Though it recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, I had never made it to Tocqueville, the lovely Union Square area restaurant, until recently, when my wife and I were taken there by our good friends Joe & Donna Bavuso.
Tocqueville is not a large restaurant with a large number of tables. Though the ceilings are high and the room feels spacious, the restaurant is small, cozy and intimate feeling. The sense of intimacy does not come at the price of a loss of privacy, though, as the tables are set discreetly apart. With a mostly Brazilian music set list playing courtesy of Pandora, the space emitted a relaxed, tranquil vibe that belied the controlled busy-ness occurring around the beautifully appointed dining room as the waitstaff went about their business.
After a short wait for our table at the bar (where I had a very generously poured Brazilian Manhattan – Sagatiba Velha Aged Cachaça, Sweet vermouth and awesome House Brandied Cherries), we were led to our table, a plush demi-banquette in the back of the dining room in front of one of the tall, golden-hued drapes. It wasn't long before we were greeted by Jo-Ann Makovitsky, the co-owner of Tocqueville along with her husband and Executive Chef, Marco Moreira. Ms. Makovitsky was utterly charming and welcoming, setting a tone that was echoed by her wait-staff throughout the evening.
We opted for the 5 course Tasting Menu valued at $95pp along with wine pairings for an additional $60pp.We were started with a couple of amuses including beet root canneloni stuffed with goat cheese and luscious truffle-scented croquetas. The amuses were paired with a nice bubbly from the Loire, NV Cremant de Loire Brut from Chateau l'Aulee. At this point, we learned something about the quality of the service at Tocqueville. I dropped something on the floor to my left. I bent to pick it up and leaned on the end of the table to raise myself up. In one of those slow motion cinematic moments in which one oh-so-slowly shouts "nnnnnnnnnnnoooooooooooooooooooooo!", the table tipped and the champagne glasses (fortunately mostly, but unfortunately not completely, empty) teetered, tottered and ultimately toppled with the remaining sparkling white spreading itself over the table. The waitstaff reacted with speed, aplomb and best of all, pleasant humor, quickly cleaning up the spill and setting everything to right almost as quickly as it happened in the first place. While embarrassed, I and my dining companions were mightily impressed. For the remainder of the meal, we never encountered anything to lesson our impression of the service.
The menu started with a bang, but of a better kind. Japanese yellowtail crudo was served three ways: with grapefruit mostarda, with jicama and with lychee. Paired with a lovely rose from Provence, the 2009 Côtes de Provence from Chateau de Rouet, the totality of this course was refreshing. Each component hit the right notes, leaving a satisfied smile on our lips and a sense of anticipation for the next course.
Hudson Valley Duck Foie Gras with green gage plum, watermelon radish and prune gelee followed, paired with a luscious 1989 Riesling Spatlese from Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck in Erhard, Rheingau, Germany. The foie gras was not groundbreaking in any sense, but it was tasty and satisfying. The wine, not found on their on-line wine list, was, for me, the real star and the real treat of this course. It did what wine is supposed to do: it elevated the dish to a level beyond what it would have been on its own and made the course stand out.
Local Fluke a la Plancha with kohrabi confit, puree of black trumpets and caviar gribiche was my favorite course of the evening. In addition to the seductively creamy puree of black trumpets, the dish also contained enoki mushrooms that were paired with the kohrabi confit. That latter pairing made the kohlrabi into a worthy companion for the rest of the dish. On its own, it was somehwat bland, but it meshed beautifully with the enokis. The fluke was perfectly cooked and delicious. Once again, the wine pairing was a stroke of mastery. This time, we were served another German wine not on the online list, but it was not a wine typical of Germany. It was a pinot noir, but it wasn't the kind of pinot noir I typically think of when I think of the grape. It was a blanc de noir from Hahnmul in Nahe, Germany from the 2007 vintage and it too was delicious with exquisite balance.
The final savory course was good, but for a meat that I ordinarily adore, I found it to be surprisingly "ok." Spiced California Squab Breast and Leg Terrine with rhubarb, charred escarole cream and baby turnips lacked conviction. While I enjoyed the leg terrine, the breast, normally one of my favorite things to eat in the world was rather tame without any distinguishing elements. Even the wine, another well-selected beauty, the 2003 Finca Elez "Escena" from Manuel Manzaneque, couldn't elevate the dish beyond mediocre.
We were treated to a lovely cheese course, an earthy, delicious blue, whose name escaped me and a 2003 Vintage Port from Quinta Portal that quickly put the meal back on track. Accompanying the cheese were toasted candied walnuts.
Each of us was served a different dessert. Given that we are all good friends, we passed them around to share. I received the Coconut Pannacotta with spiced pineapple and Thai curry ice cream, which turned out to be my favorite of the four. It was a knock-out combination of flavors with great acid balance. The other desserts were also excellent. The others included a combination of chocolate, banana and truffle, a Sicilian blood orange cheesecake and a Vanilla-Caramel Roasted Bosc Pear with pear and cranberry charlotte and ginger ice cream – all excellent as were the mignonettes at the end.
We had a thoroughly wonderful time at Tocqueville. The food was indeed very good. It wasn't the star of the evening, but it was more than good enough in conjunction with outstanding service and hospitality, a beautiful, relaxing room and a truly interesting and delicious wine pairing. The totality of the experience at Tocqueville was such to make me want to return. I could see, if I lived in NYC, being a regular here.