A fine dining experience in New York goes beyond what is served on the plate. From the moment a reservation is made, till you exit the restaurant, you get this feeling that everyone is here to satisfy your every need and make the event magical. Regardless of your income level or your experience with haute cuisine, the staff goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable. You’re the guest, and this is hospitality at its finest.
There are only a handful of restaurants that truly deliver this immersive, blissful experience. Per Se, Jean-Georges, Daniel are some fine examples that come to mind. Each have been bestowed with 3 Michelin Stars, 4 NY Times Stars, and a Relais & Chateaux listing. To many, these credentials are prerequisites for birthdays and anniversaries.
Then there’s Tocqueville. Which doesn’t have a chef who is a household name, never got a Michelin Star, and failed to get a perfect mark from the New York Times. Not that any of that matters, Tocqueville is one of the best restaurants in New York City.
Tocqueville opened back in 2000 at 15 15th Street East, the first restaurant by accomplished catering chef Marco Moreira and his wife Jo-Ann. The original space was a narrow triangular space that launched Tocqueville into success, though it was slightly limiting. In 2006, Tocqueville moved a few doors towards its current space, and the original location was re-purposed as 15 East, Chef Moreira’s high-end Japanese restaurant.
The dining room of Tocqueville is elegant and simple. Despite having no windows, the high ceilings provided a really comfortable environment.
The menu is French American, with refreshingly straightforward descriptions of the ingredients and preparation. In the days of ever more complex menus with excessive old world language, it’s pleasant to open a menu and understand all of the words without culinary school training. The unpretentious nature of Tocqueville continued with the introduction of the specials, when the waiter clearly announces the price of each item. Another rarity nowadays that I really appreciate.
The wine program comes from sommelier Nick Robinson, a rising young (at least in the wine world) talent who not too long ago won the 2011 StarChefs.com New York Rising Star award. The list is very approachable, and feature a few wines from New York. When a restaurant takes pride in local produce, it’s nice to see that they showcase local wines as well.
We started the appetizers with Warm Greenmarket Tomato soup, to get a feel of how Tocqueville takes advantage of the local farmers market. The soup was refreshing, and you could really taste the freshness of the ingredients. The wait staff offered to split our shared appetizer into two bowls, each with the identical complex plating. The willingness to do these little details is what differentiate good restaurants from great ones.
On the opposite end of the taste spectrum, we ordered perhaps the two richest appetizers on the menu. The California Sea Urchin and Angel Hair Carbonara featured al dante pasta topped with large pieces of urchin. I was originally worried that the urchin would be overpowered by the creamy pasta, but after a few bites, the uni only accentuated the flavor. The kelp was also a great touch, providing contrast in both flavor and texture. Seaweed in pasta, who would’ve thought. Then again, Chef Moreira was a sushi chef by training.
Another item that immediately caught my eye was the foie gras, which is house cured. Topped with sea salt and pepper, the rich and decadent foie gras was among some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Not to be overshadowed by the near perfect foie gras, the two halves of caramelized seckel pear were absolutely delicious, and a few bites are great to intermittently cut the creaminess of the terrine.
For entrees, I went with one of my favorite fish the arctic char. With very delicate flavor, it all comes down to the preparation. In this case Chef Moreira chose to let the flavor of the fish shine through with even lighter seasoning, only a bit of salt on the perfectly charred skin. Under the skin, the meat’s lightly cooked and wonderfully tender. A fish course could not have been done better.
The highlight of the meal was definitely the lobster, which some of my friends were raving about. The lobster meat may not be as buttery soft as the preparation at other restaurants, but the first bite is like a revelation, the texture is perfect. The foamy lobster demi-glace adds another layer of lobster flavor to the already brilliant dish. Best lobster course in the city, I think so.
At the savory dishes concluded, Tocqueville once again provides a pleasant surprise. Though I was told that the restaurant does not usually do candles for birthdays, out came our dessert with a candle on the plate. Attention to detail is a beautiful thing. The berry souffle was absolutely delicious, and well worth the slight wait time as it’s prepared as you order.
With the plates cleared, the staff noticed we still had a bit of wine and brought out some complimentary sorbet. Color me thoroughly impressed.
To sum up the evening at Tocqueville, it is perfection in a most understated form.
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