Back in October 2014, my roomie and I met up for dinner at Degustation, where the Iberian, French, and American influenced cuisine is served as “tapas” styled dishes meant for sharing.
This shared intimacy extends to the open kitchen where the chefs bare their soul on a plate that is prepared merely 3 feet away from the counter. Every movement precise and full of purpose and every dish assembled gradually from seemingly disparate components that magically meld together at the last minute like a Christopher Nolan film.
We opted to order a la carte instead of going for the tasting menu. The crisp octopus with red curry, basil, and cucumber was the perfect dish to start. The red curry, rich in flavor and texture, had an undercurrent of heat from the tiger chilies that builds slowly. As a fan of curry and octopus, this rendition did not disappoint.
The squid ink croquetas were gingerly placed on our counter. I heard a crunch as my fork cut it in half, the ink slowly dripping from within. Slightly sweet and perfectly fried.
Our favorite dish of the night arrived in the form of cracked potatoes with sheep’s milk cheese, roe, and espelette, made from chilies that hail from the Basque region of France and Spain. The espelette made this dish next level by giving it a spicy kick that complemented the savory notes of the paddlefish caviar and creaminess of the sheep’s milk cheese. This dish was so good, we ordered another one later on.
Nonetheless, we ordered the paella and it was the opposite of my expectations. The rice was not mushy, prawns were super tender, the clams were juicy, and the chorizo with shishito peppers infused the dish with bold flavors. My favorite part of the dish was sucking the juices out of the fried prawn heads and then popping them into my mouth for a satisfying crunch.
Luckily, we were sitting in a section right next to head chef Nicholas Licata. When we weren't stuffing our faces, we were watching an artist at work. He probably mumbled 4 words the entire time but that’s because his attention was on the food. For our paella dish, I saw him patiently use tweezers to painstakingly arrange the microgreens and adjust a few times before nodding his head in satisfaction and serving the dish to us. His station was fastidiously wiped clean after every plating and his mise en place was super-organized with ingredients clearly labeled in clear containers within an arm’s reach.
Simply a joy watching a professional in his element.
While we are on the subject of joy, there is a big smile on my face as I recollect the lobe of foie gras I had months ago. Perfectly seared. Decadent and buttery. The golden raisins and pistachios lent some sweet and nutty notes to complement the foie. A must order if it's on the menu.
Our last course was the duck with crispy skin that hid the juicy meat underneath. Loved the firm and al dente beets, topped with chives. When I asked Chef Licata what the licorice taste was, he said it came from the herb, anise hyssop. He added that the savory jus came from duck bones. So money. That shmear to the left of the duck is roasted garlic which rounds out the dish.
For dessert, we chose the bread pudding with custardy insides and crisp burnt brulee. The bacon flavor is due to smoked maple. At this point, we then ordered a second dessert…the cracked potatoes. Perfect ending to a solid dining experience.
Menu: I'm all for tasting menus because I trust the chef and his selections. But in this case, I knew exactly which dishes I wanted to try. I recommend ordering a la carte since you have more control of what to get. My must orders are the Cracked Potatoes, Foie Gras and Paella.
Ambiance: Great date spot. The sounds from the kitchen and the parties around you aren't loud so you can have a conversation without shouting. Watching the chefs work in the open kitchen is the perfect excuse to chill and not talk without being awkward if you're on a first date. Chef Licata answered my questions and didn't discourage interaction.
Service: Unlike the Yelp reviews, we had attentive service. Most of the dishes were served from Chef Licata's hands to our counter and our glasses were always refilled quickly.
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