How to Spend A Wintry Day in Manhattan
On a blustery winter day, one calling for hoods, mufflers and gloves, a friend and I found ourselves on lower Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district. After a bit of shopping, all we wanted to do was find a place to have a relaxing lunch—perhaps a cozy ‘French.’ But where to go?
Whipping out Zagat 2017 and turning to the winners in the TOP FOOD category, the restaurant Tocqueville, in seventh place with a 4.8 rating, caught my eye. Neither of us had been there before, but the restaurant was in excellent company, in between the amazing Gabriel Kreuther (4.8) in sixth place and a long-time favorite, Gramercy Tavern (4.8), in eighth. Tocqueville is a $$$$ restaurant, but there was a mention in Zagat of a prix fixe lunch for $29 that was ‘a steal.’ How many topnotch New York City restaurants with a 4.8 for food can you find where you can have a 2-course menu for $29 and a 3-course for $36?
Getting a reservation was not a problem, but getting a cab was. When we did, traffic was horrendous. Grid lock. Knowing we would be fifteen minutes late, I called ahead to alert reception, but no one answered. All my good intentions gone astray. When we finally reached the restaurant, the greeting was not warm and welcoming but disinterested and perfunctory. But I chalked it up to our being late.
Tocqueville is lovely—muted colors, fresh flowers, excellent service— a restaurant for grown-ups with a refined ambiance. We liked the ample spacing between tables, the high ceilings. All of which was conducive to having a conversation. So go prepared!
The wine list is excellent. White wines by the glass included a Sancerre from the Loire; a Malagousia from Greece; a Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, Oregon; and a Riesling from Germany. What was a real bargain was a two-course wine pairing for $16.
We chose an Alvarinho, a vinho verde from Portugal, one we were not familiar with, but which, according to the sommelier, was grown near the border with Spain. Which made all the difference. The Portuguese wine was more fruit-forward than many of the Spanish Albariños. A medium yellow in the glass, it was round in the mouth, with hints of peaches. Mellow and well-balanced, Absolutely delicious.
For starters, I had a butternut squash soup that may have been the world’s best – served as it was with black trumpet mushrooms. confit squash and a brioche crouton. I'm a huge fan of butternut squash soup, especially on a wintry day. And my friend had the most exquisite looking salad I had ever laid eyes on—mixed greens (fennel and frisee) with a slice of Cato Farm white cheddar and a perfectly roasted glazed pear. We were two happy campers.
Thanks to raves coming from the next table, we both chose the duck parmentiere for the main course—a classy version of Shepherd’s Pie. This is 'down home' cooking at its most refined. A soul-satisfying dish consisting of duck confit – duck legs taken off the bone and minus the skin— and mashed potatoes shaped with a pastry cutter. My-oh-my. See for yourself. The other choice was a day boat cod in a lime and lemon grass broth. Cod I cook at home, but duck parmentiere? Never!
The 2-course lunch proved rich and satisfying; we skipped the gorgeous desserts floating by, settled for an espresso that maintained its foam to the very last sip—the acid test.
The clientele was nicely dressed, many in business suits celebrating holiday luncheons with co-workers. Tocqueville is classy rather then cozy, a restaurant for fine dining. If only two-thirds filled at lunch hour, it deserves to be fully booked. To remedy that, I'd start at the front door. A good welcome is essential, but so, too, is a heartfelt goodbye.
And what do others say? It's sophisticated, top-of-the-line, and to be savored, In short, that Marco Moreira's 'French' is a knockout.
Tocqueville is at 1 East 15th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Union Square). Reservations a must.
With 2017 drawing to a close, I would like to wish each of you a most wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! And a fun-filled Kwanzaa! Hope to see you back here in 2018 when I will have the coffee ready... à bientôt mes amis.