Tocqueville – A Second Look at a Long Ago Post

When you write a blog for almost 4 years, stuff gets lost in the mix. So, I occasionally republish posts that are especially meaningful to me. This one is about a restaurant that, time and again, has proven itself to be consistent, elegant, and truly delicious. In the three years since this post was written, the head chef has changed and the menu changes with the seasons, but the dedication to service, wine, and food, is exactly the same. 
That is, to say, exemplary. 
So, enjoy the heartfelt review, questionable photography, overly flowery prose, and liberal use of caps lock. Because though the wonderful Tocqueville restaurant hasn’t changed, my blogging skills have…thankfully. 
Although I (clearly) love everything about food, I get bogged down like everyone else does. Between work, play, blogging, sleeping and occasionally fitting in time to go to the bathroom, I use food as fuel. I don’t have the time to enjoy and respect it as I should.  I forget what it is like to sit and enjoy a meal for hours. To comment on and discuss the food. To learn about the chefs and farmers who created the  dishes. To revel in the romance that a wonderful meal is about.
When I feel a need to really “be about’ food” again, I will head straight to  Tocqueville, for the $68 chef’s tasting menu, inspired totally from seasonal ingredients, many from the Union Square Greenmarket next door.
This photo does not do justice to the elegant, quiet and refined space. The music playing is low and relaxing, the decor is classic but not stuffy and the high ceiling-ed room infused me with both relaxation and giddy anticipation. I knew something special was in store.

The house baked breads
Baked fresh, every day. If the sourdough’s hole structure was not perfect, I did not care. It was so sour, with such a crisp, nicely charred crust that went perfectly with the house churned butter. The focaccia was still warmed from the oven, with a gentle slick of olive oil on top that accented the woodsy rosemary and briny olives within. The brioche (unpictured), was butter, butter and…more butter. I simply love a good bread program!
The chef’s tasting menu (which changes every day and can be altered to include/exclude specific requests) started off with a warm apple cider. My dad said it was “apple pie in a glass.” I would say that just about says it. Tart, sweet, spicy, rounded out with a strong vanilla taste, this was simultaneously satisfying and appetite inducing. Really, it was just perfection.
 Beet Tuile filled with Goat Cheese
The server told us that the beets were pureed, then sprinkled with powdered sugar before being baked, rolled and filled. These were so extremely beet-y: that sweet, earthy taste that was just all the more vegetal tasting with the grassy goat cheese. The powdered sugar worked with the beet’s natural flavor and brought out its sweet, lighter flavor profiles.
 
Celery Root and Potato Croquette topped with a Black Truffle
Warm. Crunch. Creamy. Hearty. Heady. Umami. Could have eaten these for my main dish. Every day.
Any other questions?
 Butternut Squash Confit with Creamless Sunchoke Soup with Black Truffles
The squash confit was good but not amazing – sweet, smooth…just nothing totally memorable. The soup? My favorite dish of the day.
So incredibly rich without being heavy, it had the most wonderful taste. I have not had sunchokes too many times, but this was a celery root-potato-ey flavor that was both familiar and totally new. The truffles were generously added, giving the soup an intoxicating layer, and some tangy balsamic vinegar made everything seem lighter and sweeter. The soup was served lukewarm – which I tend to hate – but, it actually made the truffles taste different. More substantial, less ethereal, somehow. It was interesting and wholly successful.
 Cato Farm Cheddar Salad with Frisee, Roasted Bosc Pears and Hazelnut dressing
My dad requested that this be part of the tasting menu, and though I doubted his choice at first, I was totally mistaken. This was a wonderfully constructed salad. The cheese was sharp yet with a creamy finish, the frisee was soft and lightly bitter, the nuts were meaty and toasted well, and the pears were nothing short of perfection; nothing but creamy sweetness within and shattering caramelization without. The balsamic reduction on top added a tangy taste to the otherwise subtle dish, elevating it further. The ingredients were excellent and the flavor combination could not have been improved in any way.
 Parmesan Poached Lobster Sauteed in Butter with Espelette Chili, Sea Beans, Celery Root and Dill
This was the best lobster I have ever had. That is a bold statement, and also true. The lobster was positively silky, and cut with the merest touch of a fork. The chili was spicy but not hot, it just melded perfectly with the luxurious butter and salty Parmesan cheese. The celery root was toothsome but tender, the sea beans did not have the iodine-y taste they sometimes have and the dill was fresh and fragrant with the otherwise rich dish. The ingredients did not seem like they would pair well with each other, but really worked in total harmony. Inventive and totally delicious.
 Roasted Venison Loin with Black Pepper and Blackberry Glaze, served with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chanterelles
I had never had venison loin before and this was outstanding. Satisfying as beef, light as pork tenderloin. It was very rare, but had no blood, like beef would have. It was tender like filet mignon, but with a lightly gamy, very pleasant flavor that was far more pronounced than that of filet. The peppercorns made the meat spicy and the glaze was sweet, tart and delightfully sticky. The mushrooms were soft and flavorful – mushrooms and meat are always the most wonderful combination, aren’t they? The buttery potato and herb purees on the dish completed this version of “meat and potatoes.’

