would be a tough critic to impress. Thankfully, Degustation, with a fun concept, delicious food and value for money proposition knocked our collective socks off. Score one for New York.

Degustation is a 16 seat restaurant with an open kitchen concept. The concept and sparse, modern decor is reminiscent of another popular East Village restaurant, Momofuku Ko but except without the pomp and circumstance. Reservations proved easy to score on a Wednesday night, as Karen managed to make the booking for prime time dining the day before. The counter seats are more comfortable than the backless bar seats at Momofuku Ko and service is more on point with a brilliant, all-seeing head server (together with Jack Lamb who occasionally popped into the restaurant). As far as non-food comparisons go, it must also be mentioned that while the chefs here were as reticent as those at Ko, chef Wesley Genovart is a hottie who can cook. Yet another reason to visit.
Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla Espanola

Chef Genovart hails from Spain and serves a Spanish influenced menu, tapas style. Diners can choose to go ala carte or pick the very reasonably priced tasting menus (5 courses for $50, 10 courses for $75).

 Since Karen was keen on the tasting menu, all three of us had to participate. Thankfully the restaurant is flexible enough for us to swap a few dishes, allowing us to taste more. I opted out of the poached egg course and went for the Degustation’s version of the spanish traditional tapas, tortilla espanola. Imagine my surprise when out came not a hefty slab of potato omelette, but a pair of little munchies made up of a thin potato slice wrapping a quail egg, pan fried and then topped with the thinnest slice of cherry tomato. Clever and tasty, but much smaller than the first courses my companions had, a colorful salad and a composed soup of poached egg and tempura-ed vegetables.

oil poached cod, clams, peas in bacon broth

oil poached cod, clams, peas in bacon broth

For our second courses, all three of us opted for the cod fish. It turned out to be the right choice, this being one of the highlights of the meal. The fish is perfectly moist, the clams big and juicy, and the taste of bacon enhanced without overpowering the flavor of the delicate fish. We cleared our plates on this one.

quail with pinenut puree

quail with pinenut puree

I went from fish to fowl with my next dish, a simply grilled quail with mushrooms and a thick, buttery pinenut puree. The quail is cooked on a charcoal grill situated right in the middle of the room, and the aroma was amazing. The meat was juicy, and the gaminess accentuated with the sweet and earthy flavors of the sauce.

pan seared scallops with shiso puree and saffron risotto
pan seared scallops with shiso puree and saffron risotto

Karen and Emma switched out of the quail and ended up with plates of seared sea scallops. The brilliant green of the shiso puree, the scallop’s white flesh and distinct brown sear sitting on a yellow and orange bed of oatmeal risotto made for a beautiful and edible Rothko-esque picture.

pork belly

pork belly

The meat dish is always the weakest for some reason and I honestly cannot get excited over crispy pork belly anymore, no matter how well done. I liked the garlicky sides though, which helped ease the fattiness of the pork. Karen and Emma stuck to the Wagyu beef and porcini dish, which had a really pleasing sweetness to it that I could not identify.

bread pudding

bread pudding

We were very ready for dessert after the meat course, and were served a simple but effective dish of bread pudding, soaked in milk and then treated to a round of brulee-ing. The sourish berry coulis and fresh berries helped temper the sugariness of the pudding.

4 cheese, 4 accompaniment plate

4 cheese, 4 accompaniment plate

We were by this point full, but continued to order a plate of 4 cheeses after a bout of dish envy as we saw the chef prepare a cheese plate for other diners. Each cheese came with a mate, and the pairings worked really well to highlight the characteristics of the cheeses. The honeycomb that accompanied a stinky cheese whose name I no longer remember did me in. I had to have the cheese plate simply for the thrill of eating honey straight out of the comb. After the cheese and the attendant basket of bread that came with the cheese, we were now approaching more than comfortably full, and since the restaurant does not serve coffee due to lack of space, we paid our very reasonable bill and ambled out of the restaurant in good spirits and with plans to meet again on Sunday.

Ever since dinner with Karen and Emma at Degustation 5 days ago, I’ve been recommending this little restaurant to everyone, to the point it seems as though I have an equity stake in the place. But dinner left me truely impressed, with the talent of the chefs, the solid and often creative cooking and the warm reception. For a romantic dinner date or a cozy gathering of 3-4, Degustation is definitely one of my top picks in the city.
Degustation
239 E 5th St (Between 2nd Ave and Bowery)
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claws on bar While lobsters are not all that readily available during the winter months, we blessed city dwellers do not have to wait for the warm summer months to satisfy any lobster craving. Instead, as I found out, all we needed to do was to pay a visit to this place.  

Francisco’s Centro Vasco is an old school restaurant ostensibly serving Spanish food, but it is more commonly known to its diners as the lobster shrine. Everything reminds you of the lobster, from the neon signage outside, to the plates with little red lobsters printed on.  Regulars would advice novices like me not to order anything but, and judging from the paella Gerrie and I shared (in an attempt to order something else but lobster) they were quite right. The rice was inoffensive at best, packed generously with seafood but a little wet and lacking in flavor, “like what’s served in the dormitory cafeteria” according to Justin. The lobster (which happens to be about almost every plate on every single table that night, nevermind the substantial menu) thankfully, was as good as touted, and even in the winter months does Francisco Centro Vasco manage 1.25 pg lobsterto source fresh shellfish, ranging from petite 1.25 pounders to 15 pound monstrosities done two ways, boiled or broiled with cheese. The truly gigantic lobsters that have met their maker in the restaurant are honored with their massive claws hung from the ceiling.

At some point in my life, I might want to try eating a giant shellfish. However, given a 15 pound lobster is likely to be over 60 years old, it seems like a travesty to be devouring a grandpa lobster. So I was content with the petite lobster (starting at MP, or $23 last weekend) I shared with Gerrie, which for its size yielded a significant amount of succulent meat. The guys on the table attacked their 2.5 pounders, never flagging in their enthusiasm to crack, pry, dip into melted butter and munch. We supplemented our lobster diet with grilled alaskan king crab legs, buttery and juicy. Oh yes, and we did eat our food wearing silly little plastic bibs, but they helped save a few shirts, as those crabs and lobsters can be very juicy, too juicy in fact when they start squirting liquid. Along with our entrees were some sides, including green beans, home made chips, yellow rice, bread and salad, all pretty mediocre with the exception of perhaps the chips that were at least mostly crispy. Thankfully we didn’t have that much stomach space for them anyway.

Besides the rest of the menu, one does not go to Francisco’s Centro Vasco for the decor, old and slightly shabby, with ample kitsch factor (the claws check, the seascape murals check), nor for the service, which was silent but efficient. We opted out of dessert, the choices being rather uninspiring, but if you did want dessert, flan would always be a good choice in a spanish restaurant, and it definitely would not set you back by much here.

Its safe to say that after this weekend, I am pretty lobstered out. But in case you were craving lobster, Francisco’s Centro Vasco’s a pretty good bet that you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Francisco’s Centro Vasco

159 W23rd St (Bet 6th & 7th Aves)

http://www.franciscoscentrovasco.com/