Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Tocqueville


yvonne johnson
 Share

Recommended Posts

What are those? did you get some?  And, do you lick 'em, stick 'em, and suck 'em?  :laugh:

If I said that, I would be banned from the board for life.

Well, if you weren't talking about tequila shots (lick the salt, stick the shot, and suck the lime), maybe you would!

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
Link to comment
Share on other sites

You know, our waiter offered us tequila, too, in an obviously joking kind of way.  We replied that what we really wanted were Alabama Slammers. :wink:

What are those? did you get some? And, do you lick 'em, stick 'em, and suck 'em? :laugh:

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

No, we went for the Champagne instead - we wanted them to think we're classy! :wink:

Here's a link to an Alabama Slammer recipe...it's whiskey, amaretto, creme de noyaux, and orange juice. Quite potent.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just a note that six of us enjoyed a multi-hour, multi-course feast at Tocqueville the other night, capped by a whole roast suckling piglet. Food, hospitality, decor: all were a delight. Pictures were taken, and a description is likely to follow from one or more other members of the party. Tequila shots were neither offered nor requested.

"To Serve Man"

-- Favorite Twilight Zone cookbook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In today's New York Daily News, Pascale Le Draoulec awards 2½ stars to Tocqueville, probably a half-star less than they were looking for. Take it for what it's worth, but the Daily News seldom reviews restaurants in this category, so it's hard to compare this review to others in the same paper.

Le Draoulec loved "the sea urchin carbonara, one of the best dishes I've had this year," as well as "a lush 24-hour rib pot roast." But:

Tocqueville outgrew its old space, but is still finding itself in its new digs. In trying to live up to the room's grandeur, the kitchen sometimes loses its edge, as in the case of my pheasant, an "old lady" plate if I ever had one.
Edited by oakapple (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

American Night New York City Entry #86 Tocqueville

With the abundance of fine chefs in the neighborhood, Union Square qualifies as Toque-ville. However, there is only one Tocqueville, a newly expanded and ostensibly more ambitious eatery off the square, co-owned by the wife-and-husband team of Jo-Ann Makovitzky and Brazilian-born chef Marco Moreira.

I cannot emulate America's finest social critic Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America, a work of genius that underscored our paradoxical striving for status and equality, for community and for selfhood, while not ignoring our sometimes problematic cuisine. Such themes still resonate as the work edges toward its bicentennial in 2035.

If I cannot match this astute Frenchman, at least I can ask the question of what message is being sent when the restaurant was christened. Surely restaurants need not mean in order to be, but for a social scientist, this moniker is a tease. Moreira describes his philosophy by suggesting "purchasing the world's best seasonal ingredients and enhancing their natural flavors will produce fresh, innovative dishes." Soothing, but a such a philosophy would be embraced most of New York's ambitious chefs. It's my motto, too. One wonders why a restaurant named Tocqueville does not embrace the majesty of the American west (or Midwest) of which the Frenchman was so impressed. (While wondering, why name a gin martini the Volstead, after Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead, the sponsor of the act that enforced prohibition; perhaps the martini had more punch than the wit).

No matter, call the place Chungking Charlie's as long as the experience is ecstatic. Makovitzky and Moreira announce that they designed the restaurant themselves. On entering one is reminded of the old adage, "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool as a client," although perhaps we might alter this to "the lawyer who operates on himself has a fool for a patient." Doctor or lawyer, restaurant designers can sleep soundly. For an elegant restaurant, the Tocqueville space is one of the least impressive around. The fabrics of browns, tans, and creams seem tired and numb before even a few months have passed. The room felt sleepy. And judging by the john, Tocqueville has a way to go.

When I opened the door to Tocqueville I was startled. The lobby was deserted. I waited. Finally I walked back to the bar and found the hostess. Odd hospitality for a restaurant that hopes to break into New York's top echelon. The service needed improvement as well. The staff was uncertain about what could be served with their five-course tasting menu. The dishes were on the a la carte menu, but the decision was the chef's. If so, announce his preferences. We chose to choose.

