Sadly, my week of good eating was drawing to an end, and all too soon I was left with the unhappy choice of what to do for my last lunch in New York. Thankfully, S had kindly provided me with a list of her personal recommendations of restaurants that did excellent set lunches, and top of the list was Nougatine.
The more casual (but still pretty posh) sibling of Jean-George Vongerichten's flagship restaurant Jean Georges, Nougatine offers an extremely reasonable prix fixe menu that extends to Saturdays, and has been hailed as the most undervalued deal in town.
Classy and dapper, Nougatine exudes sophistication and puts you immediately at ease. The enormous glass windows fronting the restaurant let in large amounts of natural light, suffusing and softening the crisp whiteness of the interior.
Service is faultless; I arrive ten minutes before my reservation, and I am asked whether I would like a newspaper as I sit down. Bread could, however, be improved; it appears New Yorkers do not believe in anything other than crusty bread rolls being served in their restaurants.
The set meal looked appetising: a starter of bacon-wrapped rock shrimp served with avocado and papaya mustard, followed by a main course of petit filet served with sugar snap peas and a parmesan sauce. Dessert was to be a warm molten chocolate cake accompanied by a vanilla bean ice cream.
Although ordinarily I am not a fan of seafood, and would not voluntarily order a seafood starter, the warm prawn salad was a revelation. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, succulent and sweet, yet slightly smoky from being wrapped with bacon, and paired extraordinarily well with the spicy, tangy but sweet mustard, which was in turn offset by the coolness and creamy neutrality of the avocado slices.
It was little surprise that this dish was a house specialty, as it showcased Vongerichten’s facility in combining French techniques with Asian flavours and ingredients to full effect. The papaya mustard reminded me of a chutney, and the use of micro-cilantro added a further dimension of complexity to the dish.
The entrée arrived swiftly, and was more classically European than the previous course - a small, filet of beef, served with spring vegetables and charred sugar snaps was drizzled with a parmesan glaze. I could not quite decide whether this worked: the parmesan sauce was rather salty, and had that slightly oleaginous, slippery texture and heaviness of classical French sauces, despite being very thin. As long as this was balanced out by the lightness and freshness of the vegetables, in particular the sweet snaps, there wasn’t much of a problem, but eaten with the beef alone the dish was surprisingly rich.
One problem I had, however, was with the speed at which dishes arrived. Almost as soon as I had finished my starter, my main course had arrived, and dessert again appeared only minutes after I put down my utensils. Even before I had begun eating dessert, I was asked whether I would like some coffee or tea. This was rather off-putting, as I was supposed to be in a restaurant, not a fast-food joint - I was half-expecting them to ask if I wanted to upsize my chocolate cake.
Which, incidentally, was excellent, if somewhat plain - though having said that molten chocolate cake is fairly classic, and so should not be tampered with too much. I was somewhat amused to see that they had used a star-shaped mould instead of a regular circular mould, which added to its visual appeal, even if it did nothing in terms of taste. I wonder whether whimsically-shaped desserts prove more popular with consumers in general, and whether that could spawn a viable cottage industry of whimsically-shaped moulds…
I left feeling very satisfied, and thought that that was easily one of the best meals I had had in New York over the course of the week. It was easy to see why the restaurant was considered so underrated - fantastic food at reasonable prices.
1 Central Park West
Tel: 212 299 3900