 

 A cheese plate with a Vermont Blue Cheese, a Spanish cheese similar to Mangchego, served with quince paste, honey, a candied walnut, and a citrus-y, sweet, soft kumquat. Literally, in LOVE with that kumquat – it was like a soft candied orange rind or maybe a slightly less sweet gumdrop. The blue cheese was slightly smokey and extremely pungent, and the Spanish cheese was nutty and salty. The house-baked raisin crostini were perfect foils for these dairy delights. A well thought out and complimentary cheese plate.

 The selection of house made sorbets: Chocolate, passion fruit, blood orange, litchi and green apple
All well balanced flavors with  creamy textures, unlike the icy way many sorbets feel in the mouth. The passion fruit was my favorite – it was tart, not too sweet, and seemed insanely bright and summery for the middle of January. My dad preferred the rich and deep chocolate sorbet.
 Coconut flavored Tofu with those same amazing candied kumquats and a Citrus Broth
Tofu for dessert? Simply put, it rocked my world. It tasted exactly like a tofu panna cotta-just that rich and indulgent. The creaminess paired well with the light and acidic citrus broth and those heavenly candied kumquats.
 The Chocolate Tasting Plate, with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Molleux, Molten Chocolate Cake, and that wonderful Chocolate Sorbet
What can I say except that it was all complex and wonderfully chocolatey. The bittersweet chocolate Moelleux was especially exceptional – bitter in the way perfectly roasted coffee beans take bitter, and just sweet enough to make the cake more sweet than savory.
After the meal’s conclusion, we were invited down to tour the kitchen by our extremely sweet, attentive, and food-loving server. We met the world’s kindest and most passionate chef, Chef Gregory Vernick. He gave us a complete tour of the entire kitchen, introduced us to everyone, talked about his philosophy of cooking each item daily with as few preserved goods as possible, and told us that we ‘made his day’ by ordering the tasting menu. We saw the ducks that they butcher and hang themselves, the extensive spice cabinet, the foccacia being baked as we spoke, and only one tiny closet filled with the barest necessities of canned and dried goods. Everything else is always fresh, all the time. Chef Vernick reveled in the fact that the owners, Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, let him cook whatever was fresh, versus being confined to a written menu, as long as the price was not exorbitant. He knew everyone in the kitchen and clearly had the utmost respect for them, and vice versa.  His passion and excitement for food was both thrilling and inspiring. I am so lucky to have dined here, and for only $68, it was a steal. I suggest you dine here soon, for not just a meal, but a deeply personal and communal experience.

Blue Water Grill – A Fantastic Brunch and All that Jazz

People like brunch because it’s convenient. Because it includes drinks. And because you can often do it cheaply and still have a tasty meal.

However, if you are willing to go up a wee bit on price, I have a brunch that will blow your mind.

Head to Blue Water Grill in Union Square. This BR Guest restaurant at first feels like any other corporate brunch in the city – upscale, immaculate, devoid of any personality. BUT, when you book a table, make it for the jazz room downstairs. Then, you are led from the light flooded, bustling upstairs to a small, elegant dining room below ground where, from 11:30 on, a jazz trio serenades you with some absolutely sensational live music. The longer you stay, the louder and more swinging the music gets. There is something about live music that is undeniably New York and enhances the multi-sensory experience of eating a good meal.

Spicy sausage and shrimp hash

Pork and shellfish are natural lovers – the shrimp makes the pork taste sweet and clean, while it gets the pork’s natural fattiness and full-bodied flavor. Here, huge snappy shrimp pair with jalapeno-scented breakfast sausage, creamy roasted potatoes, and soft sautéed onions. The shrimp is so sweet, with no wretched iodiney taste. Pairing the shellfish with such earthy, full flavored ingredients really ups the ante of a usual breakfast hash.

Fiery maine lobster and big eye tuna roll with green apple, avocado, and honey calamansi glaze

Fresher and more expertly made than I could possibly have imagined. The lobster is as soft and sweet as crab with the unmistakably buttery quality that only lobster has. Pairing it with the lean tuna, soft and mild, is inspired – their contrasting textures really complement each other. Tart green apple, creamy avocado, and a tart-sweet glaze complete this roll, made with excellent room temperature sushi rice. This isn’t authentic sushi, but it is incredibly delicious. It is another example of how well this restaurant does brunch.

Santa Barbara smoked salmon with accoutrements

If you ever see Santa Barbara Smokehouse fish offered, you change your previous plans, cancel all alternate ideas. This is one of the finest smokehouses in the country, is nationally recognized, and produces smoked salmon that is silky, mild, soft, velvety...it’s so good that it almost makes lox sexy. Fish this good needs not be obscured by lots of other stuff-  just a hard-boiled egg, some remoulade, and sour pumpernickel bread is necessary. A stiff, vinegar dressed salad of frisee and lightly pickled onions cleans the palate between bites, preparing it for more of that excellent smoked salmon. This dish is simple but exquisite.

Caramelized banana ice cream tower with hazelnut shell and toasted marshmallow sauce

This makes bananas foster look like Laffy Taffy. That’s how divine and purely banana-y this ice cream tastes. It tastes clean and almost floral with soft bananas interspersed in the airy ice cream. It is drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce and crowned with sticky, sweet marshmallow cream. Possibly the most delicious part of the dessert is its fragile hazelnut tower. Crisp, sugary, and buttery, tasting like a gigantic Florentine cookie. This dessert might have made my dad stab my sister with a fork for the last bite.