It would be nice to report that despite limitations, the food was inspiring. Or it might be dramatic to discover that the food was god-awful. In truth, neither claim would do justice to the evening. Our choices were pleasing without transcending; they blurred with much competently prepared modern cuisine. One had the touch of genius. One resonated on my bleech-o-meter.

Our amuse set the tone: a nicely plump mussel over microgreens with a bit of saffron vinaigrette. The bite was agreeable, not sharply redolent of saffron, but a smooth taste. Perhaps a stronger mark of saffron would have created gustatory engagement, not a passing gulp.

The enchanting presentation was a Slowly-Poached Araucana Farm Egg, served with Parmesan-infused poultry bouillon, paysanne (thinly sliced) root vegetables, and black truffles. Stock can be theology, edging toward the divine. In this case the liquor was powerfully evocative of earth and root. Although the egg was prettily poached, it played a secondary role in a dish that pointed to a liquid dawn. It was superb.

California Sea Urchin and Angel Hair Carbonara with soy, lime, and sea lettuce needs tweaking. The sea urchin and pasta made a nice match, even if the accompaniments were less strongly evident than I had expected and the noodles were not prepared al dente. While the dish in its current state is not a classic, through a weakness of texture and a timidity of taste, it served well as a starter.

The better of the two entrees was Seared Diver Sea Scallops and Foie Gras with forest mushrooms, artichokes and apple cider balsamic vinegar, another in the sea and farm school of entrees. To describe the dish as nothing special seems to damn a dish that's only offense was in lacking electricity. Same old, same old can be a compliment, as it is here. The flavors of the accompaniments were not so intense to direct attention from what was, in truth, properly prepared foie gras and scallops in a rich balsamic jus. Put differently, this is not a dish of genius, but of talent.

The same cannot be said of the Roast Suckling Pig with Collard Green Mousseline, Crispy Mandioc, and Farofa da Bebe, a misguided entree. Given that this is the only dish of the evening that pays explicit tribute to the chef's Brazilian heritage, a grand and complex cuisine, its failure was particularly disappointing. The plate was anchored by chunks of ham, shoulder, and belly. I admired the crispy pigskin - what a football that must be - however, the belly was too fatty, and had it not been for a shred or two of pork, it would have been elemental lard: to eat this dish is to pig out. The pig was the most appetizing element of this perplexing adventure. The idea of collard green mousseline has a certain appeal, but not when it tastes like weary spinach puree. Mandioc is a cassava plant, a source of tapioca. Here it added little but a slight textural interest, designed to play off the farofa. Unfortunately one wished less attention to the mound of farofa, toasted mandioc flour, an Amazonian stable. The grain was dried out and wan. Although culinary soil is a molecular texture at WD-50 (loved not always wisely but too well), this dirt had faced drought; some pork drippings would have been welcome. That Chef Moreira might someday create a Brazilian-inflected cuisine is intriguing, but this dish is not a model.

Both desserts were sweetly prosaic. I enjoyed the Caramel Apple Confit, a deconstructed apple tart with walnut linzer and a mild caramelized green apple ice cream. The smear of apple butter nodded to Dufrasne or Collichio, but none of the flavors proved exciting or intense. Surely critics require a richer vocabulary to denote pleasant. How about good?

The second dessert Mango Creme Brulee with Cardamon, Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass suggests that more is less. At the heart was a brulee that didn't crackle or pop, but only soothed. Without an ideal centerpiece, the assorted exotic tastes were frou-frou. Too much happening in a dish that must perfect the simple things.

Given my diverse reactions, I imagine that if one chooses well, an extremely fine meal is to be had at Tocqueville. Perhaps Chef Moreira will not demonstrate the complexity of our native spirit, but his efforts reveal a Brazilian-born chef working to good effect. Tonight genius was found in an egg, the symbolic heart of the universe.

As we finished, the staff watched us sauntering to the entrance. Again we stood alone. Now I opened the cloakroom door, grabbed my hat, and strolled into a perfect American night.

