Nougatine is the casual front room at Jean-Georges, the analogue of such companion places as the Bar & Lounge at Daniel, the Lounge at Le Bernardin, the Bar Room at The Modern, or the Salon at Per Se.
These companion rooms vary widely: some are separately reservable, others are not. Some are far more casual than the multi-star restaurants they’re attached to; others don’t vary much at all. Some serve a completely different menu; others serve an à la carte version of the main dining room menu.
Nougatine is separately reservable, has a completely different menu, and is much more casual than its four-star companion. Of course, the word casual must be taken in perspective, on a menu where a $19 cheesburger shares the stage with $72 Dover sole. Most of the entrées, though, are in the $24–38 range that defines New York’s “upper middle,” while appetizers range from $12–23.
The space, originally a lounge for the adjoing Trump International Hotel, was long an afterthought, seldom professionally reviewed. Nougatine received its first New York Times review in late 2012 (Pete Wells, two stars), a mere fifteen years after the flagship next door received four stars from Ruth Reichl right out of the gate.
The chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, remodeled Nougatine last year, hiring the same designer who refurbished the main dining room a few years earlier. The two rooms are now consonant; the little sister no longer looks like Cinderella. But it’s still a hotel lobby at its core, a charmless space where cavalcades of guests and servers traipsing through to the room next door remind you that you’re in the cheap seats. Or I should say, cheap looking.
The wine list most guests see is relatively brief, but it’s a subset of the full Jean-Georges wine list, which is available if you ask for it. An acquired taste like the 2010 Puffeney Poulsard from the Jura ($65; above left), offered on the smaller list, probably wouldn’t be found at a restaurant that didn’t have a larger cellar to draw from.
The cuisine bears Vongerichten’s unmistakable fingerprints, though it’s not as elegant or as carefully prepared as next door—nor would you expect it to be.
Asparagus tempura (above left) were an appealing amuse bouche. A crab cake ($19; above right) was a respectable appetizer. Kale is all the rage these days, and its fans ought to be pleased with Nougatine’s Kale Salad ($15; below left), a large but uncomplicated preparation with parmesan and lemon.
My Mom found Red Snapper ($34; above right) too peppery, though after a few bites she warmed up to the dish. Salmon ($30; below left) was impeccable.
But a Pork Chop ($34; above right) was tough and chewy, and I detected none of the prosciutto that the menu description promised.
The restaurant was close to full on a Monday evening—as it has been most times that I have been here, usually on the way to dinner in the main dining room. The bar was crowded and loud; if you wanted a drink, getting anyone’s attention was a challenge, and the bar tab wasn’t transferred to the table. I’m not sure if there’s a good place to sit: either you’re near the open kitchen, with servers going back and forth; or you’re near the noisy bar; or you’re near the passage from the main lobby the restaurant next door. Perhaps the coveted seats nearest the windows are the only ones that avoid these drawbacks.
The server dishonestly upsold us an extra appetizer that we didn’t need, though to be fair, she took it off the bill when we complained. The sommelier, however, rendered excellent service, and the bread was very good.
When everything clicks, I’ve no doubt that Nougatine can be worthwhile. For a comparatively inexpensive pre-theater meal, it will suffice. But if you want JGV lite, you’d be better off at The Mark, Perry St., or JoJo, offering similar food at a similar price point, in far more charming surroundings.
Nougatine at Jean Georges (1 Central Park West, in the Trump International Hotel)
Food: Classic Jean-Georges Vongerichten…lite
Service: Can vary between excellent and harried
Ambiance: A busy lobby with an open kitchen