EVERYTHING MUST GO
I like New York City. Whereas HS’s visits are mainly work based mine are revolve around enjoying myself as much as possible for as long as possible. It’s a very user-friendly place: service is great, people respect your personal space and people speak English (sort of).
But first I had to endure the journey there, actually not such a chore as I was fortunate to have enough miles to score an Upper Class berth. This gives you access to an enormo-lounge, a well- stocked bar, fast-track this, fast-track that. Unfortunately this cuts no ice with US Immigration who are uniformly bloody-minded with everybody. Still, less than one and half hours after landing at Kennedy I was standing in the lobby of my hotel. The room wasn’t ready so after a short jaunt downtown I plonked myself down at the bar of the fish restaurant Aquagrill.
I’d eaten here several years ago and really enjoyed my meal but my experience at the bar was even better. Within moments of sitting down I had iced water, bread and the server behind the bar (big shout out to Katie H) was pouring me a big glass of a very nice Greek White. I had a bit of an Oyster jones so Katie put together a taster plate of West Coast bivalves. The attention to detail was such that she arranged the dozen on the plate in order of decreasing creaminess and increasing brininess. For the oyster completists amongst you these were Hama Hama, Carlsbad Blonde, Oregon Kumomoto and Washington Kumomoto. The Hama Hama were incredibly creamy, quite unlike anything I’m used to in Europe. I think the Carlsbad were probably my favourites.
A short break and Katie decided it was time to mix in a few East Coast ones as well. This time my dozen were three of the following: Tomahawk, Pemaquid, El Cardon (Mexican) and Raspberry Point. All were spankingly fresh but I thought some of them stepped over the brininess mark. The Tomahawk were excessively salty (and I like salt).
Good as all these were I still think an English Native or French Fin de Clair are better oysters ultimately. Anyway, a very enjoyable time and the service was knowledgeable and friendly. A short hop back to the hotel, a shower and a shave and I was ready for my next meal: dinner at Degustation.
Degustation is an intimate (read: very small) restaurant on the East Village/LES borders. It consists of a small low bar which holds about 16 people max. Behind the bar is a hot plate and some other cooking equipment and three chefs. The menu is equally small and consists of about fifteen ‘small plates’ which have a sort of Iberian theme although some of the combinations seem more eastern (possibly not unconnected to the fact the joint is owned by Grace and Jack Lamb who own neighbouring Sushi restaurant Jewel Bako. The restaurant has had a lot of good crit, is full every evening etc etc but I was underwhelmed. I had a very enjoyable evening due to the ambiance of the joint, the service and the general air of bonhomie. Unfortunately, when it came to the food I wasn’t so happy.
Of the starter courses the deconstructed ‘tortilla’ was greasy and tough. The use of the panko-like coating in some cases was just wrong especially in the dish of Sweetbreads. The veal glands were perfectly cooked but the coating just got in the way. The dish was further unbalanced by an overly spicy sauce of cucumber, dill, yoghurt and chilies (sic). Things picked up a tad with the squid stuffed with braised short ribs accompanied by some tasty lentils and a rabbit crepinette. The pork belly dish was also good although not very Spanish. I felt the cooking was better when kept simple as in the Cigala split and cooked a la plancha. Although even here the temptation to interfere was obviously too much and a good though unneeded parsley puree was the result. The staff did a good job with the upselling and I ended up ordering a rib eye with red onion marmalade with some foamy stuff. The beef was tasteless. After a comped a dessert of apple tart tatin (but not as we know it) I decided to have my real dessert at the estimable Otto, a short stroll across to 5th Avenue.
Now this was more like it. Although it was packed with kids (anyone under the age of 35) I managed to find a space at the bar and enjoyed their unrivalled gelati (olive oil, caramel and buffalo ricotta) with a glass of prosecco. A double espresso and a grappa (from a good range) was enough to send me floating back to the hotel. Did I say that I like New York ?