Tocqueville

One East 15th Street (at Fifth Avenue)

Manhattan (Union Square)

212-647-1515

My Webpage: Vealcheeks

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's all distressing. Because to me, based on my one visit (to their old place), Tocqueville's appeal comes mainly from the very pleasant and attentive (without being cloying) service, from the warm greeting at the door to the informal cosseting throughout the meal. Without that, you notice that what you get is just a lot of concedely well-prepared but not all that inspired "restaurant food."

The quotation from Chef Moreira is notable because, as you say, it describes the food served by a huge percentage of New York restaurants with culinary pretentions. It certainly describes the food served at Savoy. Savoy is an interesting comparison to Tocqueville. The food there doesn't hit the upper reaches of culinary ecstasy, either, but I think it's better than the food at Tocqueville.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

“I’ll even deliver the piglet myself if I have to!” said Robert Brown about a month ago in a tone more matter-of-fact than suggestive. Unfortunately, the rebellion of the spirit sometimes is forced to face the despotism of reality, and for a while it seemed that Robert’s hopes of having a roasted suckling pig would not materialize, when George Mendes’ “That’ll be no problem; I’ll try to get a small baby pig just for your table,” and Marco Moreira’s confirmation restored hope.

Let me take a step back from my narrative for a second and say that I’ve been an advocate of Tocqueville for a while now, that I find George Mendes very talented and have become a friend of the house. When we become attached to a restaurant or a chef, that we have some share of moral bias with which we are confronted is unquestionable; that it foreshortens our vision of the merits of some things about which we could have been more objective is clearly on the record. However, if this is a critical shortcoming, it merely identifies us with every critic who ever lived, and the difference would be merely in degree or in kind, rather than in the presence or absence of it. The critic who claims to be lacking in bias is one of two things – a liar or a fool and sometimes both.

The basic function of a critic is to pronounce judgment – another one of those Greek words, krites, to “judge” – not to find fault. For that matter, the common conception of the public is much the same: “Don’t be so critical,” I hear from time to time, when in all good conscience, I judge what I have eaten to be inferior. I often feel that I am more “critical” (to borrow the misapplication of the term) of a dish when in the past I have eaten something so fine that what lingers is the rare miracle of re-creation, without regard for the fact that a trivial deviation from perfection is a reminder that the chef is, after all, a human being, not a machine. Of course, if the reminders are recurrent, the only conclusion can be that the chef is all too human, and his place is not on the “stage.”

It is, certainly, much easier to render a blatant opinion with no concern for a chef, his feelings or those of his hardworking team, which is arguably the only kind of uncompromised opinion, when the relationship with the establishment doesn’t extend beyond that of consumer and vendor. However, even if a relationship has been formed, the solution to the unending problem of confronting the favorite with his overall decline and the failure of certain dishes is still to tell the truth: perhaps not the blunt, harsh, naked truth, as it strikes someone totally unfamiliar with the previous accomplishments of the chef’s past, but the truth in a manner that is veiled by the esteem hard-earned on the chef’s part, predicated on the interplay of memories and reality, well aware of nuances and subtleties long admired.

It is, however, easy to praise a favorite when deserving, which I generally do with neither exaggeration nor understatement. So, let me tell you that the meal we had at Tocqueville was wonderful – no, not without fault, which I’ll depict with pedantry and laboriousness, but much more interesting and dynamic than the relatively recent meals we had at Bouley and Ducasse in February.

I’ll bypass the discussion of superior luxury ingredients as a measure of a successful dining experience – since a Perigord truffle at Ducasse (freshly shaved off a 200-gram specimen from Plantin, ripe, immensely perfumed and crisp) is incomparably more expensive than the black truffle served at Tocqueville – because luxury ingredients are not the strongest point of Tocqueville. It is, for example, the ability of the kitchen to orchestrate a series of amuses that achieves the perfect progression of flavors between “soft” and “loud,” toward an animated climax, the supple grace of certain dishes, the wonderful lightness and lack of dualism between erudition and spontaneous expression; it is the presence of inspiration in modern themes that I find pleasing at Tocqueville and have missed at Bouley and Ducasse, whose meals, though cleaner and more precise than before, were somewhat dull compared to my previous pre-Michelin experiences there. But let’s get back to Tocqueville.

