“Intimate” and “extraordinary” in equal measure, Grace and Jack Lamb’s “tiny” Franco-Spanish East Villager serves up “exquisite”, “smack-in-the-taste-buds” small plates via “friendly” chefs who work their “magic” in an open, behind-the-bar kitchen; be warned though, the “dollar-to-calorie ratio” isn’t always favorable.d
Degustation takes its cues from Spanish cooking as much as anything else, applying new-wave flourishes and a progressive sensibility to a menu of modestly portioned dishes that recall tapas.
The quotation marks around the word tortilla in a description of one of those dishes signaled that something sly was afoot: specifically, poached quail eggs and shallot confit inside pockets of thinly sliced potato. Each of these savory bonbons was best consumed in one bite, which set off a gooey eruption.
A roast beef sandwich defied its prosaic tag to assume poetic form: a round pedestal of toasted rye bread with a gossamer tangle of rare meat and a verdant headdress of parsley, cilantro, chervil and dill. To the side, in a graceful swish, lay a foie gras mayonnaise.
Both dishes spoke to the creativity that coursed through the concise lineup of dishes at Degustation, which deserves a longer tenancy than its predecessors managed. That creativity was tempered: the 26-year-old chef, Wesley Genovart, a Spaniard who worked at Perry St., knows how to surprise without shocking and make bold impressions while still making sense.
For a surf and turf of a different order, he stuffed a bulbous cylinder of grilled squid with braised short ribs, their lusciousness thrown into relief by their firm, bouncy vessel. A salty pile of lentils studded with chorizo and bits of blood sausage rounded out the plate.
A seared pair of plump scallops rode a magical carpet with colorful threads of sweetness (wedges of orange), tartness (grapefruit and lemon) and heat (a jalapeño emulsion). Caramelized wedges of grapefruit were unexpected but prudent companions for seared foie gras, whose richness they eloquently offset.
The overall experience is idiosyncratic, requiring several caveats. You should not visit Degustation in a group larger than two, because the side-by-side seating would make conversation awkward. You should not go if you're keen on desserts, because Degustation doesn't excel at them. You can easily spend $40 or more to assemble enough modestly priced dishes — maybe four, maybe even five — to fill you. And if your reserved seat isn't ready, there's nowhere comfortable to wait.
But the peculiarities come with payoffs that suit the temperaments of today's food lovers, who are increasingly interested not only in the pleasure of a meal but also in the process behind it — who want to be closer to the culinary sorcery, not to mention the sorcerer. Like the great chef Joël Robuchon's multiplying Atelier restaurants, Degustation puts them there, permitting scrutiny of how and when Mr. Genovart and his assistants employ various parts of the compressed kitchen.
A plancha is used for shrimp. A gas grill is used for crispy-skin mackerel, served with a fennel and chorizo purée. (Mr. Genovart is big on emulsions and purées, none of which feel tangential or superfluous.) A sous vide bath is used for halibut, placed over red peppers and chorizo and encircled by parsley and garlic oil.
And all the while conventional dining yields to a ceremony more adventurous, in some ways more intimate, and laden with intensely pleasurable moments. It's not right for everyone or every occasion, but a restaurant doesn't have to be.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Croquetas; "tortilla" with quail eggs; stuffed squid; scallops; mackerel; pork belly; halibut.
WINE LIST International and varied in price. No hard liquor.
PRICE RANGE Small plates, $4 to $16. Desserts, $4 to $5. Five-course tasting menu, $50.