CA (San Francisco) Chowhound here. Recently visited NYC for the second time ever, but sadly only had one Saturday lunch slot available (the rest were taken up by family wedding events). It about broke my heart to have such bounty so close and unable to taste it.
As many of the places I wanted to try weren't open for lunch, I decided to go to Nougatine based on the generally positive reviews here on Chowhound and the amusing review by Pete Wells.
Arrived very early so we were able to have a nice pre-lunch stroll around a bit of Central Park, which was very lovely in the crisp late fall weather. It was a little strange to hang out in the very tiny lobby/entryway until the restaurant opened, but once we were seated, it was quite comfortable and pleasant.
We decided on the prix fixe, since everything we wanted to try was available on it. I ordered the crispy duck confit with lentils to start. My dining companions ordered the butternut squash soup, the shrimp salad and the tuna tartare. We all really enjoyed our starters. The butternut squash soup in particular was phenomenal- that perfect balance of savory, spiced and sweet that elevated but did not hide the flavor of the butternut squash. It felt luxurious without being heavy or cloying. The duck confit was extremely comforting and hearty. Nothing fussy or pretentious about it. Each starter portion was so big, they looked like they could be the entrees!
For the entrees, I choose the roasted red flounder with broccoli rabe, and they ordered the chili oil poached cod and the slow baked salmon. The cods were upgraded to flounder and reportedly prepared by Jean Georges himself (according to the waiter). Unfortunately they mixed up the orders and also brought me the chili oil poached fish, and not my flounder. I was okay with the mistake, but they ended up bringing me the flounder anyway (it somehow magically became red snapper- what was up with the fish juggling in the kitchen?). I'm rather glad they did, as it was delicious. The snapper was a little strong tasting, but the accompaniments were so good. Silky soft leeks with a garlic-yuzu sauce and broccoli rabe that was just bitter enough to go well with the snapper- cutting the strong flavor so it didn't linger in my mouth. A very fine and well balanced dish. Certainly better than the chili poached cod, which was fine but rather bland and uninteresting, despite the fiery orange sauce.
Dessert was a choice of warm chocolate cake or "pecan pie". I put the pecan pie in quotes because it was actually just a pool of toffee sauce with whole toasted pecans and crumbled shortbread cookie, with three huge scoops of cinnamon icecream on top. Nothing pie-like about it and honestly there was more ice cream than anything else on the plate. I loved the cinnamon icecream, but I love cinnamon. Others at the table thought it was a little too much. The warm chocolate cake was fine- nothing fancy or unusual but well done with a molten center of course.
Then as an apology for mixing up my order, we got a complimentary *extra* dessert tasting of a NY cheesecake with a bruleed top, marsala wine-poached figs and a scoop of grape sorbet. It was a fantastic cheesecake, Pete Wells even mentioned it and rightfully so. Even the cheesecake-hater at my table conceded that it was pretty good. The grape sorbet was judged to taste like grape koolaid. I thought it tasted like my favorite honey-sweet Navarro grape juice (infact they may have used Navarro grape juice as I saw a bottle of it pass by at one point). The figs were tasty but very boozy.
The only downsides to the meal were the drinks- the iced tea tasted odd. Like it was made with cucumber water or something. I ordered the housemade passionfruit-lime soda and it was so intensely sweet and sour that it somewhat overpowered the food. I had to stop drinking it while I ate or I wouldn't be able to taste much. By the end of the meal, the ice had melted and diluted it to a level where it was refreshing and flavorful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this meal and was happy with my choice. The order mix-up was quickly amended and nicely handled, and the rest of the service was professional and friendly. Plus the portions were huge. Even without the extra dishes, this was a ton of food. Easily enough for dinner, and more than enough for lunch. All this for $32! A truly fabulous deal.
Thanks NYC! I hope to be back someday and try more wonderful meals there.