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Tocqueville

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Tocqueville

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Address: 1 East 15th Street
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10003
Phone: 212-647-1515
Fax: 212-647-7148
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: American
2nd Cuisine: French
Area: Union Square
Entree Price: $25-30
Takeout: No
Delivery: No
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard Discover

Summary:



Review:

I've always dreamed of having a house. I've got bigger dreams too-write the great American novel (I already wrote one, but I am pretty sure it's not great), travel the world, right the injustices of our time. But this house thing is one dream that I actually hope I can realize. I can picture it in my mind because my dream house is very similar to the house we used to go to during the summer as kids. It was my Grandmother's beach house in Rye, up near Portsmouth, in New Hampshire. It was an old white clapboard A-frame with a wrap-around porch furnished with wicker rocking chairs, and hung with a sort of hammock that my father called a glider. It had a big backyard where a peach tree grew on an angle so that it banged against the kitchen window. The house was walking distance from the ocean, so the air often hung with a ripe salty humidity that left a kind of dew on your skin. My dream house is similar to that old summerhouse. But it would have a room that our summerhouse didn't. It would have a big dining room. A really nice one with an old farm table where I could invite at least a dozen people over for dinner. Here in the real world, that house near the beach with the dining room does not exist; I have a studio apartment that is not near the ocean and has neither a porch nor a peach tree. But the dream lives on, and will live on until I find that dream house (and the cash to buy it with). Until then, however, I'd like to nominate Tocqueville as a substitute space for my formal dinner parties. (Casual dinners already take place at Five Points, Tia Pol, or Public.) The restaurant, which was built from scratch just steps from its former location down the block, begs for a festive occasion to celebrate. And we were in the mood for a celebration the other night because Craig's parents were visiting from New Orleans for his mother's birthday. The last time they were in the city we all went to A Voce (which was spectacular), but we could barely hear ourselves think in that dining room, so this time I wanted something a little more serene. Tocqueville was the right choice. The dining room, reached through a civilized ante room with a long marble bar and cozy lounge seating, is sumptuously decorated in cream and gold, with vaulted ceilings, warm amber lighting from overhead chandeliers, great acoustics and deliciously soft chairs that tuck into tables dressed in layers of heavy white linen and accessorized with fine china, and tall stemware. It's a room that feels luxurious, like a boutique dining room at a Relais & Chateau, but without the pretense. Dinner should by all means begin as ours did with a parade of bar snacks. The selection of hors d'oeurves made us feel as though we were having own private little cocktail party at our table. There were hot and peppery gougeres made from Cato Corner Farms cheese ($7), garnet-colored dried beets rolled up like cigarettes and filled with creamy Montrachet goat cheese ($6), a smoky quenelle of salt cod brandade on a deep purple chip made from squid ink risotto of all things ($7.50), fluffy little golden fritters of celery root and potato served with a truffle mayonnaise ($7.50). With its proximity to the Greenmarket, chef-owner Marco Moreira and his chef de cuisine David Coleman (Union Pacific) have turned local seasonal ingredients into their de facto religion. Their bible (uh, menu) reads like Genesis for spring, with ramps, snap peas, zucchini flowers, fava beans, morels, spring garlic, and sweet spring peas showing up in various roles on the menu. Fava beans, artichokes, and cepes float in a cider vinaigrette gastrique that buoys a pair of caramelized scallops and lobe of seared foie gras ($34). Spring garlic is pureed with shallot, onion, celery root and potatoes for a velvety verdant green vichyssoise ($14) that was magical-like edible spring. To accent the soup, which is served warm, Marco adds a cool dollop of spiced ricotta and a fried zucchini blossom stuffed with zucchini marmalade. We were all in awe. When was the last time you had a bowl of soup that made you stop and pay attention? The spring garlic also showed up in an appetizer special that Craig ordered-a beautiful mound of buttery braised shortribs fashioned into a crepinette, served with snap peas and a roulade of spring garlic. We couldn't figure out what was inside the spring onion roll-ups, and when Craig's Mom got around to trying it she decided it didn't matter. "I don't know what it is, and I don't care. I love it." Meanwhile, Craig's Dad was quietly devouring his calf's tongue salad, served both smoked and confited over mustard greens with a small shot of house-made celery soda ($18). "How's the tongue salad, Roy?" I asked. "It's wonderful," he said, smiling. "My Dad used to order tongue and chopped liver sandwiches all the time with a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda," I offered. Roy's smile got bigger. "Those are my favorite sandwiches too," he said, his mind clearly going back to the time when he lived in Brooklyn. Then he turned to Marjorie-"I think I know what we're having for lunch tomorrow." Katz's it was. Now, while the memory analogy was right, you can be sure that two slices of rye bread have never seen tongue like this-so delicate with smoke. Calf's tongue