Review of my first-ever fine dining experience: RW lunch at Tocqueville
All of my posts on Chowhound so far have been about East Village restaurants of the cheap-eats variety. But this week, for the first time, I ventured away from cheap eats and treated myself to a wonderful solo lunch at Tocqueville! I've read plenty of fine dining threads on Chowhound but they really had not prepared me for how elegant the experience was going to be. This was, by far, the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen. The photos on the website don't do it justice. When I first entered, it was like walking into a mansion. Or a palace. It was the fanciest place I've ever been to in New York, with the exception of the Met. There are paintings on the walls, soft comfortable chairs, white tablecloths, and stands holding buckets of ice to keep people's wine and champagne chilled. People were swirling their wine glasses and sniffing the wine, just like in the movies. Everything was so elegant, it felt like another planet compared to the crowded greenmarket outside!
I had the Restaurant Week menu, though they have a similar lunch prix-fixe year round anyway. I ordered the heirloom tomato salad, the quail, and the ricotta mousse, but by the time each dish was delivered I had forgotten what all the components were. For the purposes of this review, I refreshed my memory by looking at the menu online.
The heirloom tomato salad was absolutely delicious. It had tomato lemon verbena consomme and olive oil ice cream, which actually didn't seem cold enough to be ice cream. I might put it closer to whipped cream on the dairy spectrum. It was perfectly summery. It also contained some tiny cubes of what looked like clear jell-o. Does anybody know what that might have been? I didn't know if I was supposed to eat them or not, but they were mixed in with the tomatoes, so I did.
The table next to me ordered the chilled green pea soup as their appetizer, and it looked spectacular from my vantage point. It was the loveliest presentation I saw that day. The components were arranged in a shallow bowl and the waiter poured this beautiful spring-green-colored soup over the components so that it all began to meld together. It looked like a painting!
My main course was grilled marinated Pennsylvania quail with quinoa, cherries, and marcona almonds. When the waiter first brought it to me, the portion looked really small, but it turned out to be so rich that I almost couldn't finish it. This dish was the first time I ever had quinoa that actually tasted good. The almonds gave it a crunchy texture that I loved. It was all soaked in the verjus reduction. A very good dish but a little too rich for me.
For dessert I ordered the ricotta mousse because I couldn't pronounce the other delicious-sounding option, which was "mille feuille." I will google this so that I can confidently order it next time. Anyway, I enjoyed the ricotta mousse. It was a rectangular prism of smooth creamy mousse topped with a few farmer's market berries. It was accompanied by rhubarb compote (delicious) and strawberry granita, which I had never heard of, but i assume was the cold icy bits on top of the ricotta. At first I thought it was sorbet gone wrong because it was so icy and crunchy. (Crunchy doesn't seem to be the right word here...) It had a nice light strawberry flavor, but I definitely wasn't used to that icy texture.
I thought the service was perfect. Water was always refilled and there was just the right amount of space between courses. When I asked for the check, it was delivered instantly. They bring you an entirely new set of silverware for literally every course. At one point between courses, a waiter came over to the table next to me and used a special crumb-sweeping device to sweep the bread crumbs off their tablecloth onto a plate designated for that purpose. I almost laughed out loud- they never tell you about that in the restaurant reviews!
The room was much quieter than any restaurant I've been to before. Nobody talked above a murmur. The music was barely audible, so it was hard not to eavesdrop on other people's conversations, considering I was sitting there for an hour and a half eating alone! It was so quiet and relaxing in there. A wonderfully peaceful solo dining experience, but I don't think I'd choose it for a date or birthday party or anything.
My fine dining experience left me with some questions: How on earth are people supposed to eat the meat off those tiny quail bones without picking it up in their hands? Are you supposed to eat the little leaves that they put on the plate as garnish? What are those jelly cubes, anyway? Are all fine dining restaurants as quiet and genteel as Tocqueville?
All in all, my first fine dining experience was a success!
1 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003
Your review was very sincere and a pleasure to read. I'm glad you had a nice fine dining experience. I remember what a revelation my first one was (Gotham Bar and Grill). I think you should always feel free to ask how to pronounce things on the menu and/or ask what it is! I have found that restaurant staff are very eager, especially at fine dining establishments, to answer questions. I actually feel like I get better service the more questions I ask about the food and wine. At Jean Georges a few years ago I really wanted to know what some tiny green leaves were, the server did not know, but inquired at the kitchen (micro celery). I also asked how to pronounce Vongerichten (he was in the kitchen).
I have read many good reports of Tocqueville and yours has just added impetous for me to try it the next time I'm in NYC.
A wonderully detailed review, brighton312! Tocqueville is one of our favorite restaurants, and you've captured it perfectly.
To answer your questions....
When it comes to high end restaurants, everything on your plate, including garnishes, is meant to be eaten.
The little squares are called "gelées," the French word for "jellies." Also "mille feuille" is pronounced "meel foy," and means "a thousand leaves." It's a dessert that is composed of very thin layers of pastry. Looking at the menu on Tocqueville's website, I see it involves chocolate, so that might mean chocolate-flavored pastry cream between the layers.
Quail is one of my favorite birds, It is perfectly permissible to pick up quail legs in order to eat the meat off the bones. I generally do as much as I can with a fork and knife before picking them up.
Crumb sweeping between courses is s.o.p at fine dining restaurants.
Most fine dining restaurants tend to be on the quieter side, but not all are as quiet as Tocqueville. That's one of the many things I love about dining there.
I hope this was just the first of many fine dining experiences for you. :)
Tocqueville photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391@N03/sets/72157625626586975/
Ah, yes, quail bones with your fingers. The very best part is the meat nearest the bones and all but the most skilled diners will have to resort to using their fingers in order to get it. I am pretty much a clutz with the knife and fork, so I have to use my hands far earlier than most. Sadly, this means shying away from quail, which is so darn good, whenever eating with colleagues.
For those quail lovers, I had the quail at Craft recently . . . an inexpensive side dish which is basically a quail cut in half, simply prepared, but perfectly cooked. A real treat.
Very glad to hear your meal at Tocqueville was wonderful. Welcome to the club of those who spend way too much money on food (and are secretly proud of it).