My family dines to win. 

Luckily, having to share dessert is the only downer to this brunch - each entrée, by the way, comes with a very nice mimosa or a VERY strong bloody Mary. The service is excellent, the food is way above par, and the live music is just delightful. Make no mistake, the price tag is hefty. You pay for some of the freshest seafood around. However, for brunch with the parents or a splurge-y treat…this is worth it. It’s tasty, elegant, and unique…

And all that jazz.

 

Taboonette – The Homeland of Middleterranean Food

I’m gonna cut to the chase:

Taboonette is the best cheap lunch in the city.

This tiny storefront in the Union Square area specializes in Middleterranean food, that mish mash of all things Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African. Harissa, chickpeas, lamb, pita, and herbs all collide in a cuisine is so cohesive that it seems that it must come from a region.

That region is Taboonette.

Order at the front then wait for your number to be called while seated at one of the long communal tables. The feel is incredibly casual – clean and minimalistic, perfect for a fast workday breakfast or lunch.

Taboon roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, hummus, tahini, and cilantro

The taboon is the large dome-shaped oven that cooks most of the bread and some of the food here. The cauliflower does well in the oven’s heat, becoming crispy and charred in places while turning soft within. It is a wonderful vehicle for the nutty tahini and the creamy hummus. Eggplant is done well here – silky but not slimy, and the rice is outstanding. It must be boiled in chicken broth, because it has a very rich, buttery taste. This dish is satisfying even for a carnivore.

Chicken Shawarma with hummus, thyme roasted Yukon gold potatoes, homemade pickles, tahini and chopped salad

A fantastic rendition of an often greasy and salty classic. This chicken schwarma is rubbed with smoky cumin then grilled to reinforce that deep, woodsy flavor. The chicken is incredibly tender and also tastes of garlic and onions. Mixed with sour pickles, crispy fried potatoes, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and a creamy hummus and tomato mixture, this is just what a schwarma should be. It is na explosion of flavors, textures, and temperatures, all in an almost exceedingly delicious laffa wrap. One of the best parts of the sandwich is right at the end, when the juices from the chicken and the vegetables soak into the soft bread.

Kebab with ground lamb and beef, grilled eggplant, chopped salad, tahini, fresh mint and cilantro

Soft patties of grassy lamb and juicy beef cooked until there is still some pink inside. Redolent of mint and fragrant cilantro, it tastes bright and light with the fresh Israeli salad. Don’t forget to top it with some of the spicy cilantro laden hot sauce on the table – you might, as I did, start taking some of the excellent house baked pita chips and just start eating it straight with the hot sauce. These kebabs are only missing some yogurt sauce, as the tahini on them takes away from the complex, subtle flavors of the kebab.

Taboonette is delicious, fast, and nothing on the menu is over $12! Nothing I ordered was even over $11, and I walked away so full it was uncomfortable.

I love that feeling.

Taboonette is a must-go for anyone who loves Middleterranean food. After all, don’t you want to see its homeland? Well now you can, right near Union Square.

Taboonette on Urbanspoon

Jiro Dreams of 15 East Sushi

Art is a powerful medium. It not only reflects the human experience, it makes us question our beliefs and contemplate the meaning of life and if we are alone in the universe.

In the case of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it also makes us hungry.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about what many consider to be the finest sushi restaurant in the world. It chronicles Jiro’s life work, his passion for sushi, and his relationship with his two sons.

To get an idea of how serious he is about his sushi, when a young man first comes to apprentice him, he is allowed only to squeeze hand towels for the first 3 years of service. After that, he may start slicing fish. Then, and only then, is he allowed to start making the omelettes.

Jiro doesn’t fool around.

And neither does Chef Shimizu, at 15 East.

This small, almost hidden restaurant in Union Square, has some New York City’s most excellent sushi. After seeing the veritable food porn on the silver screen, I was craving some really high end nigiri and sashimi, and 15 East was the first stop on my list.

The restaurant is done in clean lines and light tones, with a small sushi bar in an anteroom outside the calm dining room. Note that if you make a reservation online, you won’t eat at the sushi bar – you must call in person to make a reservation here.

Though I was craving sushi, that’s not all that 15 East does well.

Foie Gras and Truffle Chawanmushi

This steamed egg custard arrives piping hot, with an earthy scent from the black truffles. The first taste is that umami hit of the foie gras reduction swimming on top, then the rich creaminess of the egg custard. Eggs, truffles, foie gras: the trio to end all trios. Perfectly balanced, perfectly complimentary. Hidden in the custard are meaty mushrooms and slightly spicy radish. This savory custard is indulgent without being heavy – an ideal appetizer

Soba with Santa Barbara Uni

Uni is the pure essence of the ocean, like a silkier version of oysters. At its best, it is salty, clean tasting, and almost melts on your tongue, leaving behind something like the memory of ocean air. This is uni at its best. Perfectly cleaned tongues of uni, dissolving in the mouth, tasting so fresh and almost sweet. Draped over al dente soba noodles, which have very earthy taste that is pleasantly reminiscent of hay. With its deep, soy flavored broth, this is a complex and satisfying dish.

