So I troll around Chowhound granted with the impossible task of narrowing down my lunch the next day in NYC. This is my only chance to eat in the city on my trip, so I wanted to make it count.
I hear a lot about Eleven Madison Park; they are booked. I hear about the great lunch deal at Jean Georges; also booked. Other choices turn up the same.
Well, luckily for me, I came across a few mentions of a little place called Tocqueville. I checked on open table, prepared for the worst, and...seats available! Score!
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Fast-forward to the next day; I've been walking around New York for a few hours, it's hot, and I'm hungry. An air-conditioned restaurant is absolute heaven, and the maître d' and waiter are like angels. Here I am, a sweaty teenager in jean shorts, a flowery tank top, all alone, and they courteously offer to check any of my belongings. I hand them my shopping bag from The Strand, they hand me back the dainty tassled key to my personal locker. First impression: wow!
Into the dining room we go, and...what a beautiful space! Lit with an amber glow there is well-chosen art on the walls and an attractive large lighting fixture hanging from the center of the small dining room. Too bad there is no one else to share the space with; a couple, a group out for an elegant lunch, and two buddies will show up later, but for the first 20 minutes I am the only patron in the establishment. A little bit awkward, but kind of special, too.
After being served water one of the waiters comes over with a beautiful basket filled with house-made breads, sets down a small ceramic cup containing their house-made butter with sea salt, and offers me a selection of foccacia, brioche, sourdough, and maybe one other, but my attention was solely on the brioche, a golden-brown almost-orb topped with a few grains of coarse sea salt. The waiter suggests I try the sourdough, and I (of course) accept.
Brioche: a subtle buttery yellow on the inside, this is both light and rich at the same time. Divine, divine, divine!
Sourdough: crusty on the outside, chewy yet tender on the inside with the slightest sour kick. With the saltiness of the butter, a little bit of perfection.
I only eat half of each, because if the bread is so wonderful, I want to save room for the real meal!
But before I can finish my two halves of the breads, I am brought out an amuse-bouche of house-made duck prosciutto curled up atop some chopped pieces of cucumber, a slice of radish, and what I think was basil oil (not totally sure, though!). He tells me it is complements of the chef, and I feel particularly smug when neither the sophisticated older couple, obviously-rich group, or obviously-regular men get an amuse-bouche.
And from there, the meal begins!
Salad of Greenmarket Summer Vegetables: fresh, vibrant, summer on a plate! Vegetables both cooked or raw decorate the plate in a scattered line, accented with a smear of carrot puree, green tea-cucumber dressing, and some small tapioca-like pearls. Roe? No, I am told they are zucchini puree transformed through some feat of molecular gastronomy into chewy, slightly sour little balls. Beets (raw and cooked), carrots, new potatoes, some things I couldn't identify; overall, totally and irrevocably delicious.
Spiced Peking Duck Breast and Leg Terrine: a fancy meal that takes some inspiration from carne asada and other well-spiced summer meats. The duck breast is studded with a peppery, slightly spicy, absolutely amazing spice rub, yet the duck flavor still comes through via the chewy fat and the rare, gorgeously pink duck meat. Baby turnips add a sour-by-way-of-savory flavor, while rhubarb goes the way of sour-by-way-of-sweet. Charred escarole cream is herby, deep and absolutely marvelous with the duck. Overall, a stupendous, super-awesome meal.
The staff couldn't have been nicer or more polished, the food couldn't be better, and the space couldn't be more elegant. If you are looking for great food amidst classic New York elegance, Tocqueville is the place!
I don't know why this place wasn't absolutely packed...but it deserves to be!
1 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003