Tocqueville, NYC 3
December 2, 2010
In September 2006 Linda and I had a good dinner at Tocqueville, which had just moved into its new elegant quarters. We were impressed and said we would like to go again for the Tasting Menu. We finally made it back four years later, the evening of November 19, 2010. We were seated in a corner table and ordered glasses of the Louis Roederer house Champagne. Nice.
The first hors d’oeuvres were gougères and beet cannelloni.
The cannelloni wrapped in thin beet slices were very nice. The gougères had an added unwelcome spiciness. It wasn’t as if a bit of good hot mustard had been added; it was more like plain Tabasco, unfortunately, a foretaste of things to come.
The second were potato, celery and black truffle hot croquettes
In addition to the à la carte selections, there were five-course and a seven-course tasting menus. There was also a four-course menu of wines from Etude with food paired to each of the four Etude wines. We decided that we wanted the full experience and chose the seven-course menu.
After considerable consultation with the enthusiastic sommelier, we ordered a bottle of 2009 “L’Après-Midi” Peter Michael (Sonoma) Sauvignon Blanc. It is 14% Semillon, which gives it needed body. Very good.
Our red wine was 2006 “Terres Basses” WillaKenzi Estate (Oregon) Pinot Noir.
Also very nice. Note the low candles on the tables; more on that later.
The amuse-gueule was a
Creamless Purée of Sunchokes
caramelized chanterelles and black truffle emulsion
with a small
Wagyu tartare and cauliflower on a crisp.
The purée was good with the truffle and chanterelle flavors coming through. The wagyu wasn’t a big enough piece to make a statement.
The first course was a special of the day
Scottish langoustine, Nantucket Bay scallops, lobster
The pieces of top quality seafood were in an excellent shellfish reduction broth which did not need its bit of distracting spiciness. The foam added to the ambience of the sea.
California Sea Urchin and Angel Hair Carbonara
sea lettuce, lime, soy
The flavor was excellent, with the homemade soy sauce giving an umami boost, so much better than a Tabasco boost from which this dish had been spared. But the angel hair was a gooey mess. I have never understood why people use angel hair; I suppose they think it is light pasta, although the opposite is usually true when it sticks together into a heavy glob that eventually has to be cut up with a knife.
Local Black Sea Bass
broccoli rabe, meyer lemon, and rosemary
The sea bass was atop a mound of broccoli rabe; its skin lacked the crispness I think they were trying to achieve. The fish fumet was good so long as one didn’t mix it with the half circle of Meyer lemon purée on the right, touched with the Tabasco curse which was silly as its acidity gave plenty of tang.
Glazed Peking Duck Breast and Leg Tea.
Cured duck bacon, greenmarket cabbage and cassis.
This was rich and flavorful with the duck flavors coming through nicely. The braised chard and black currents were nice contrasting garnishes.
Venison with Smoked Chili Glaze
Well, at least this time they warned you of the chilis. They were a bit too strong, but had a character beyond Tabasco and did serve a purpose in bringing out the gamy flavor of the venison. The parsnip purée underneath was a nice counterpoint. The dish reminded me of the excellent Venado en recaudo negro I had at Pujol in Mexico City.
Cow’s milk tomme, gorgonzola, black mission fig, toasted walnut.
The cheeses were very mild for their types, which was a strange choice after having juiced up our palates with all the hot pepper.
Caramelized Apple with apple sorbet
Good. The sweetness of the caramelized apple was balanced by the tartness of the green apple sorbet.
Coconut Tofu with pink grapefruit
This seemed very ordinary. We had declined the normal chocolate tasting dessert, which might have been better.
There was a plate of mignardises served with a glass of Grappa liqueur with chamomile (sic.)
As you can tell from my descriptions above, we were not happy with the meal despite a nice start and several very good courses. I am not against some spiciness when it is announced and appropriate to the cuisine, particularly when it comes from something interesting in itself, such as fresh jalapeños, green curry or peppercorns etc. But, except for the glaze on the venison, these were inappropriate and just tasted like Tabasco. They really ruined some of the dishes and put our palate off the wine.
Zagat says of Tocqueville:
“Gracious”, “low-key’ staffers “make you feel special” at the “calm”, “classy” Union Square “oasis”, where “grown-ups” “luxuriate” in “stunning chandeliered” quarters while quietly “raving about” Marco Moreira’s “scrumptious” and “imaginative” French-New American cuisine.
Michelin calls it “a soothing respite in which to enjoy the menu’s contemporary French accented creations.”
Well, this was not at all what we found. The clientèle was highly energized, very New York in casual chic fashions. The noise level was atrocious, but that seems to add to their energy. Perhaps the chef thinks he needs to add the Tabasco to get their attention to the food away from the chatter. During the evening two diners set their menus on fire from the low candles on the tables. Their attention was elsewhere.
We had been back in New York for three weeks by the time we went to Tocqueville and had yet to have a restaurant meal which would have been acceptable in France or Italy for its category and price. New York can duplicate what they have there except for one thing: the clientèle. Of course, there are some wonderful restaurants, both big and small, in New York which adhere to top standards, but the pressure from the public seems to be pushing downhill. The recent culinary destruction of Aureole and Oceana are good examples and I guess that Tocqueville is headed their way. The demise of restaurants like Chanterelle and the triumph of Batali and Chang brashness are part of the NY trend. It is all quite different from the understated “fooding” trend in Paris or the Scandinavian success with letting local fresh ingredients speak for themselves. There is a huge choice in New York, but the odds of our being happy when we try someplace new keep going down and even old standbys think they need to spice things up.
I went back to Tocqueville on August 16, 2014, for lunch with Blair. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings. The cuisine was quite good, with no overspicing etc. The ambience was very nice: a quiet reserved clientèle and low music. The genial sommelier provided excellent, interesting wine pairings.