Sushi Omakase

For $28, you get a selection of 7 pieces of nigiri plus half of a roll, all the chef’s selection. If you particularly like or don’t like something, feel free to mention it, and your request will be met with pleasure from the waitstaff.

This could not be a more perfect plate of sushi. Well, rewind…it could. The rice, is, to my taste, a bit too al dente and not seasoned enough. However, that is nitpicking, because it is still good and the fish is fantastic. Everything from needlefish to hamachi to king salmon to seared goldeneye snapper is seasoned specifically and served so that each fish would compliment the other. Some are clean and snappy, some are velvety and rich, some are lightly seared and smoky and others are touched with a bit of ponzu to impart a lightly acidic taste. The negitoro roll is fantastic – fatty, lush, sharp with scallions.

Though this is a perfect lunchtime portion, be aware that your inner sushi beast will be awakened and you will probably order more sushi after this. Don’t blame yourself – after all, you’re only human. And this sushi is divine.

15 East is not the place to come when you want 3 sushi rolls for $10 and a fruity cocktail. It isn’t the place to take someone who thinks that sushi means fusion rolls filled with cream cheese and Doritos. This is a place to spend some serious money in a lovely setting with a passionate waitstaff who loves to discuss the difference between toro and maguro with you.
The sushi is pristine and the cooked dishes are inventive and expertly prepared. Though Jiro dreams of sushi, Fritos and Foie Gras dreams of 15 East.

15 East on Urbanspoon

Friend of a Farmer – an Incredibly Expensive Omelette

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a place that serves brunch on a weekday in NYC? I don’t mean breakfast and I don’t mean lunch. I mean an 11 am meal consisting of eggs, coffee, and possibly a mimosa. And in a place that isn’t a diner (though LORDY knows I love myself a diner around 2 am…nothing like a steaming plate of fries at a New York City diner to prevent a morning hangover). I was really at my wit’s end whilst setting up a brunch meeting midweek, and was lucky enough to stumble upon:
Friend of a Farmer. This Gramercy area restaurant offers an all day menu, and includes delicious looking bunch options. The only issue was that it looked a little expensive – not expensive as in”I can’t afford to eat there,” just expensive as in “for how much they are charging, those eggs had better be cooked in gold skillets and served with an entire truffle on the side.” But, there was no other place of which I knew that offered such a nice setting for a weekday brunch. 
And it really was a nice setting – somewhat of an English Cottage right in the middle of the city. There was a nice outdoor cafe but we opted to eat upstairs, in what was a mixture of Granny’s cottage and Alice in Wonderland’s home. It was a charming, extremely feminine effect. 
 Our order was taken promptly, and soon our food arrived. 
My dining companion had the Eggs Benedict with potatoes. He said the eggs were good, and I can personally vouch for the potatoes. They were crispy without, steamy and mealy within. An excellent fried potato – although, truth be told, a couple of onions thrown in there wouldn’t have killed them.
A couple of fried onions might solve the problems in the Middle East, quite frankly.
 Smoked Salmon Scramble with Tomatoes, Onions and Cream Cheese. This is the part where all my smugness goes away. Because this egg dish – a combination I have long loved – was the best version I have ever had…EVER. Salty, fatty smoked salmon was velvety in places where the heat had not touched it, and pleasantly firmer and flaky where it had touched the hot pan. The eggs were soft and light. The tomatoes were a light, acidic touch that tasted rather savory next to the sweetly caramelized onions. And there were thick, generous pockets of rich cream cheese that were heated through until warm but not runny. Is there anything better than cream cheese, lox and onion? Only the fact that when you add Tabasco to it, it makes the whole thing tangy and a little spicy, which makes the flavors of the mix ins all the more prominent and delicious. 
I could have gotten my meal with potatoes, but I went with a salad (hey, I was having cream cheese, people…I needed to fit the health in SOMEWHERE, right?). This was basic, but a good basic. Fresh veggies, lots of cukes and tomatoes, and a creamy, mustardy, tangy and pungent vinaigrette. I am not one for subtle dressings, so this did it for me. 
And the whole meal did it for me – in a way. It was delicious, served quickly and in lovely surroundings, but…well, it was just to darned expensive. The meal neared $40 after tax and tip, and that was just too much for 2 egg dishes. Even though one of them WAS the best LEO I have ever had in NYC. However, if you had an expense account, I could highly recommend this restaurant. 
After all…where the heck else can you have a nice weekday brunch in NYC?
Friend of a Farmer on Urbanspoon