The two kinds of bread (cheese and French rolls) with good homemade butter made the opening to our dinner. One of the indications of the growing ambition of a restaurant is baking the bread in-house, a laborious enterprise that, if successful, establishes the reputation of a restaurant more firmly among its competition. If you saw Ryan Butler (the pastry chef) for the first time, a young and cheerful fellow with a strong grip and tattooed arm, you would never expect anything decadent or classic to come out of his oven – perhaps funky or “heavy metal”J – yet the desserts are within the brackets of the conservative and the bread is good, with the cheese rolls deserving special mention.

What followed next was the most delightful presentation of one-bite dishes, built as a theme of variations derived from the existing bar snacks and appetizers on the menu, but reworked slightly to embrace the movement gradually toward the culmination of our main course. Later, to my surprise, George admitted that all the dishes were put together on the spur of the moment and purely spontaneously.

A goat cheese amuse in a dehydrated beet tube, one of my favorites introduced at the Tocqueville’s opening party, was lovely and light: the muscular élan of the beet was toned downed by the dehydration process and its sweetness, along with the smoothness and gentle sour notes of young goat cheese, took charge.

The current menu at Tocqueville is of both the “past” and the “present”: the dishes that survived overtime, providing a certain comfort to those diners who are slow in changing their habits, and which could be moved out of the main section of the menu and into the category of “Specialties…,” for instance, as at a Michelin three-star like l'Auberge de l'Ill in Illhaeusern, France. These dishes generally leave a sense of good but not exciting fare (such as the “sea urchin and angel hair carbonara” or “foie gras and scallops”) -- “…We keep them on the menu because people ask for them,” said Marco once with a twinkle in his eye, hinting that I myself was guilty of ordering one of the oldies, ‘Parmesan grits,’ on a regular basis, though I prefer this dish not as a main, but as an intermediate course with a quail egg – and the new, bright, daring dishes that subject the traditions of mostly Spain, Portugal and Brazil to the haute and modern times.

There is also a category of dishes that have been on the menu for a long time but are constantly updated, such as the foie gras terrine – our next little bite. An excellent, house-made terrine (smooth, sweet, perfectly processed, served at the right temperature) on a toasted brioche was topped with translucent sherry-wine pearls, establishing a frame of reference to Adria’s “caviar,” where the liquid is captured in a calcium/alginate solution, creating a thin membrane that dissolves in the mouth before the tongue makes contact with the surface of the pearls – a much gentler combination of foie gras and liquor than Ducasse’s more traditional interpretation (a mille feuille of foie gras, fruit and vin jaune jelly, in which both alcohol and gelatin seemed to be overutilized) on our last visit.

01.4-Foie-Gras.jpg

A bite of a house-marinated Portuguese sardine, served in a Chinese porcelain spoon, perked our palates next. I had a full-portion appetizer of Portuguese sardines on another visit, and it struck me that as good as the sardines were – from the perspective of the product quality, marinating technique and a clever and delightful counterpart of vanilla and blood orange whose perfume, sweetness/sourness cushioned and tamed the sardine’s acidity – and as much as I would envision the dish among other small plates in one of the tapas bars in Spain, it was too striking to fit into the traditional concept of a three-course meal, without the diner’s first being desensitized to the acidity before the next dish. Yet, the positioning of a bite-size sardine in our meal reflected a natural progression of flavors so perfectly well that I couldn’t help but to think that it would be great to have an appetizer flight on the menu simulating the flow of small bites served to us that night, as an “Appetizer Tasting Plate,” for instance, just like the restaurant’s long-standing “Sashimi Tasting Plate” dish.

