A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Jan. 27.

Lunch -

Nougatine -1 Central Park West, Upper West Side
Parsnip Soup with cider gelee and spiced bread croutons, Slow-Baked Salmon with Pad Thai, chocolate panna cotta with Earl Grey gelee, some of Vince's poached pear, Passion-Chili soda, cappuccino

When I used to work on 54th and 7th, I had to walk by the Trump Hotel on Columbus Circle on my way to the gym. I would walk by Central Park and into the lower reaches of the Upper West Side, into a terrain of opulence where I felt uncomfortable and outside. Five years later, I still don’t feel altogether comfortable among luxury and conspicuous consumption, but luckily, it only cost an entrance fee of $20.12 to make my way into Trump’s gold-saturated building.

I’ve never been to the four-star-rated Jean-Georges, the most venerated kitchen of the considerable empire chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has built, so I welcomed the opportunity to dine in its more informal front room restaurant, Nougatine, for Restaurant Week. Meeting up with Vince, the two of us were promptly seated at the window, which offered the added bonus of a Park view. The room was spacious and bright with daylight, elegant but not overdone. It was the kind of space I would be happy to linger in.

The Restaurant Week menu was limited to two choices per course, and in the same spirit as Aquavit, provided a safer and a more interesting choice. Naturally, I opted for the dishes that seemed more challenging.

For starters, this meant choosing the parsnip soup as my appetizer. Taking my first tastes, I felt like I was welcoming back an old friend, as I’d recently had the vegetable pureed both as an amuse and as a part of an entrée at Hearth (see Jan 17). I liked the presentation of it here even more, with the nice touches of the spiced bread croutons and the cider gelee. Both shook up the dish’s creamy consistency with small bursts of fresh texture and flavor. Based on my previous successful experiences at Vong and Spice Market, it was another example of Jean-Georges tweaking more traditional culinary dishes with surprising ingredients.

My entrée, the salmon with pad thai, was another treat. Again, after dining at two of his other franchises and being familiar with the menu at 66, this was an Asian Fusion dish I would very much expect from a Jean-Georges spot. Although I don’t particularly like salmon (smoked salmon a notable exception), it was the second time in two days I was having it and the second time I was glad that I did. The fusion elements such as the ginger and citrus perked up the large portion of fish and the pad thai noodles were a more refined, less oily version of the kind you’d find at a Thai restaurant.

The dessert was the least satisfying course, not because it wasn’t good or well-made but rather because it was the least interesting. Chocolate, it seems, is too often used as a restaurant shorthand to mean pedestrian, which is shortchanging a tremendous ingredient. But with that said, I still enjoyed the dessert and probably could have managed with another serving of it. Vince’s poached pear turned out to be the more inventive option, a very delicious and nicely presented dessert that made for a pleasant and not cloyingly finale to a great lunch.

I have also to include that, after finding the wine-by-the-glass list very expensive, I opted on a whim for the fruit sodas Nougatine offered. They seemed creative and unlike anything I’d encountered before. I went with the passion-chili soda, which was carbonated passion fruit juice with a tangy kick of chili. This may be a sensation that sounds worse than it tastes, and if so, let me say it was wonderful – both refreshing and novel. I would absolutely try another fruit soda over a wine next time.

And speaking of next time, it’s highly possible there will be one. I found out later that this $20 lunch prix-fixe is an option that Nougatine features throughout the year. This, along with Fleur de Sel and Bouley, would put it up there among the best fine dining lunch deals in town. If only I had known five years ago as I was busy picturing millionaires lighting up their cigars with thousand dollar bills. 8/10


Blogger Mona said...

I just heard about Nougatine and enjoyed reading your comments. I've eaten at Jean Georges and didn't even notice this place. I will have to get back. Am reading your other nyc restaurant reviews, I just started a NY restaurant blog myself.

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