The Tavern at Gramercy Tavern Really Delivers

I love the idea of getting something at a great price. It’s why I shop at TJ Maxx. It’s why I buy my books at used bookstores. It’s why I occasionally buy expired food. 
If you cut the moldy part off, the bread is just FINE.
 And it’s why I ate lunch in the Tavern Room at Gramercy Tavern
Gramercy Tavern is a Danny Meyer restaurant that focuses on upscale, Greenmarket-driven food. It has a fancy dining room that comes with white tablecloths, amuse bouches, and a rather high price tag, BUT…it also has a tavern room up front. There, you can dine from a more relaxed menu for more relaxed prices. It still comes from the same kitchen as the main dining room, but nothing on the menu tops $22…what a steal!
 After we were seated in the airy, sunlit room that was decorated with flowers, we placed our order and received some excellent sourdough wheat bread. Warm from the oven and served with salted butter, it was tangy, stretchy and pleasantly salty from the creamy butter.  
 Porchetta Salad with Escarole, Fennel, Radishes and Cider Vinaigrette. This was an outstanding salad. Wafer thin ribbons of shaved porchetta, redolent of rosemary, thyme and garlic were fatty and crispy on the skin side, succulent and meaty at the flesh. The meat was so oily and rich that it needed the slightly bitter escarole and spicy radishes to cut it. The fennel was floral and a bit sweet, and the vinaigrette was light and accented herbaceous notes of the salad’s microgreens. This was a shockingly refreshing salad, and was so interesting and complex that it reminded me of the salad at Union Square Cafe. Danny Meyer restaurants really know how to do stuff with lettuce. 
 Fish Croquettes with  Spinach and Kimchi Coleslaw.
These totally blew me away. The fish was a mixture of different white fishes from the kitchen, and the cake was crispy on the outside but tender, dill filled and mild on the inside. Light but still hearty, it managed to be fluffy but not creamy like overly soft tuna fish sandwiches. It was the best fish cake I have had since Millesime, and was a highlight of the meal.  The kimchi slaw underneath was mildly spicy and not too salty or garlicky, with just enough kick to accent the mild flavors of the fish. The spinach provided a respite from all the other flavors going on and the mustard tinged remoulade was so good i was practically licking my plate.
Okay…I licked my plate. 
 Gramercy Tavern is well known for their sandwich and soup lunch special, which changes daily, and today’s sandwich was ham topped with a pickled green tomato, herb aioli and radicchio on foccacia. Now, I don’t like ham. I don’t like the springy texture or the salty taste. 
This ham blew my MIND.
Delicate, shaved pieces had a surprisingly robust taste, much more like pork chops than bacon. Sweet but with an earthy, almost funky flavor, the ham was incredibly meaty tasting…wow. Paired with an herby mayonnaise, wilted but still crunchy radicchio and the tartest, juiciest, mouth-puckering-liest most fantastic green tomato I have ever had…
Well, let’s just say that this sandwich wasn’t long for this world. 
And the house backed foccacia was no slouch either. 
 Carrot ginger soup was simple but sublime. Sweet carrots, spicy ginger, hints of coriander and a cool, creamy yogurt swirl made this soup a meal in itself. 
Pistachio Brown Butter Cake with Bourbon Macerated Blueberries and Lemon Ice Cream.
This little cake packed a PUNCH. A nutty, buttery, rich poundcake-like punch. It was like a muffin on dessert-steroids, and the pistachio’s inherent meaty mouthfeel kept the cake from being too sweet. The lemon ice cream was a little tart, but mostly sweet, like a perfect lemon meringue pie, and the blueberries added that sharp, pungent hit of alcohol that made this dessert just a bit more complex and really but it over the top. 
This whole meal was a hit. Expert service, lovely atmosphere, and a chance to eat at one of NYC’s most renowned restaurants for the same price as it might cost to go to Maggiano’s. The sandwich and soup deal is the way to go – there is a LOT of food there – and the fish croquettes are not to be missed. I will be hitting this place up again for lunch for sure. 
And, as one last money saving tactic…
Take the rolls from the breakfast buffet at your hotel. Save them for later.
What, you don’t do that?
Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

