serendipity

Not the movie or the restaurant. Although, I do love the movie – and who doesn’t love John Cusack? (OK, I’m sure some people don’t, but from a romcom perspective I do find him charming…) And already, I’m on a tangent. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Last Friday, my plan was to run a few errands, meet my friend for a drink, and make dinner at home. I had eaten out (somewhat unexpectedly) Wednesday and Thursday, and resolved that my sorely neglected groceries had to be used. We were meeting in the wasteland that is 5th and 7th between 14th and 18th – sort of Chelsea, sort of Union Square, but more of a no man’s land in my opinion, with very few places I’d like to spend a casual evening at. I was going to take her to my secret spot in the neighborhood. Alas, she had other plans. She was in the mood for a proper meal, and while this place has great small plates, it wasn’t quite ideal for dinner. We were at a loss for a few minutes, standing outside Pier 1 Imports, (me, at least) looking a bit forlorn. I ran a quick Yelp check to see what was nearby, and found that we were practically on top of a place that has been on my list for more than a year now. We made our way across the street to the dark blue awning of Tocqueville.

As we stepped into the quiet elegance of the lobby, I worried that I was underdressed in my jeans. However, it didn’t seem to bother the manager, who welcomed us and assured us there was room at the bar for us. We took a seat at the tables in the back, and were promptly brought menus for drinks and food. Upon glancing at the bar menu, we discovered a steal – there was a three course prix fixe theatre menu available in the bar all night for $44. I thought briefly of the vegetables at home, felt my stomach rumble, and decided that I would also be having dinner. We ordered our food, along with a half bottle of wine, and settled in to have a lovely evening.

The food was just lovely, very seasonal and vegetable forward. Although we were seated in the bar, we had impeccable, friendly service all night, with a few unexpected treats added into our meal. After our wine was poured, a waiter came by with a selection of bread, which included a rosemary olive focaccia that I could not resist. After the bread came our first amuse, little beet “cigarettes” – crisp, paper-thin beets rolled around tangy goat cheese. The crunch and the smoothness made a great contrast. Once we had finished these, the little plate was whisked away, and our waiter returned with the bread plate and, to our delight, a second amuse. This one he described as an egg mimosa. It was light and eggy and gone in a bite.

I started with a chilled corn soup that tasted like summer. The server did that lovely thing where they bring you the bowl with just the garnish in the center, and then pour the soup all around it at the table. I’m a sucker for little touches like that. My friend had a plate of oysters which put me in mind of Christmas, decorated with little red berries and holly. After that we succumbed to the food. My entrée was an incredibly decadent mushroom risotto, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I’ve continued to think about all week. And for dessert – a selection of their fresh sorbets and ice creams. Mine included peach, raspberry, and mango. The mango reminded me so much of childhoods spent in India; the rich, deep flavor was replicated so well. We sat there savoring the last tastes of dessert and decided to order another glass of wine. The kitchen brought out a little plate of petit fours after this too, adding another sweet note to the end of the meal.

All in all, it was a perfect, unexpected evening – and truly, sometimes those are the best, as you can’t plan for them and have no expectations to disappoint. The staff is warm and welcoming, and so friendly. As we finally rolled ourselves away from the table, stuffed to the gills, they reminded us not to be strangers and come back soon. And I don’t doubt we will be!

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