salad. Fabulous. Who knew? As for me, I am ashamed to admit that I chose an appetizer of tuna tartar. I'm almost embarrassed to admit my selection, because it's become so mundane and pedestrian at this point, but I do love it, so I let myself be boring for the night. But this was far from a snooze. What you get is so much more than just tartar-it's actually a layer of tuna carpaccio-thin as a potato chip-that gets topped with a raw quail egg, a dose of caviar, a sprinkle of chives, and a spoonful of luscious pink toro tuna tartar ($19). It's all finished off with a drizzle of dill oil. How terrific! But it was not as exciting as the appetizer my mom went with-the seared rouget. This firm, meaty, slightly oily fish has a rosy skin and was served over sweet and sour greens, with toasted Marcona almonds, and a sheer veil of house-cured lardo. The strong spring theme carried through to main courses, which uniformly hit the mark. Since I was being boring that night, I decided to continue along in my dull manner, and so I ordered the chicken. Marco gets his all natural birds from Four-Story Hill Farms in Pennsylvania, and marinates the breast in lemon and thyme so the meat is perfumed with citrus and herbs. The chicken breast, which is the closest I've seen any breast come to such juicy perfection, is coated in a tight crunchy crust of golden breadcrumbs. It's almost like schnitzel, actually. It came with a few herb gnocchi, a large roulade filled with dark meat and chicken liver (hello, cardiac arrest, calling), and a natural lemony poultry jus that brightened up its bedding of fluffy parsnip puree. I'd gladly be called boring if I could eat that chicken once a week. Craig went for Marco's signature 60-second seared sirloin, which comes with a serving of 24-hour rib pot roast ($35). Talk about Bogie and Bacall-what a pair. The sirloin is rubbed with sea salt and seared on one side only, so you get a killer char but also a nice medium rare piece of meat, and that pot roast, well, let me just say that if wives around the country started making pot roast like this I think there would no longer be a need for couples counseling. "Yes, dear" would pretty much be the only words husbands would thereafter be capable of. The sirloin and happy roast are served with a super silky smoked Yukon gold potato puree that was so smooth, saucy, and creamy that was almost like a soup. The only thing missing from the dish was the fried egg that used to come on top of the steak at the old Tocqueville. Bummer. Bring back the egg! And then there was the matter of the roasted trio of Colorado lamb, a masterpiece of texture and flavor. The lamb is lightly pounded and breaded with herbs and breadcrumbs and then pan-roasted in butter thyme and garlic, the tongue is pickled and the leg is braised and it comes with a potato-turnip puree, fried squash blossom, and a festival of spring veggies: yellow wax beans, sugar snaps, fava beans, cranberry beans and pickled ramps ($38). The snapper, which my Mom ordered was also a posterchild (rather posterfish) for how to layer flavor. It was crusted with toasted fennel seed, plated in a shamelessly bold puddle of Cara Cara orange juice, tiny briny Arbequina olives, over a spinach puree ($29). Marjorie went for the sea trout roulade ($31), another jewel-the bubble gum pink fish that was wrapped around a filling of sea trout, razor clams and sopressata, accompanied by with one large ravioli (really more like a perogi) filled with trout brandade swimming in a broth made from fish fume and dill. We celebrated Marjorie's birthday with a toast and a few desserts by pastry chef Dan Martinez. There was a beautifully buttery caramelized apple pizza with whipped crème fraiche and caramel sauce ($12), a light and creamy graham cracker mousseline with sassafras ice cream ($10), and a precious little black walnut and brown butter financier with phenomenal armagnac-raisin ice cream ($12), which was my favorite of the lot. After the candles were blown out and the last plates were cleared, I thanked the makers of my jeans (AG) for the addition of Lycra and promised penance of two spin classes and one boot camp later in the week. Just when we thought we were done with our feast, a round of petit fours were brought over. Though we swore we couldn't eat another thing, somehow, scary as it may seem, we did. Little cookies and tiny chocolates can be very persuasive. By now we were the only ones left in the restaurant and my mother, who had at this point befriended the entire cast of waitstaff, summoned her friend Miguel (our extremely knowledgeable and attentive waiter) to act as our photographer. "Oh, Miguel? Will you take some pictures for us? And can I have a crumber? I think that would be great to use at home! Thanks!" she said. "Mom, what are you doing asking for a crumber? What on earth are you going to use a crumber for at home?" I asked, incredulous. "Oh, I don't know, I think it's fun." I just laughed. "Okay, mom. Sure." My mom collects things she will never use. Add one crumber to said collection. Anyway, Miguel was ready to go so we all moved to one side of the table-my Mom, Marjorie and Roy, Craig and me. The blinking red eye light came first, then the flash. I still have a dream that one day I'll have a house. I'd like it to be near the ocean, and I'd like to swing on a hammock tied between two trees. I'd like to pick peaches from my backyard and fold them into pies made from crusts heavy with lard. And I'd love to have a big dining room. But I guess when it comes down to it, the dreams that I have are not about the kitchen, or the dining room, the hammock, or the ocean, or even that big old A-frame house. My dreams are mostly about the people who might come to fill it.



Review By: Andrea Strong


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