Photos are here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2011/04/...
I keep calling Tocqueville my maybe-favourite restaurant in NYC. And then I keep giving it four and a half donuts. But thanks to a purchase on one of those deal-a-day websites, I had my best meal at Tocqueville to date and also one of the best meals I’ve had in NYC period.
The stage was set with a specially-printed menu on thick, shimmery silver paper and an offer by the sommelier to pair the meal for us. First up were warm cheese puffs, or gougéres, that tasted so strongly of cheddar:
• cheddar gougéres
They were a little crispy on the outside but bready on the inside. They were certainly more beautiful than the ones we had at Per Se, but my boyfriend liked the liquid center of the Per Se ones more.
• amuse bouche: sunchoke soup
Our sunchoke soup, a staple on the Tocqueville menu in our experience, was earthy in a way only a root soup can be. We thought we tasted mushroom, as well. And I have no idea how they expect me to believe this stuff is creamless, because it’s so smooth and thick you could caulk a bathtub with it.
• amuse bouche: shrimp with asparagus
The shrimp and asparagus was a perfect little bite that included freshness from the lettuce puree and crunch from the crouton.
• yellofin tuna tartare and sashimi, green apple, crystalized English mustard, basil
Everything about this dish screamed, “I am too complex to make sense!”, and yet all of the elements complimented the others so perfectly. The apple puree had just the right amount of spice, and the darker sauce–which tasted like beef jus–gave just a touch of meatiness to an otherwise bright dish.
The roe on the tartare was WILD; it was flavored with what tasted like ginger to me. Now, I’ve come to appreciate roe in recent months because of the brine and texture it adds to a dish, but this roe was legitimately DELICIOUS. It was the first time I’ve eaten roe without consciously reminding myself of the fact that it’s kind of gross in theory.
But what I loved most about the dish was this crystalized mustard. It was like roe for people who don’t actually want to eat it, because while it added the crunchy texture, it didn’t fill my mouth with fish babies.
• truffled creamy parmesan grits, sunny side up country egg, house cured veal bacon
This was the one my boyfriend couldn’t stop talking about for days, and for good reason. TRUFFLES! And lots of them. We’ve never had a more truffley dish, in fact. It wasn’t just those two slivers you see on top but truffle shavings penetrating the entire bowl of grits. The contrast in texture between the nutty truffles, the creamy cheesy grits, and the gummy egg was just perfect. The bacon wasn’t crispy, the way I imagine most people like it, but it actually worked perfectly because it wasn’t at all fatty. It was all so rich and earthy that I couldn’t even finish the whole thing.
Plus, our wine pairing was so perfect that I couldn’t tell where the food ended and where the drink began. I wish I had gotten the sommelier’s name, because not only did he wow us with the taste everything, but he was full of information and seemed to love sharing it.
• seared diver sea scallops, foie gras, chanterelles, braised artichokes, cider vinegar gastrique
Slightly Asian-inspired, this was the best of scallop and the best of foie gras. The foie took away all of the fishy flavor from the scallop, and the scallop took away all of the bitter flavor from the foie. The rich broth was a wonderful contrast to the crisp vegetables that made a bed for the scallop. I’m really starting to understand why everyone’s into scallops: you get the sear of a steak, the texture of flan, and the slightest taste of ocean.
• sixty second seared dry aged sirloin, frisee salad, toasted brioche, Squire Farm Aracana egg, mushroom jus
This was definitely one of the most interesting steak preparations I’ve had. Since it was only seared on one side, all of the flavors from blackened to rare were present.
That the restaurant cures its own meat is evident in the flavor. It wasn’t the most tender steak I’ve had, but I actually loved the toothiness of it. Obviously, I could’ve gone without the salad (and I did, for the most part), but LET ME TELL YOU WHAT. The egg and brioche on the other side of the plate was THE. BEST.
I kept telling my boyfriend, “This is the best thing I ever ate! You know that Food Network show ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’? I should be on that show! And I would say that this is the best thing I ever ate!!”
The brioche was just so crunchy on the outside and so buttery and sweet on the inside. And when the egg yolk burst and soaked into the bread–it was breakfast and dessert and everything that’s great in the world.
• Costa Rican gold pineapple soup, coconut sorbet
This was another Tocqueville dessert that didn’t make me miss chocolate. It was just a nice, refreshing, not-too-sweet treat, and I especially loved the slightly grainy texture of the sorbet. If this hadn’t been a tasting menu, I probably would’ve wanted a heavier dessert, but the lightness of it was welcome after such a filling meal.
Finally, we got a plate of petit fours that included a crisped rice one, a pure chocolate one, and one that reminded me of Fruity Pebbles.
And then, just as we finished, our sommelier whisked us off to the kitchen for a tour. Now, we’ve seen a handful of kitchens at this point, and to be honest, we’ve sort of just smiled through them and then later felt bad about how drunk and awkward we were with the chef.
Thanks to Chef Greg Vernick, though, we had the most non-awkward time. He showed us every square inch of the basement kitchen, from the walk-in cooler with its dry-aging beef to the dry storage with his favourite brand of olive oil to the cheese fridge, which he made us smell. He explained what equipment was available at each station and showed us the starters for their house-made breads and sauces. We got to see souffles right out of the oven and got to talk about his time at Jean-Georges, where we were going for lunch the next day. He was so knowledgeable, passionate, and willing to take time for us that it’s clear why the food has so much soul.
Then, we unexpectedly got a moment with owner Marco Moreira, who had caught me intently scrawling notes and taking photos while my hungry boyfriend tried to take discreet bites when I wasn’t paying attention. Again, he was humble and gracious and talked to us about the Hunter’s Menu we’d had a couple of weeks earlier and what we could expect to see on the upcoming spring menu.
All in all, it was one of the finest experiences we’ve had in all of our culinary ventures.
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
1 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003