With their creative, delicious dishes and impressive service that always delivers more than expected, it’s no wonder Tocqueville has long been one of my favourite NYC restaurants. They’re so good to their repeat customers that I secretly felt a little guilty buying the incredibly cheap four-course tasting deal that came up on Gilt City recently, but it was a great excuse to invite along some friends who hadn’t yet tried the restaurant. I walked away with my Tocqueville love reaffirmed, and they walked away with plans to return as soon as possible.
Brought to the bar area while we enjoyed some wine and whiskey, these had just enough jalapeno to add a kick without overpowering the cheese flavor inside.
Once we were seated in the dining room, the kitchen sent out a sampling of snacks from the bar, starting with a fresh basket of gougeres and continuing with:
Simple and beautiful, this incredibly crisp sweet beet wrapper paired so nicely with the dense, tangy cheese inside.
So decadent, with the entire slice of truffle over the already truffle-infused mayo. The bright bite of the celery balanced the rich, earthy truffle and potato.
I generally don’t approve of salad, but biting into this one was like eating a really complex savory dessert. The hazelnuts were caramelized and broke apart like toffee, and the pear was divinely sugary and tender. The sweetness of the dish never overpowered the tang of the cheese nor the bitterness of the greens, though. Now I understand why my boyfriend orders this almost every time we visit.
Grits and eggs seem like such the low-brow rural breakfast, but they don’t make grits like this on the farm. So thick and frothy to begin with, they became even richer when I plunged my fork into the egg and swirled its dense center deep into a dish already heavy with truffles. The bacon, remarkably, was the lightest element on the plate; its prosciutto-like texture allowed it to unify with the grits rather than battle against them like fried bacon would.
It seems too indulgent to have two pleasures like this on the same plate. The fresh, mild scallop and assertive, funky liver should have been at odds with each other but were perfect dishmates in this sour sauce that lent depth to the seafood and brightness to the offal.
If the kitchen was trying to lure us back soon to try the rest of the current dinner menu when they so graciously sent this dish out to us, they knew what they were doing. Even the duck-skeptic among us was convinced by this absolutely gorgeous slice of breast in its orangey-licoricey broth. The bok choy took on a new personality when its bitterness was subdued by the sweetness of the sauce, its usually-limp leaves suddenly seeming like a welcome fruit of the summer harvest.
I usually look to Tocqueville for the light, citrus-based desserts, but I’ll never argue with an airy chocolate cake. This one was a bit dry and could have benefited from a sauce poured over top with the first bite, but the side of cherry ice cream with its extra-sweet but not extra-medicinal flavor and beautiful fruit splayed on top provided the moisture we needed.
We’d already seen twice as many courses than we’d expected, but of course Tocqueville delivered their plate of petit fours to make the meal a complete feast. And you can bet I ate one of the macarons.
When you look up “banh mi” in the Midtown East MenuPages listings, you find Num Pang, a tiny Cambodian sandwich shop started by two friends that’s distinctly not-banh-mi yet nonetheless satisfies every spicy sandwich desire I have.
The menu is about fifteen sandwiches long and four side dishes deep (plus a bunch of soups and salads that I barely notice the existence of due to their health benefits), and my boyfriend and I haven’t tried anything yet that hasn’t left us wishing for one more sandwich to eat and one more side to hold onto like a little family pet that we bathe and take on a walk from time to time.
Here’s a sampling of one of our many orders:
It begins with the bread from NYC’s Parisi Bakery, which has that perfect crusty exterior yet doesn’t flake away all over your best shirt like a traditional banh mi does. Even when the first bite doesn’t yield any meat, the spicy-sweet chili mayo on the bread is a treat on its own. But the meat–whether it’s the spare ribs or the pork belly or the veal meatballs or the sausage–is always seared on the outside and tender on the inside and made all the more spicy and mouth-watering by the complimentary Sriracha sauce. And if you love a banh mi like I do, you’ll appreciate the familiar cucumber, carrots, and cilantro on every sandwich. Every bite is rich but also bright, familiar yet also distinctly Asian-influenced.
The corn was a complete shock to us, because we were expecting the flavors of Mexican corn-on-the-cob: lime, chili, and cotija cheese. The lime is there, and the chili mayo, but what looks like shredded cheese is actually shredded coconut. Shenanigans! I love cheese, but the sweet with the spicy and the tart is enough goodness to make me change factions.
The fruit salad is whole lychees, slices of pineapple, papaya, and mango, and cubes of young coconut in a lemongrass and mint juice. A few bites of this and a few sips of the blood orange lemonade is the perfect sweet-sour way to counteract the spiciness of the sandwiches. My boyfriend thinks the watermelon juice is better, but don’t listen to him.
I originally planned to give Num Pang 4.5 donuts out of 5 but started to reconsider it once I accidentally saw that both locations get 4 stars when you search for them on Google Maps. I thought through the menu and the meals I’ve had, trying to convince myself of a reason to drop its rating. Is too expensive? No, it’s exactly what I’m used to paying for banh mi. Is it not as flavorful as I expect? No, it’s actually more flavorful than most (if not all) comparable sandwiches. Can I think of anything that would make it better? More meat!, but that’s just me being greedy. I asked my boyfriend for his opinion, and he said, “One word: corn.” And then it became clear that I’m right and Google is wrong. 4.5 donuts it is.