The sardines were presented in a slightly different interpretation with a piece of raw onion replacing the blood orange. Susan, Robert’s wife, suggested that the onion was excessive, overaccentuating and dominating the dish. I spent the better part of my life in Russia, and the combination of pickled or marinated fish and raw onion was indeed a traditional match, until it occurred to me that a more common approach in Russia was to marinate onion for about an hour, so that its harshness, for the most part, was suppressed. However, I’d say that it was the vanilla that didn’t seem to interact well with the onion, contrary to how well it complemented the sardines when combined with blood orange and fennel in the original incarnation of the dish. Still, this bite was lovely.

02.1-sardine.jpg

A warm parsnip soup with garam masala served in a small cup, salty, thin and slightly frothy, for which I didn’t care, but which was necessary to clear the palate after sardines, was next, and tuna carpaccio, tartare, mojama and quail egg, a dish that highlighted the meal wonderfully, followed.

One of the characteristics that I very much enjoy in some of the dishes at Tocquiville is, so to speak, the “third dimension” that allows for the delayed binding on the plate – the unbound ingredients all so composed that the relations, though quite simple, are established only upon being mixed together. The quail yolk provided binding to the tuna tartare, but the necessary spicing was achieved only when the tuna was combined with thin, dry slices of mojama, adding the power of salt and taste of cured meat. Interestingly, mojama (dry, salted tuna) is one of the oldest preparations of tuna in Spain, generally served thinly sliced with a drizzle of oil as tapas, but it was its implementation in this particular format that livened the dish, turning it contemporary.

04-tuna.jpg

The same can be said about the next course, oyster chowder. It is a calm dish, gentle, not striking, one that brings out flavors sketchily, instinctively into the conventional theme. Every element is a clean-cut contour that doesn’t overburden the design either with decorative ingredients or heavy flavors: two perfect little pedestals of ratte potatoes, each carved to hold an oyster topped with sevruga caviar(of a much better quality than on my first try of this dish), the bacon, hiding at the bottom of the plate, being both the source of flavoring and contrast to the taste of sea, giving a nice smoky intensity to the mild soup. We all enjoyed this dish.

05-oyster-chowder.jpg

Araucana egg in a Parmesan chicken bouillon was an interesting dish and has a lot of potential, but the balance between the flavoring of the bouillon and the egg seemed to need adjustment. The idea behind a slow-poached egg is to preserve a viscous yolk inside the lightly coagulated egg white. Since the temperature at which the yolk hardens exceeds the temperature at which the egg white does, low heat facilitates the egg white’s cloudy, gentle texture while only warming up the yolk. Among different versions of a slow-cooked egg that I’ve tried at various restaurants (WD50, Mini Bar in Washington, and Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain), Tocqueville’s was one of the best. However, the sharp, abrupt, nearly pungent taste of Parmesan in bouillon not only overpowered the egg, but also left an unpleasantly bitter residue in the mouth. Some of the complaints regarding this dish that I have read in other reviews were with the bouillon being underflavored, which makes me believe that it is performance consistency that needs to be established and which one hopes will be achieved as soon as the newly expanded kitchen staff gets a hang of it.

06-slow-cooked-egg.jpg

Sea urchin and Angel hair carbonara was the only truly disappointing dish. For some reason, I have never ordered this appetizer before, despite its being one of the oldest signature dishes on the menu. Though I can’t really say whether our disappointment was related to faulty execution, or not to our taste, its concept seemed to suggest that the dish was in the category of the solid and the comforting, not sublime. In our case, the pasta was overcooked, the urchin was not sweet enough to establish a counterpoint to the acidity and bitterness of the lime and the whole dish seemed to reinforce the sense of a slimy mass. Perhaps I’ll give it another try, though I didn’t have much interest in that at the time.

