After checking out Degas’ mono-prints at MoMA, Kim and I head to the Lower East for a reservation at Degustation. It’s been a heavy week. Any excuse to lighten the mood is welcome. What better way than a tasting menu of “provocative” Iberian, French and American influenced cuisine?
“I’m looking forward to the octopus,” I say.
“And the foie with cauliflower ice-cream,” Kim adds.
We take our seats around the chef’s table, not unlike the dining experience at Momofuku Ko we had some time back. It’s just us and a few other patrons basking in the glow of some non-offensive Gen-X music barely audible through the speakers. I heard some of the same songs the night before at Surfish.
“Another Modest Mouse song. We must be the dining demographic,” I say, perusing the menu.
“I look for more in a tasting menu, maybe because I’m an over-eater.”
I’m gonna tell you right off the bat that there was nothing off about the flavors the entire evening. Every dish was competently assembled and plated. Service was attentive with each dish explained as the appropriate silverware was placed. Wine and water refills were prompt and unobtrusive. Nothing to complain about. Yet… somewhere in the middle of the meal I realized something was missing.
“What’s that?” Kim asked.
The place is a bit dark with one tiny square window to the street. The open kitchen is well prepped and double teamed by two competent Chefs that tweeze tiny flowers onto seared proteins and spray plastic bottles of oils and dressings with practiced measure. It’s no more or less assembly than goes on in many other restaurants, but seeing it may take a bit of the magic away.
After two adorable oysters, the small salad of local (Union Square Market) snow peas was tasty, as was a plate of carrots with dollops of cheese. A perfectly seared scallop followed – which came with more curried sauce than the one scallop could support. Would be perfect for two scallops, I thought to myself, eating the remaining pungent sauce with a flat spoon. The use of finger limes (?) in the curry was nothing short of genius – and a spark of the aforementioned joy I was looking for. Regardless, that small salad, tiny carrots and one scallop were 43% of the meal. The foreplay was a little lacking.
Perhaps the Mackerel was more adequately sized, with a delicious sear, some fennel and radish. Pork Shoulder slathered in a chocolate mole and avocado mouse had a real depth of flavor but was gone in a matter of bites.
Someone nearby ordered the skirt steak ala cart and received a heaping plate of it. Our tasting portion was something of a sliver or two. Perfectly cooked, yes, and tasty, but more than a little bit fussy.
A small brioche crème brûlée was placed before us and Kim was startled the meal was coming to a close. Delicious, tho. A sweet caramelized french toast of sorts. Hot and gooey and soon gone.
As an advertisement for the actual menu, the tasting menu succeeds – but I look for more in a tasting menu, maybe because I’m an over-eater. Seems to me that folks go with a tasting menu because of a sense of adventure, not for a packaged tour of the usual spots. I don’t want to feel like a tourist, I want to feel like a king.
So, by all means, check out Degustation – but manage your expectations if they are anything like mine.
We strolled leisurely down 11th, avoiding the tourist-infused High Line, toward a chef’s counter reservation at Toro where we happily ordered a step beyond what might be considered reasonable.
We also found the Hell’s Bell Pepper to be just the right amount of savory – tequila, mezcal, yellow bell pepper, agave and bird’s eye chili.
Now we’re diving headfirst into an expensive plate of Paleta Iberico De Cinco Jotas – a dry cured boneless Iberian ham that delights and is gone before you can say “twenty eight dollars.”
Some addictive Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija followed – a dangerously convenient version of grilled street corn, and a nice foil for the Setas, a bowl of deliciously unctuous mushrooms set beneath a sexy chivy yolk.
Then things got heavy – in a good way. Unable to choose between bone marrow and foie gras, we picked both. I’m more of a purist when it comes to bone marrow, so the Asado De Hueso with guajillo and chorizo XO, Brussels sprouts and escargot – perhaps has a little too much going on. Yet I ate it happily.
We opted for the Foie Gras Tonkatsu – a crispy foie sandwich with strawberry tomato jam and pickled daikon. Kinda perfect bar food if you’re OK with foie taking second billing. Nice marriage of textures, too.
“Hey man, that’s probably delicious, right?” asked a stranger at the bar – flanked by two liquored up and leathery ladies of a certain age. I smiled and snapped a picture of his seared foie.
For dessert we had hamburgers.
Ok, not dessert per se, but our last course were a pair of delectable Hamburguesas, mini dry-aged burgers with a spicy kick on a potato bun.
In a nutshell, Toro is the perfect place for you and your overpaid friends to meet up, get buzzed, and eat decadent small plates while ignoring a world gone mad.
Prospect Heights restaurant from chef-owner Greg Baxtrom packs them in for dinner and recently rolled out brunch. Expect twists and turns, like a breakfast of Carrot Kathi Rolls (Carrot Pulp Falafel, Cilantro Stem Raita) or the Duck Duo, crispy duck sausage with scrambled egg and maple flatbread. And don’t leave without trying their bacon, egg, and cheese Egg Rolls, as delicious as they are adorable.
The tight and thoughtful dinner menu includes a scrumptious Duck Liver Mouse, a clever Beef Tartare, Heritage Pork with Raclette, and other seasonal curve-balls. Toss in a playful cocktail menu and you’ve found the perfect spot for those who like a dash of quirkiness on the plate.
What To Do: Paris
On your fourth trip to Paris, you take less pictures and enjoy more actual moments. Best to live like a local. We rent an apartment and stock up on breads from Poilâne, french butter, various cheeses, some fromage de tête. Good coffee. And the inevitable bottle of Orangina.
The Google Map below has more restaurants than you could see in any one trip. I wound up having super memorable tasting menus at Frenchie and Ellsworth, and a nice meal at Ore in Versailles. But we also had excellent low key bistro meals, enjoyed Pizzeria Popolare, and some cocktails and charcuterie at aveK.
There’s always next time.
Between the historic sites, architecture, museums, churches, parks, and restaurants… there’s a whole hell of a lot to do in and around Paris. Check out our Google Map for some ideas.