+1 for Tocqueville
First of all, a huge thanks to fellow CHers for convincing me to give this place a shot. The tl;dr version is that we had one of most phenomenal lunches here - fantastic food and impeccable service.
I did my research prior to our visit and had a pretty good idea on what I wanted us to try. From the $29 3-course prix fixe, which is, by the way, great value, we would pick whatever soup (sunchoke today) and the meat entree (pan roasted hake). Then we would order the two staples of Tocqueville - the sea urchin angel hair carbonara and the seared scallops and foie gras. It might be worth mentioning that white truffle tasting is now available - shaved over tagliatelle, potato gnocchi, and something else that I cannot recall. $80/$120 depending on size.
Before we finished ordering (we added the truffled Parmesan grit appetizer), our server Miguel brought over three types of bread: white sourdough, rosemary and olive foccacia, and brioche. The sourdough was fairly nondescript, except for a pleasantly crunchy crust, but both the foccacia and the brioche were winners. Warm, buttery, and flavorful, they did not require any of the house made butter.
A single amuse arrived, but for the life of me I could not make out its description. I'll call it a goat cheese cigarette and hope that someone here can enlighten me. It was two quick bites, but delightful nonetheless.
At this point, the only other couple in the dining room were on their desserts, and would soon clear out, leaving the entire space to us. You'd think this makes for a strange experience, but we found this to be quite enjoyable - not in the least because it afforded Miguel to devote all his attention to us. I think today was the first time I was able to carry a decent conversation with our server at a fine-dining establishment (I guess I don't go out much).
Next came the soup and the grit. The soup was creamless, yet held a very full texture and was strongly flavoured. I think i could've done without the almonds, but it was a winner in the taste department. The grit was intensely aromatic with the black truffle emulsion, but it was very heavy and I wasn't a big fan of the, well, grittiness of it (silly, I know). In retrospect this might have been a redundant dish.
More bread came to the table, I got another foccacia and brioche.
Then came one of the highlights for the meal - the uni carbonara. The chef was nice enough to split this into two plates for us, and made sure each received a generous helping of Californian sea urchin. I generally don't like capellini, but this was just perfectly prepared. The soy enhanced the sauce, and the lime on the uni brought out its sweet "fishiness". Miguel called this dish "untouchable"; I might be tempted to agree.
For me, though, the best had yet to come. Our entrees were brought at the same time, and I must say I was a bit sneaky in offering to start with the hake while I let my girlfriend have the first crack at the scallops and foie. Hake, as far as I know, is traditionally a cheaper fish, but has made is way onto a few high-end menus recently. I've cooked (frozen) hake before so I've come to know (and appreciate) the general mouthfeel of the fish. Tocqueville's preparation, of course, was something else. The dish was incredibly light; in fact, I thought more could've gone into the pear-based sauce. I was more impressed by how the filet managed to be parted so effortlessly and yet retained that slight "elasticity" (what would be a more correct "culinary" term for it...).
My favorite dish of the day, though, had to be the scallops/foie. Seared and plated on top of a bed of chanterelles, this bad boy was bursting with flavor. The scallops tasted fresh, meaty, and without that unpleasant aftertaste that I sometimes come across. The foie was heavenly, and melded so well with the acidity of the sauce. I confess that I wished, for a fleeting instant, that my SO would've proclaimed herself too full to enjoy her half (it was not to be).
While waiting for dessert (bittersweet chocolate Bon Bon - best dessert I've had in recent memory), chatted with Miguel some more and found out that restaurant was named after an author called Alexis de Tocqueville, whose book, On Democracy in America, he brought to our table. I almost ripped the book in half and politely refrained from touching it after that.
Before we left (stuffed, and the complimentary sorbets did not help), Miguel took us upstairs to have a look at that new private dining area. An extra nice touch. Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better time on this Saturday afternoon. I only wish I had found Tocqueville earlier.
I had a full dinner there last night, it was a 5 star experience for sure. The food was all on, all as good as the reviewers above say. I will add that the sommelier (the woman, I think there may be two) was right on the mark. She assessed my wine knowledge (decent) and spoke at the right level, got our tastes, suggested things all in the $75 to $105 range without me pointing to it as the right area and hit the mark 110% with her suggestion (a white Priorat... I had been wavering between two white Rhones)
I also add... if you're younger, reserve 8:30 or 9:00.. the earlier seating is definitely the blue haired, dignified, very proper set... a drop later a stylish younger crowd comes in (not so young, this place ain't cheap.. but a pair of kids sat next to use celebrating their engagement that afternoon)
"I only wish I had found Tocqueville earlier."
Our sentiment exactly when we visited here for the first time a handful of years ago. Glad you had a wonderful meal here and by our favorite server Miguel as well.
While service at Tocqueville can be a bit of hit and miss, from stiff to bit too casually sloppy (though usually forgivable as some are noticeably undergoing training and trying very hard), in-demand and popular Miguel's service is that of first rate we've seen anywhere. We are not always successful, but his relaxed and friendly yet impeccable professional service make us request him everytime we dine here, and he always stops by to say hello even if he is engaged elsewhere. Certainly the food is why we return here on regular basis, but he plays a big role in making the visits celebratory ones.