21 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)
I think at this point, I can comfortably call Tocqueville my favourite restaurant in New York. Sure, I really look forward to the over-the-top creativity at Momofuku Ko and wd-50, and I love the decadence of Daniel and Per Se, but Tocqueville is both serving up interesting food and dishing out the kind of lavish service that makes you feel like you’re dropping a whole paycheck on the meal, when it’s really just $55 for the food and $30 for the wine pairings.
My boyfriend and I have had Tocqueville’s tasting menu, hunter’s menu, Restaurant Week menu, and lunch prix-fixe, but up until last weekend, we’d never had their pride and joy, the Greenmarket Menu.
Being situated a mere block from the Union Square Greenmarket gives Tocqueville access to the freshest and finest in organic and all-natural ingredients, and while I have to admit that I’m usually a little more interested in crazy techniques that leave ingredients unrecognizable, the quality of everything that went into these dishes was evident.
A perfect little bite of tender salmon, crunchy acidic fruit, and herbs to add freshness and subtract fishiness. Grassy scallion puree not even necessary but appreciated.
The predominant flavor in this dish was lemon. Under the beets, to the side of the beets, on top of the beets in little chunks. I was in heaven. “Salt-roasted” might make you think of parched throats and peanuts, but despite being cooked in probably pounds of the white stuff, the beets were perfectly moist, full of their natural flavor, and still with that youthful vegetable tooth. The bite of the arugula and walnuts paired well with the mineral aspects of the wine and also added a nice crunch to the dish.
2010 Moulin de Gassac Rose Languedoc-Rousillon France (B)
This wasn’t actually on the Greenmarket Menu but was a little treat provided by the excellent server we’ve had the past three times at Tocqueville. And let me tell you, it was a genius move, because I would order this thing again and again. And I usually think soup is dumb! The peas made for such a sweet base, and then the tarragon puree on the bottom of the plate balanced that with its herby bite. The texture was like melted ice cream, and I mean that in the best way. The fresh, crunchy peas added a crispiness, and the creamy panna cotta was a texture somewhere in the middle that brought everything together. I know the panna cotta was made from cheese, but it tasted like the sweetest cream to us.
I feel like I shouldn’t review this at all and should just let you look at the picture. Can you imagine anything more perfect? You have the chicken breast, cut in the famous airline fashion. You have the thigh, battered and crispier than you’ve ever seen it. You have succotash with chunks of thick-cut bacon. And hidden in the back, you have a white foam that tastes like–wait for it–Marshmallow Fluff. This has the potential to be the best dish ever, am I right?
Well, okay, there were a couple of things I’d do differently. The meat of the chicken was perfectly–perfectly–tender and juicy and flavorful in ways chicken isn’t even supposed to be. But the skin should have been crispier. And unfortunately, the salt was basically nonexistent when not mixed with the sauce in the succotash. Next time, I’ll have the guts to ask for some seasoning, because otherwise, this dish was unforgettable.
The peas were so plump, the corn so crisp. And that Marshmallow Fluff foam! The new chef told us it’s actually corn milk with star anise, garlic, and thyme, but that’s pretty clearly a lie, as it was totally MARSHMALLOW FLUFF. And delicious. That may have been the best part for me, but a close runner up was the fried chicken thigh. It was like eating chicken surrounded by a biscuit. The crispiest, most flavorful biscuit. The fact that it had no bone was also a major plus. Overall, this was one of the most soul-satisfying dishes I’ve ever had.
2002 Nebbiolo Limpido ! Cascina Ebreo Piedmont Italy (B)
I’m never disappointed by the way Tocqueville serves their cheese. This Vivace was stinky, rich, chewy, and spreadable, making it the perfect companion to the sweet rhubarb and honey (with comb!) and perfect for liberally covering the crusty raisin bread.
This was just about the prettiest fruit you ever saw; the berries were so perfectly fresh and ripe. The icy strawberry granita was a refreshing contrast to the rich mousse, and even the little buds added a nice crunchy texture. Obviously, and as usual, I wanted more. A lot more.
2006 Gruner Veltliner Eiswein Anton Bauer Wagram Austria (S)
Luckily, my boyfriend is a wimp and was too full to eat any of the petit fours. I felt like whoever made this plate had read my mind (or at least my blog), because a) there were French macarons, and b) the macarons were vanilla and lemon. They couldn’t have been more perfect! Interestingly, the macarons were full not of the usual gel-like filling but with more of a creamy, frosting-like filling. Delightful!
At the end of the meal, when I asked for a copy of the Greenmarket Menu, our wonderful server presented two of them to us, wrapped in pretty gold ribbon. It wasn’t the sort of thing I expected, but I should have known to expect it from Tocqueville. I turned to my boyfriend and asked, “Why do we ever bother going anywhere else?”
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:
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.
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.
The shrimp and asparagus was a perfect little bite that included freshness from the lettuce puree and crunch from the crouton.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This palate-revver was all compliments: sweet butter, spicy herb, crunchy bread.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)