Eatery - Jean Georges' Nougatine (NY)
1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Dressy Casual, Dressy | Cuisine - French
If you're planning on going to Nougatine, don't circle around the Trump Tower a few times like I did as I tried to locate the restaurant based on my Google Maps directions. Pro tip: it's inside. I came to the restaurant as a result of Yelp friend Jordan S. as I was in town and wanted to meet up. When I had finally found the place and him, we stepped into the pre-function area in front of the hostesses and I felt a tad bit of unease. Why's that you say? I best describe it as a scene from a dystopian film where the service staff is straight-backed, clad in nondescript, stiff black uniforms, pale in complexion, and adorned with bright red lipstick except in this case, it wasn't a movie. I'm not saying they were unwelcoming but their low, dulcet tones made me suspicious of entering a sterile, conformist world.
I digress. Let's just say that there were much too many staffpersons with all the same distant (but still courteous) demeanor that made me wonder if this was the world of those upper-echelon diners. The ceiling-to-floor windows by which we sat allowed for an ample amount of photograph-friendly lighting (though whipping out a camera to snap shots of the food seemed a little faux pas) but deeper into the restaurant were some more dimly seating arrangements. I'd say the look was a tad minimalist with a hint of "What are you doing here if you aren't in a certain tax bracket?" Have I gotten across yet that I felt like I should be more elite in society than just a Yelp Elite?
Anyhow, if you take away that overhanging feeling, you come down to the food. My Google Calendar told me I was there for brunch with Jordan but feeling disinterested in the brunch options, I (and he) chose the $32 prix fixe three-course lunch. As compared to the other menu options, this was quite the deal. After putting our orders in, we sat with some slices of bread and I played briefly with my coat check number. The conversations around us made me conscious that I was here for a one-off meal instead of being a regular in their society. I find so much amusement in these situations though - it's fun to poke fun.
All of our food was brought out by two waiters (so much service right?), one of which explained the dishes while the other set them in the appropriate interaction in front of us. I say interaction because my starter was the butternut squash soup with Shiitake mushrooms and when the bowl was set in front of me with its artfully arranged microgreens and tiny cubes of mushrooms, I was surprised by the ruination inflicted upon the delicate fungal tower as one of the waiters poured a steaming flood of the butternut squash soup itself over it. I sadly missed my opportunity to photograph the beauty before the storm but alas, there was no forewarning. The soup itself was less creamy than I expected of a butternut squash soup and a tad too salty but I did quite enjoy the mushroom pieces and bright taste of the greens. Jordan's tuna tartare sat upon a bed of creamy avocado (floor level was a ginger marinade) and was topped by delicately sliced radish. I jabbed at the dish by calling it tuna on guac but it was merely in jest as the tartare was very fresh and soft, the avocado flavorful but not overbearing on the star of the show, the radish crisp, and the ginger marinade sweetly spiced. Curse the goodness.
The entrees came next of which mine was the crunchy baked organic chicken with glazed market carrots and his the cheeseburger with crispy onions, Russian dressing, and a side of fries. Again, a bougey meal is no fun unless you can cheerfully insult your atmosphere so my first remark on my chicken was that it was covered in cereal (see: Rice Krispies). I kid though - it was fantastic. The crunch on the chicken was phenomenal and the juiciness of the meat trapped beneath the crispy exterior made me wish I had had so much more on my plate. I did away with the chicken quickly and worked more mindfully at my glazed carrots but they, being excellent as well, were dispensed of in short time too. Jordan's cheeseburger did not bear the brunt of my bite but he did enjoy it well; unfortunately the French fries did not withstand the elite test seeing as we both found them too similar to fast food fries.
Desserts arrived in all the pomp and circumstance I'm sure was required. My sweet finish was their black mission fig financier with cinnamon ice cream, spiced almonds, and fig jam while his was Jean-Georges' warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream (way to make the dessert description as monotone as your waitstaff...). I was glad to have had the cinnamon ice cream to offset my dessert as it was sweeter than desirable; overall, a light end that closed off the meal well. The warm chocolate cake was airy but still heavy in flavor and the ice cream perfect. Overall the meal at Nougatine was a success and I'll definitely remember the juiciness of that chicken; maybe next time I'm around, I'll feel more comfortable there because hopefully by next time, I can afford to throw more money around, hah.
Photography by Minerva Thai.