small plates


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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My college roommate was visiting last week and I found it extremely fitting to bring her to P*ONG for dinner. She was looking for something different, she enjoys dessert as much as I do, and most importantly, Peiyun also shares the same last name as the chef and in abbreviation can be called p-ong as well.

foie gras with chocolateI waited for P outside the somewhat empty restaurant, a little disconcerting at 8 on a Thursday night, and briefly considering making alternate plans at Bar Blanc. But once we got seated in the modern and slick room with an open kitchen and enjoyed some tasty girly cocktails (P’s had prosecco, dehydrated rose petals and gold dust), we settled in and got to the main business of ordering.

The chef made his name as a master patissier in the Jean Georges empire, so it was not surprising that the sweet/ semi-sweet dishes fared better. Thin chocolate and hazelnut tuile sandwiched 2 discs of foie gras terrine, the sweetness of the chocolate playing up the unctuousness of the foie. A grandiose smear of more chocolate and a dollop of pink pepper jam dressed up the rather large and spare plate. Very yummy but I wished there were some toast points to spread that foie on. And in general some bread to feed patrons while they peruse the menu would be nice.

rhubarb panna cottaThe other dish that worked very nicely was dessert, a light, almost milky rhubarb panna cotta that celebrated the tartness of the seasonal vegetable. Bay leaf is crushed into powder and sprinkled on the custard, providing a refreshing mouthfeel. A wafer of dehydrated milk candy tasted like the white rabbit candy of yore and was sticky fun. The accompaniment of a mini strawberry cupcake though was redundant.

The savory courses were adequately prepared, but at a high enough price point to encourage me to try out other places first before returning. The shrimp ceviche was the greatest disappointment. It had tongue-tingly explosive flavors with thai chili, icy mango sorbet and bright cilantro, but was unfortunately marred by the shrimp, which were overcooked and rubbery. I could not taste the chocolate within the duck pot pie for the life of me, but must concede that the dish was well prepared, and the other flavors advertised, that of plummy pinot noir and tart-sweet cherries were amply presented. The beef short rib was good, very tender with a deep, pungent sauce and roasted root vegetables. Not too appropriate for the weather now, but worth a try.

Peiyun loves food, and she also picked up a recent hobby of picture taking, so throughout the meal, we were two stereotypical Asian women furiously taking photos of the plates. It was quite an amusing sight. I’m so happy I got to reconnect with her after almost 2 years, to fill each other in on our lives and bask in the commonality we still shared. While there were some hits and misses in terms of food, our dinner was definitely an enjoyable one.

P*ONG

150 W 10th St (at Waverly Place)

http://p-ong.com

 

 

Real estate in Manhattan is expensive. For the same price that I am paying for my 10″ by 12″ room in Midtown, my parents is able to rent a 2 storey, 3 bedroom semi-detached in Singapore. Graffiti, a restaurant about as narrow as my room tries to make the best of the situation with tall bar tables that gives an illusion of space. Too many bar stools are cramped around the tables such that a table for 6 now sits 10. An ancient looking scale doubles as a bag holder, perfect for a demure clutch but unfortunately petite for my sized-for-New York bag. Walking through the kitchen to the teeny tiny bathroom, I saw no stoves, but a short kitchen counter where the chef and assistant created their dishes. 

Just as the place was small, so were the appetizer sized dishes. The individual plates are priced $7, 12 and 15 and made for sharing. But when sharing with 4 others, it meant one bite of each dish, which for the neighborhood and casual service, was pretty pricey.  

Anchovy Seaweed Tamarind Pizza

Of the dishes we shared, I found the anchovy, tamarind, seaweed pizza most memorable. I could not taste the anchovy, but enjoyed the sweet/sour contrast of the Japanese seaweed and tamarind on the flaky pastry base, more croissant than pizza-like. The mango paneer was also spicy, just a little milky and flavorful and the pita strips served with it fluffy and warm. If only there were more. I too enjoyed the buttery foie gras mousse smeared on brioche toasts, but thought that the raspberry jam on it could be less sweet and more tart for a better contrast. Less successful dishes included the unmemorable sauteed prawns with a side of tough idli and the steamed buns stuffed with pork belly, because its been so overused in trendy restaurants, and because as a Chinese, I simply cannot pay $5 for a piece of kong-ba bao. The plate of dumplings in chili oil is also as tasty as boiled frozen dumplings that sell for $5 per pack in Chinatown, but much more expensive.

Compared to the small plates, the uniform $25 price tag for the bottles of wine seemed like a pretty good deal. Desserts were also supposed to be good, as expected from a trained pastry chef. Unfortunately, we did not try either to corroborate these claims. With the absence of wine and dessert, dinner was rather unmemorable save for the extremely tight quarters and constant knocking of elbows between my sister and I. In parting, while I might return for Graffiti for drinks and dessert some other time, I’ll look for dinner elsewhere.

 Graffiti

224 E10th St (Bet 1st & 2nd Ave)

www.graffitinyc.com