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Tocqueville

1 East 15th Street (b/n 5th Avenue and Union Square West) New York NY; map); 212-647-1515; tocquevillerestaurant.com
Service: Dotting, bordering on the obsequious but slightly unsure
Setting: A tranquil room, recessed deep into the building provides a sense of serenity
Must-Haves: Trio of salmon tartare, pumpkin risotto, poached pear
The Deal: Three course lunch for $24.09, with wine pairing $39.09, offered year-round.
Grade: A-

"As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?" —Alexis de Tocqueville

Named after the French thinker, who was all about value, the restaurant Tocqueville has extended their restaurant week lunch deal: three courses for $24.09, now a year-round offering. For a restaurant where entrees are mostly in the $30-plus price range, this is kind of a surprising move, but no deal is surprising anymore with the recession.

Even the chicken cassoulet, featured on the lunch menu, sells for $26 a la carte. But don't think the slashed prices means you're not getting the best of what the restaurant has to offer—the lunch menu holds refined dishes using top flight ingredients at a very reasonable price.

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The complimentary amuse-bouche was simply sensational: a cube of milky goat cheese paired with a crunchy and tart pickled beet. Though just a bite, it proved there is a high level of cooking going on here.

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The creamless puree of parsnip and golden apple soup was nicely balanced—the apple's sweetness countered the bitterness and slight acridity of the parsnips. The soup is poured at the table allowing the euphemistically named "garlic crumbs," which are actually perfectly proportioned miniature croutons, and tiny cubes of apple to retain a crunchiness.

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Equally compelling was the salmon tartare three ways: doused in soy, infused with coriander, and dotted with briny roe. The accompanying raw quails egg added a silky quality to the fish. I was floored at both the quality of the salmon and the presentation, especially since it's a $16 dish alone on a $24 menu.

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The mains were not quite on par with the appetizers, but only because they appeared to have been sitting too long in the pass. The risotto had a thin film on top and the rice was unfortunately served past al dente, hence slightly mushy. The chicken was not very warm—the top slice was in fact cool. But aside from that, both dishes hit high notes.

The pumpkin risotto was creamy and velvety, strewn with earthy trumpet mushrooms and brightened by sage. The chicken is served two ways: the breast is sous vided to perfect tenderness while the leg is smoked and shredded, creating a flavor that mirrors the miniature homemade sausage served with it.

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The meal ends on a high note. The two desserts I sampled were both so delicious, I would have a hard time choosing between them. The steamed date cake, essentially a sticky toffee pudding without too much stickiness, was recommended by the waiter and did not disappoint. Fluffy and light, the cake could have used a bit more moisture, beyond the dollop of cream spooned on top, but it was still pleasing. The pear, poached in Riesling and served with a white chocolate mousse, was equally captivating.

Despite the relatively inexpensive lunch deal price, Tocqueville offers some high level of cuisine with top quality ingredients. The portion sizes are quite generous. You won't feel stuffed but you won't leave hungry either—exactly what you want at lunch.

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