Note: This is a review of Tocqueville in its former location. The restaurant moved to 1 East 15th Street at Fifth Avenue, the opposite end of the block from its original space. The latter has become a Japanese restaurant, 15 East, by the same owners.
Tocqueville offers a quiet, civilized dining experience. The design, muted and refined, has a calming influence, and unlike so many modern restaurants, doesn’t call attention to itself. The dining room is small and the tables reasonably close together—yet, you hear your companion’s voice without shouting, and you don’t hear anybody else’s conversation. Even if you knew no more, all of these attributes would recommend Tocqueville to the discerning diner looking for an evening’s escape without busting the budget.
I chose Tocqueville mainly to please my mother, who was visiting from out of town. She ordered six oysters on the half-shell, followed by the seared Maine diver scallops with Hudson Valley foie gras. She pronounced both superb—and she is not easily impressed.
My choices, alas, didn’t turn out quite so well. I started with a salad listed on the menu as: “Cato Farm Connecticut Aged Dutch Farm House Cheddar” with “shaved fennel, frisee, roasted pears, hazelnut balsamic vinaigrette.” That’s quite a mouthful, and it looked wonderful, but was far too salty to my taste. I noticed that a diner at the table next to me left hers unfinished, so perhaps she had the same reaction.
For the entrée, I ordered the Niman Ranch Pork Chop, which is served with “manila clams, fingerling potatoes and bitter greens with chorizo white wine and garlic.” (All quotes from the restaurant’s website.) The clams are an odd pairing with the pork chop. Once again, this dish was too salty, including the chop (which was thick and tender).
Given my mom’s endorsement of Tocqueville’s cuisine, perhaps I just made the wrong choices. The restaurant was full on a Sunday evening, and I suspect many of the patrons were regulars. Service was efficient and friendly, although I grew mildly irritated at an over-eager server who punctuated each dish ordered with “excellent! … wonderful! … great!” On the other hand, over-eager is better than under-attentive.
Appetizers are $12-28, mains are $27-36. Tasting menus are available for $75 (five courses) or $95 (seven courses). The wine list is pricey, with scarcely a bottle below $50. We lucked into a wonderful bordeaux at $48, which is about the cheapest you can do, but the pickings were slim at that price range. I don’t think it would kill Tocqueville to offer a reasonable wine selection in the $35-45 range.
Tocqueville (15 E. 15th Street, ½ block west of Union Square)