Union Square Cafe – A Golden Oldie

I have to admit…I have been here before. I just haven’t blogged it. But when I ate here for lunch, I knew that it deserved a place on the blog. So what if it has been famous for decades? So what if everyone and their mother has written about it? So what if I like to watch Teen Mom 2 while playing online poker?
Whoops, off topic.
Anyway…I knew the time had come to visit once again to make sure that Union Square Cafe wasn’t just an oldie, but a goodie.
As Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe is an elegant but unfussy space that has several rooms, all with enough tables to look busy, but not so many that one feels cramped.
The bread was warm, but not what I would call exceptional. The baguette was a bit cottony and the whole grain lacked the sour or nutty flavors that really great grainy bread has. The olives, however, were outstanding and worthy of mention. Meaty, juicy olives were just salty enough, oily and even sweet with some orange rind in there. I could have eaten the whole bowl.
Actually, I did eat the whole bowl. 
The day’s special was a Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Upland Cress, Candied Pistachios, and Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette. Our INSANELY cool server told us that the chef had just picked up the pig’s ears and the cress (which isn’t actually related to watercress, it is a microgreen) from the farmer’s market that morning. Wow. Fresh. And…freakin amazing. The pig’s ear (one of my FAVORITE parts of the pig) was fried to crispy, greaseless perfection. An airy layer of crunch surrounded a tender, incredibly porky layer of meat. Pig’s ear can be tough if it is not cooked well, but this was exceptional. The candied pistachios added a nutty and substantial component to the dish, while the cress was incredibly herby and fragrant. The champagne vinaigrette was extremely tart, which cut through the fatty aspects of the salad.
Bibb and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Gruyère and Dijon Vinaigrette is always on the menu and I ALWAYS get it. The lettuces are so fresh and taste so different – the Bibb is soft and almost ethereal in its lightness and the Red Oak is crunchy and earthy. Dressed in the LIGHTEST, most mild vinaigrette imaginable, neither oil nor vinegar nor mustard is discernible, just the cohesive elements. Here, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and soaked in roasted garlic and oil and the gruyere cheese is nutty, salty and rich next to the light lettuces.
These two salads just prove how DIFFERENT and DELICIOUS salads can be…they get a bad rap, you know?
I mean, just throw a pig ear on it and some 3,000 calorie croutons and you are good to go!
Our server heard us exclaiming about the food and brought us a complimentary dish she thought we might enjoy. Please note that she did not know that I would be reviewing this meal – she just wanted us to try it. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the level of hospitality here is just non-pareil. This was the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil. The mackerel was SO light and mild it tasted more like hamachi than anything else! The artichoke puree was fresh, vegetal and incredibly artichokey, and there seemed to be no salt other than that from the olives. The light hand with the seasoning let the fish and the artichokes shine – a combination I would not have made, but the lightness of both really complimented each other, especially with the slight heat from the chili. 
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do yourself a favor, and get a pasta dish here. It is all housemade and it is all delicious. 
Yes I just made a blanket statement…and I stand by it.
The pappardelle was smooth, toothsome but not hard and rich with yolks. It was with a long braised pork ragout that tasted of sage and perhaps juniper berries…truly aromatic, complex and deep. The boar was less sweet than pork usually is, with a heartier and slightly gamy taste – not unpleasant, but the way that lamb is gamy. Rich and a little wild tasting, hitting flavor darker and deeper notes that pork does not often hit. With a sprinkling of Parmesan, this dish came together on a creamy high note.
And that is what this whole meal was…a high note. Well priced, well fed and EXTREMELY well served, we left feeling as if we had REALLY had an experience, with people who loved to cook and eat as much as we do. You have to make a reservation, often weeks in advance, because this place fills up, but it is worth it. Cause sometimes an oldie really is a goody.

Tocqueville: The Best Knish in NYC

I love trying new stuff. I mean, I live in New York City…I should take advantage of all the truly amazing restaurants that are out there.
But…every parent has a favorite child, right?
And my favorite child has got to be Tocqueville.
For an extensive love letter, read here.
For a briefer, but no less sincere ode to its greatness in style, value and especially flavor, read on.
The intimate and beautiful bar setting with a myriad of different drinks.
Raspberry Bellini. Fresh, sweet raspberries. Minerally, effervescent champagne. Just a dash of deep, syrupy Chambord. Perfection.
Gougeres. Light as air, rich as butter, with the nutty, melty taste and interior texture of mild Gruyère cheese.
Wafer thin beet tuiles, tasting sweet, savory and intensely earthy mixed with impossibly fluffy and grassy goat cheese. A whimsical take on a classic combination.
Celery root and truffle croquettes. Or, as my sister would say “the world’s best knish”
Is there really a better recommendation than that?
Butternut crab toast with aged Parmigianp Regiano. Thick, smooth butternut squash was sweet and almost vibrant next to the sharp and salty cheese. Tangy balsamic vinaigrette added depth to this incredibly satisfying vegetarian dish.  The crab salad to the right was – hands down – the sweetest, meatiest cold crab salad I have ever had. It tasted as if it was bound by crab water alone, with no mayonnaise to take away from the meaty, creamy, oceanic taste of that glorious crustacean.  Topped with a dollop of salty, minerally oesetra caviar, this was a standout dish in every way.
Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Pheasant egg and Parmigiano Regiano. Nettles have a fresh but sturdy taste and texture, akin to artichokes, but with the lightly biting zip of scallions.  They puree into a smooth and rich filling for thin but still al dente raviolis. The pockets of pasta were toothsome before giving way to that verdant, zippy, creamy but not rich filling. The rich part came from the softly poached pheasant egg, which served as a sauce. Chef Gregory Vernick uses pheasant eggs even though they are expensive for him to use because of the creamy, fatty and rich yolk, It gives the sauce the velvety texture and heft of cream without diluting the egg’s natural flavor. I requested this to be part of the tasting menu, even though it was not part of the menu originally. Chef  Vernick obliged without charging extra, because that is just he way that they do it at Tocqueville.
Fresh black bass on broccoli raab, with meyer lemon puree.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Just flaky, mild, perfectly moist fish with a crackling skin served with the most tender, least bitter broccoli raab I have ever had, all complimented by a sweet and tart lemon puree.
But that’s it.
Seared duck with sauteed cabbage, duck confit and berries. The duck confit was – shockingly – almost light. It was airy and almost porky it its sweet creaminess. The cabbage was tender but not mushy, and retained that distinctive cabbage-y aroma and taste, and the duck breast…
There are no words for the glory of this duck breast. Thick, soft, mild but still fulfilling. The berries were sweet, the skin was salty and the duck was devoured.
Homemade chocolate hazelnut tart that makes Nutella back away in shame. So delicious, so rich, so chocolaty. The mocha ice cream served with it was creamy, smooth and intensely espresso-y.
And that’s really all that I can say about Tocqueville.
Besides the fact that it is my favorite restaurant in New York.
Seasonal, incredibly well priced, locally sourced food that is cooked with amazing attention to detail.
And there you have it: My favorite child and the world’s best knish all in one place

