My boyfriend and I were talking the other night about the best restaurants in NYC, and I asked him, “Is Tocqueville my favourite?” We ultimately decided there’s probably one restaurant I’d rather go to on any given day, but it’s pretty clear how fondly I think of chef Marco Moreira’s cooking. I trust that I can walk into Tocqueville, order absolutely anything off the menu, and have it be perfectly comforting and satisfying yet entirely creative.
That’s why I begged for weeks to be taken in for the special four-course Hunter’s Menu with wine pairings. If anyone could convince me of the deliciousness of elk, wild boar, and grouse, it was going to be Tocqueville.
amuse bouche: squash crostini, brown butter, parmesan
This palate-revver was all compliments: sweet butter, spicy herb, crunchy bread.
seared sirloin of elk carpaccio, pickled garden vegetables, soft egg yolk, arugula, horseradish
2008 Touraine Francois Cartier Loire France
See that bright pinky/purpley little guy in the center of the photo? That’s a pickled cauliflower. And with all of the apple-like texture and citrus-like sourness it added to this dish, it’s my new best friend. The elk was surprisingly mild but wasn’t overpowered by the pleasant peppery bite of the arugula. We couldn’t discern the taste of the very tiny egg yolks (you can see one just to the left of the cauliflower), but we were delighted by the novelty of them, and all of the flavor from the Parmesan more than made up for it.
housemade chestnut papardelle, ragout of wild boar, forest mushrooms, twice-smoked bacon
2008 Rosso Toscano Adone Collemattoni Tuscany Italy
Reminiscent of the ravioli I loved so much on our last trip to Tocqueville, this dish could do no wrong in my eyes. Between the super-smoky bacon, the rich sauce, and even the meaty mushrooms, it was just the kind of homey, remind-you-of-mom plate only an orphaned model could say no to. Plus, papardelle is definitely my pasta-of-the-moment, so it could’ve been filled with live eel and raw tomato juice, and I would’ve been happy.
roasted Scottish grouse breast and confit leg, seared Hudson Valley foie gras, carmelized seckle pear, beluga lentils
2006 Vin de Pays des Balmes Dauphinoises Nicolas Gonin France
So many times, I’ll find myself wrist-deep in some fish or another, trying to impress my seafood-lovin’ boyfriend, and he’ll say, “Oh, man, if you had any idea what that thing looks like in the wild, you’d never eat it.” WELL, THANKS A LOT.
But grouse is one of the cuter animals you can eat. Sure, there are some freaky-looking ones with spiked feathers that puff up because of the air sacs underneath them, but ladygrouse are plump little beauties with a dumb/curious look about them that just makes me want to squeeze ’em.
My boyfriend called this “the elk of the bird kingdom”, because the breast meat was red and not nearly as tender as we expected. The flesh from the confit leg, however, fell right off the bone, so evidently that’s the preparation to shoot for. We loved the deep flavors of the truffle and buttery pear sauce, and the combination of the foie gras, lentils, and egg left me exclamation-pointing all over my little notebook.
One of the reasons I’m leery of cheese courses is that when it comes time for dessert, I actually want sweets, and there are plenty of restaurants that think it’s okay to plop a plate of bread and cheese down in front of you and call it a night. Tocqueville, on the other hand, included candied pecans, jam, crusty raisin bread, honey with the comb, and a kumquat–perfect fodder for creating my own flavor combinations.
The cheeses were a semi-soft Wisconsin cow’s milk Meadow Creek Grayson that reminded me of my favourite cheese, Epoisses, a nutty Californian aged gouda from Two Sisters called Isabella, and a Rogue River Smokey Blue from Oregon.
frozen banana soufflé, roasted bambini banana, yogurt ice sorbet
I talked my boyfriend into dessert just so I could fulfill my near-constant need for soufflés. Unfortunately, this was like no soufflé I’ve ever tasted, and I wasn’t in the mood for messing around. It was a disc with the texture of banana ice cream that had melted and then been refrozen. I was not a fan.
However, I did love the sour yogurt sorbet. I eat Greek yogurt like they might stop making it tomorrow, and making it creamier and colder only causes me to spoon it in faster. The near-savoryness of it paired so nicely with the earthy roasted banana.
I probably wouldn’t order this specific dessert again, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to request a side of the sorbet with anything else.
coconut tofu, citrus consommé
This was brought to us on the house and was actually the better dessert, despite it being full of tofu and fruit and nothing chocolate whatsoever. It was a layer of soft, creamy tofu with a layer of something delicious and translucent on top that we thought might be solidified coconut milk. But really, it was that orange juice base that made us rave and want to go home and down a whole case of Sunny D. Or, um, I mean, fresh-squeezed OJ with absolutely no added sugar.
Once again, Tocqueville managed to impress me with new flavors while making me feel like I was eating something as familiar as mom’s meatloaf, and that’s why it remains a top contender for my favourite NYC restaurant. Interestingly, one of the factors that has given me pause in the past is the paltry amount of other diners we’ve seen; the place gets stellar reviews, yet during one of our weekend lunches, it was literally us and one other guy in the restaurant. This night, though, the entire dining room was packed and lively, and none of my usual this-place-might-be-a-little-too-formal-for-you warnings applied.
1 East 15th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)