Feast: Tasting Menus for Group Dining in the East Village
Group dining can be a hassle in New York City—just try scouring Opentable for a 'table for six in a few hours from now.' If you don't have a reservation, and don't want to go to Chinatown for a big table, you could find yourself with something of a hassle. Feast, with its communal tables, is designed for just such an outing, with service we found swift and attentive.
There are three "feasts" to choose from: nose to tail lamb ($48 pp), scallop ($49 pp), and a vegetarian 'farmer's market'($38 pp). It is not a family-style affair though; there are no whole legs of lamb or bounties of fried seafood. The first two courses feature eight composed plates that are portioned out evenly, so you're not fighting for half a shrimp with another diner.
Shortly after your table chooses a feast (the kitchen requests that the entire party participates in the same meal), the first four dishes arrive, each a balanced tasting size portion. While not everything is perfect, the memorable dishes far outnumber the unremarkable ones, and it's easy to forgive an unsuccessful bite when it's surrounded by good ones.
The lamb feast starts strong with a carpaccio rolled around matchsticks of honeycrisp apple. The thin rolls of loin taste purely of lamb, a flavor that does not recede throughout the meal. The "shepherd's pie" of meaty lamb belly and whipped sweet potato in a brittle shortcrust doesn't recall the deep stewy flavors of the dish it's playing off, but it's a tasty bite nonetheless.
In the scallop feast, a scallop slider is less successful. The celery relish and pickled mustard seeds are tangy and acidic, but the delicacy of the scallop is dampened by even the lightest of buns. Skewers of fried Nantucket bay scallops with saffron chipotle mayonnaise and a simple ceviche with tropical citrus are more pure displays of the mollusk's mild sweetness. Triangles of thin marinated beet pop with a citrus and goat cheese stuffing. Sure, the flavor combination is hackneyed, but its description and appearance as a ravioli distorts expectations a bit. It's a pleasant surprise that it's not a pasta at all.
The most unexpected bite is a vanilla-poached cherry tomato that tastes more like a marshmallow than any vegetable. It comes aside an herb-crusted lamb rib over a blueberry and port wine reduction; each element is well prepared but together they create a curious construction. A "lambsagna" fares much better: braised lamb shank, goat cheese, and broccoli rabe are rolled into wide sheets of pasta. Preserved lemon brings acid and brightness to counter the gaminess of the shank.
The highlight of the scallop feast is a sea scallop with an equal-size cube of braised and glazed pork belly. The surf is seared golden; the turf is meltingly soft in your mouth. Both are complimented by the tart rhubarb ketchup and ramp slaw.
Neither menu climaxes with any sort of convivial centerpiece that you'd expect at a dinner party; a solo diner would have the exact same meal as a group of ten. One of my dining companions pointed out the irony that Feast doesn't really enourage feasting, at least not in the voracious sense. None of us were uncomfortably full.
However, we did leave the restaurant recounting several of the highlights. Among the winners I haven't already mentioned: a potato gratin seasoned with vadouvan, a pear galette with a thin buttery crust and boozy creme fraiche. With so many interesting bites, Feast is satisfying for the curious appetite, but not the ravenous one.
See more dishes in the slideshow.