Pure Food and Wine – A Night Without Pork

Geez, I love meat. 
A rare steak, dripping with meaty juices.
A perfectly poached chicken, mixed with tiny dices of verdant celery and lashings of creamy mayonnaise.
A plateful of crispy, salty bacon.
Hell, a PLATTERFUL of crispy bacon.
So what was I doing at Pure Food and Wine, a dark, romantic, aesthetically Asian designed and  totally vegan restaurant?
Well, a girlfriend of mine had a Groupon, and I had certainly had quite a bit of meat in the last…26 years of my life. So I figured, what the heck? I could use a night of clean eating, and maybe I would even like some vegan food.
Actually…I kinda LOVED some vegan food!
Salad of Winter Greens with Medjool Dates, Pignoli and Saffron Meyer Lemon Confit with curry vinaigrette, shaved onion, argan oil, chestnut honey.
WOW! The spicy, fragrant, curry scented vinaigrette wafted up and invaded my nostrils, making me salivate. The bitter, crunchy lettuces wilted ever so slightly under the warm dressing, bringing out the natural flavors without making them harsh. the soft dates, sweet confit, and fatty pine nuts completed this salad. There onions were slightly astringent, playing off those rich, sweet dates. A perfect salad, and one I truly hope to repeat.

Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella,
salsa verde, cashew coconut sour cream, avocado, raw cacao mole

This was FABULOUS! Not like real tamale, mind you, but a refreshing, sweet corn taste, with the texture of a true tamale. The cashew cream tasted like nutty throw up, but let’s forget that shall we? The cilantro cucumber salsa verde was so delicious, vibrant, and herby with just a touch of spice, and the mole was thick, sweet and went so well with that fresh and creamy corn tamale. I would order this again and again.

Three Pizzettes in the Style of Southern Italy with Almond and Rosemary Crust
spinach pesto with arugula, pizza margherita, crimini and kalamata, black garlic

Can’t say the same for these.

The pizzettes were just not great. The crusts were oddly chalky and stiff, the toppings were bland and flaccid, and for the love of DAIRY, people…don’t make nuts into sour cream. It just tastes BAD. So, yeah…these were a miss. Even the olives and mushrooms, which I totally love, were weirdly limp and kinda slimy.

But the dessert…was…divine.

Mint chocolate sundae.

Minty, sweet, cooling, sharp ice cream. Deep, chocolaty, rich ice cream. Dense cookies, reminiscent of thin mints. Sweet, creamy whipped cream.

All made out of cashews and coconut.

But this time…it works!

So sour cream – no.

Ice cream – yes.

I liked vegan food a whole more than I thought I would!  The food was plentiful, interesting and totally delicious…well, except for that weird cashew sour cream. But the salad was to die for and the ice cream was SERIOUSLY delicious. I would go back there for that alone. Pure Food and Wine is a beautiful, celebratory restaurant with great service, and I would head back there in a heartbeat.
That said…
I’m not giving up bacon anytime soon.
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Tocqueville Takes the Cake

Although I (clearly) love everything about food, I get bogged down like everyone else does. Between work, play, blogging, sleeping and occasionally fitting in time to go to the bathroom, I use food as fuel. I don’t have the time to enjoy and respect it as I should.  I forget what it is like to sit and enjoy a meal for hours. To comment on and discuss the food. To learn about the chefs and farmers who created the  dishes. To revel in the romance that a wonderful meal is about.
When I feel a need to really ‘be about’ food again, I will head straight to  Tocqueville, for the $68 chef’s tasting menu, inspired totally from seasonal ingredients, many from the Union Square Greenmarket next door.
This photo does not do justice to the elegant, quiet and refined space. The music playing is low and relaxing, the decor is classic but not stuffy and the high ceiling-ed room infused me with both relaxation and giddy anticipation. I knew something special was in store.

The house baked breads. Baked fresh, every day. If the sourdough’s hole structure was not perfect, I did not care. It was so sour, with such a crisp, nicely charred crust that went perfectly with the house churned butter. The focaccia was still warmed from the oven, with a gentle slick of olive oil on top that accented the woodsy rosemary and briny olives within. The brioche (unpictured), was butter, butter and…more butter. I simply love a good bread program!

The chef’s tasting menu (which changes every day and can be altered to include/exclude specific requests) started off with a warm apple cider. My dad said it was ‘apple pie in a glass’. I would say that just about says it. Tart, sweet, spicy, rounded out with a strong vanilla taste, this was simultaneously satisfying and appetite inducing. Really, it was just perfection.

Amuse Bouche 1: A Beet Tuile filled with Goat Cheese. The server told us that the beets were pureed, then sprinkled with powdered sugar before being baked, rolled and filled. These were so extremely beet-y: that sweet, earthy taste that was just all the more vegetal tasting with the grassy goat cheese. The powdered sugar worked with the beet’s natural flavor and brought out its sweet, lighter flavor profiles.

