1 East 15th Street (b/n 5th Avenue and Union Square West), New York NY 10003 (map); 212-647-1515; tocquevillerestaurant.com
Service: Effusive and professional
Setting: A tranquil room, recessed deep into the building
Must Haves: Beet salad, beef brisket, date pudding
The Deal: Three course lunch for $24.07, with wine pairing $39.07
Restaurant Week is a great way to eat on the cheap but, even with the various multi-week extensions that threaten to turn the event into restaurant month, there are still a lot of other weeks in the year.
And Tocqueville offers a $24.07 lunch prix-fixe during all of them—serving even on Saturdays. (They offer the same menu at the bar for $34 each night.) I last ate at Tocqueville almost a year ago and was generally impressed; I've long planned to return.
Much to my delight, the service has improved—and so has the food.
An amuse of ricotta laced with lemon comes piped into a beet that has been sliced, rolled, and roasted until it is shatteringly crisp. It is like a savory cannoli—creamy, crunchy, slightly sweet, and slightly tart.
A stack of beets topped with a generous disk of warmed goat cheese and drizzled with a sherry vinaigrette was a fine example of a dish that seems to be everywhere. I have had beet salads in pizza joints, steakhouses, and fine dining restaurants—but rarely one this good. The goat cheese was tangy and sharp, almost like a blue cheese. It provided a good balance to the sweetness of the beets.
The spiced brisket was described as braised, but I suspected that it was actually sous-vide, a fact confirmed by the waiter. It was tender and cooked through but a thin belt of fat along the edge remained intact; to get a tough cut like brisket this tender by liquid braising would have rendered the fat off.
The fat was cut nicely by the horseradish flan and creamy potato puree, aided and abetted by roasted parsnip slivers and nicely browned brussels sprouts. The dish, despite its thoroughly modern techniques and effete plating, was evocative of an English Sunday roast—hearty, rich food, perfect for the winter.
For dessert I went with the sticky date pudding which has been, pardon the pun, updated since my last visit. The dollop of cream remains, but it has been fattened up by the addition of rum raisin ice cream.
The dining room was almost empty when I ate at Tocqueville. I asked my waiter if it was always so. "Not last week, you couldn't get a table during restaurant week." And then added, pensively: "Which makes no sense." He is right—it makes no sense that people would flock here for lunch one week of the year, when the same menu is offered year round.