photo by Reimyy Gonzalez
Stepping inside Jack and Grace Lamb’s mini–Epcot Center tucked into a quiet block of East 5th Street presents eaters with the difficult choice between Jewel Bako’s dramatic sushi and the more reverential experience at Spanish-inflected Degustation, where chef Nicholas Licata mans the planchas in front of 16 diners who watch him work from vantage points around a broad, U-shaped counter. Licata is the restaurant’s third chef, and under his tenure there’s a whimsy and balance that’s been restored since opening chef Wesley Genovart departed for greener pastures in Vermont. Several of Genovart’s practices and even a few of his dishes have endured, including the croquetas and seasonal fish crudo. (Genovart’s most lasting impression may be his caramelized French toast dessert. The dish was initially served unadorned; Licata has experimented with smoked maple syrup — a resounding win — and now pairs the blow-torched cube of custard-soaked brioche with lemon curd.) When Degustation opened, its cooking was heralded as progressive. Now foams run the risk of seeming passé, but Licata breathes life into frothy Riesling to pair with capers, beets, and potatoes for a plank of flaky corvina. Although prices have changed and the restaurant no longer offers a five-course tasting menu, the seven-course prix-fixe is a relative bargain at $80.