Amuse Bouche 2: Celery Root and Potato Croquette topped with a Black Truffle.
Warm. Crunch. Creamy. Hearty. Heady. Umami. Could have eaten these for my main dish. Every day.
Any other questions?

Amuse Bouche 3: Butternut Squash Confit with Creamless Sunchoke Soup with Black Truffles. The squash confit was good but not amazing – sweet, smooth…just nothing totally memorable. The soup? My favorite dish of the day. 

So incredibly rich without being heavy, it had the most wonderful taste. I have not had sunchokes to many times, but this was a celery root-potato-ey flavor that was both familiar and totally new. The truffles were generously added, giving the soup an intoxicating layer, and some tangy balsamic vinegar made everything seem lighter and sweeter. The soup was served lukewarm – which I tend to hate – but, it actually made the truffles taste different. More substantial, less ethereal, somehow. It was interesting and wholly successful.

Cato Farm Cheddar Salad with Frisee, Roasted Bosc Pears and Hazelnut dressing. My dad requested that this be part of the tasting menu, and though I doubted his choice at first, I was totally mistaken. This was a wonderfully constructed salad. The cheese was sharp yet with a creamy finish, the frisee was soft and lightly bitter, the nuts were meaty and toasted well, and the pears were nothing short of perfection.; nothing but creamy sweetness within and shattering caramelization without. The balsamic reduction on top added a tangy taste to the otherwise subtle dish, elevating it further. The ingredients were excellent and the flavor combination could not have been improved in any way.

Parmesan Poached Lobster Sauteed in Butter with Espelette Chili, Sea Beans, Celery Root and Dill. This was the best lobster I have ever had. That is a bold statement, and also true. The lobster was positively silky, and cut with the merest touch of a fork. The chili was spicy but not hot, it just melded perfectly with the luxurious butter and salty Parmesan cheese. The celery root was toothsome but tender, the sea beans did not have the iodine-y taste they sometimes have and the dill was fresh and fragrant with the otherwise rich dish. The ingredients did not seem like they would pair well with each other, but really worked in total harmony. Inventive and totally delicious.

Roasted Venison Loin with Black Pepper and Blackberry Glaze, served with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Chanterelles. I had never had venison loin before and this was outstanding. Satisfying as beef, light as pork tenderloin. It was very rare, but had no blood, like beef would have. It was tender like filet mignon, but with a lightly gamy, very pleasant flavor that was far more pronounced than that of filet. The peppercorns made the meat spicy and the glaze was sweet, tart and delightfully sticky. The mushrooms were soft and flavorful – mushrooms and meat are always the most wonderful combination, aren’t they? The buttery potato and herb purees on the dish completed this version of “meat and potatoes.’

A cheese plate with a Vermont Blue Cheese, a Spanish cheese similar to Mangchego, served with quince paste, honey, a candied walnut, and a citrus-y, sweet, soft kumquat. Literally, in LOVE with that kumquat – it was like a soft candied orange rind or maybe a slightly less sweet gumdrop. The blue cheese was slightly smokey and extremely pungent, and the Spanish cheese was nutty and salty. The house-baked raisin crostini were perfect foils for these dairy delights. A well thought out and complimentary cheese plate.

The selection of house made sorbets-from the top: chocolate, passion fruit, blood orange, litchi and green apple. All well balanced flavors with  creamy textures, unlike the icy way many sorbets feel in the mouth. The passion fruit was my favorite – it was tart, not too sweet, and seemed insanely bright and summery for the middle of January. My dad preferred the rich and deep chocolate sorbet.

Coconut flavored Tofu with those same amazing candied kumquats and a Citrus Broth. Tofu for dessert? Simply put, it rocked my world. It tasted exactly like a tofu panna cotta-just that rich and indulgent. The creaminess paired well with the light and acidic citrus broth and those heavenly candied kumquats.

The Chocolate Tasting Plate, with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Molleux, Molten Chocolate Cake, and that wonderful Chocolate Sorbet. What can I say except that it was all complex and wonderfully chocolatey. The bittersweet chocolate Moelleux was especially exceptional – bitter in the way perfectly roasted coffee beans take bitter, and just sweet enough to make the cake more sweet than savory. 
After the meal’s conclusion, we were invited down to tour the kitchen by our extremely sweet, attentive, and food-loving server. We met the world’s kindest and most passionate chef, Chef Gregory Vernick. He gave us a complete tour of the entire kitchen, introduced us to everyone, talked about his philosophy of cooking each item daily with as few preserved goods as possible, and told us that we ‘made his day’ by ordering the tasting menu. We saw the ducks that they butcher and hang themselves, the extensive spice cabinet, the foccacia being baked as we spoke, and only one tiny closet filled with the barest necessities of canned and dried goods. Everything else is always fresh, all the time. Chef Vernick reveled in the fact that the owners, Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, let him cook whatever was fresh, versus being confined to a written menu, as long as the price was not exorbitant. He knew everyone in the kitchen and clearly had the utmost respect for them, and vice versa.  His passion and excitement for food was both thrilling and inspiring. I am so lucky to have dined here, and for only $68, it was a steal. I suggest you dine here soon, for not just a meal, but a deeply personal and communal experience.