07-Uni.jpg

Another “classic” of the restaurant is scallop and foie gras, a dish that had been reworked with a gentler touch, moderating the original aggressive saucing. Perhaps there is an interesting idea of the textural contrast between foie gras and scallop, yet, in my experience, the sweet and gentle flavors of the scallop, a dignified ingredient, which should be granted the same respect as foie gras, were somewhat concealed. Yet, a Brussel sprout -- I consider cabbage to be one of the most fitting ingredients to accompany foie gras (Senderen’s foie gras in a cabbage leaf, which used to be served at Lucas Carton, comes to mind) -- highlighted the dish very nicely. I’ll let AHR add to the description, if he wishes, since it was his appetizer.

08-Scallop-and-Foie-gras.jpg

The suckling pig at last…It would be an understatement to say that Robert’s eyes lit up at the sight of a gentleman holding a tray with a whole 13-pound(?) pig (according to George, the smallest one he was able to get) with an orange in its mouth. In fact, the whole room seemed to have come to life, every diner turning his head in the direction of the pig.

09-pig.jpg

09.3-pig.jpg

Both collard greens and cassava are typical and very traditional accompaniments to meats in Brazil, the most common and popular of which, farofa, is made of a toasted cassava (also known as manioc) flour, generally cooked with butter or canola oil to the consistency of bread crumbs and served alongside the meats to be either sprinkled upon them or eaten separately. This side dish has a dry, crunchy texture and is often enriched by some other condiment, which in our case were dry black olives. In other words, though the fatty piece of pork that GAF described in his report is unfortunate (such a piece should’ve never left the kitchen), I can’t agree with his description of the dish as misguided, since that would be akin to pronouncing the tradition itself of Brazilian cuisine to be misguided.

The suckling pig was excellent, prepared expertly, with tender succulent meat, crisp skin, as good as the cochinillo we had at Abac in Barcelona last spring. I’m very sensitive to black olives in dishes, especially fish (even Michel Bras’ version of the most incredible monk fish filet from a 4 kg. specimen, rubbed with tapenade, couldn’t persuade me otherwise), yet in this case the strong taste of dry black olives was tamed by dehydration, adding to the farofa an interesting angle and complementing rather than distracting from the meat.

The “potato” logs, thick, with gently crisp outsides, though visually and texturally showing a distinct similarity to the potatoes served with cochinillo at Abac, were made of the same manioc (cassava) root as the farofa, giving a subtle twist to the tradition. The piglet was stuffed and marinated with garlic and herbs before being roasted at low and high heat. According to the Portuguese tradition, a small portion of the stuffing used for roasting meats is presented on the plate alongside the dish. Very often the soft resonance of human passion moves the chef to experiment, especially when something reminds him of his own childhood. There was a dollop of the garlicky stuffing on our plates as well, a spur of the moment addition, since generally the stuffing is discarded at Tocqueville. Unfortunately, it proved to be too aggressive, nearly numbing the palate: The garlic had a very abrupt, biting, nearly raw flavor, also pronounced in the collard greens to which a little stuffing was added as well. Still, the quality of the meat, its flawless preparation, and the livening touch of rustic farofa were more than enough to give me tremendous satisfaction.

09.2-pig.jpg

cochinillo at Abac in Barcelona

Abac-Cochinillo.JPG

Mission accomplished: a piglet and a strong one-star Michelin meal.

I’ll let my companions chime in to describe their dishes and the desserts, should they choose.

Edited by lxt (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once LXT has had at a meal little more need be said, so just a few observations:

The urchin/pasta dish has been so widely praised elsewhere that it seems worth trying once more, despite the table's uniform indifference.

The caramelization due to the sear on the scallops in the scallop/foie gras dish usually adds an intensity and sweetness that brings their taste to the foreground. (LXT observed that in this instance the taste of the scallop was concealed.)

My ramekin of chocolate soufflé, served with a dab of ice cream and a small pitcher of (un-eggy, yet delicious) sabayon flavored with what was revealed, after lots of guessing, to be stout was the consensus favorite among the desserts.

All in all, this was one of the best meals—and best times—in quite a while.

I feel almost guilty seeing the reproachful gaze of the piggie in LXT's photos. It's a good thing we didn't give him/her/it a name.

"To Serve Man"

-- Favorite Twilight Zone cookbook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...