Nougatine, the slightly more casual part of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship Jean-Georges restaurant, has been on my list of places to go pretty much since I moved to NYC. Now that I'm imminently moving south to Philly, I wasted no time in checking it off my list once and for all, toting Mom along for a delightful dinner.
And delightful it was. We were a little underdressed, to be sure, but we could appreciate the relaxed decor, the friendly and professional servers, and the eye-catching open kitchen bustling with activity at the end of the room. My only room-related gripe was the table: It stood on a tapered pedestal that was thick at the bottom (kind of like a mushroom), which cut drastically into the table's foot room. Kind of a bizarre choice.
But once we got beyond that, it was smooth sailing. One of the greatest things about Nougatine, I discovered, was that they offer wine in half (3oz) pours as well as full pours, which meant I could try two different kinds of wine! I started with a half pour of Domaine Carneros bubbly, which was fantastic, and finished up with a superlative Torrontes that was aromatic, crisp, and pretty darn delicious. Also, notably, for some reason they offer Cristal by the glass (and half glass). Huh.
To accompany the wine (and club soda, for Mom), we started with bread. Though the butter was cold and hard to spread, the bread was delicious, with a slight sourdough tang and an irresistibly stretchy inside.
Oh, and there was an amuse-bouche as well. A shot of warm carrot soup was surprisingly yummy; the accompanying rye toast was pretty standard, but it certainly got the job done.
To start, Mom went completely rogue and ordered the artichoke with mustard mayonnaise. Crazy town! After a steep but rapid learning curve in terms of how to eat it, she declared her love for the dish. I sense a long and happy artichoke-laden future for her.
On to the entrees. Mine was warm asparagus topped with mixed mushrooms and a vinaigrette. Though there were only four thick spears (a bit paltry, in my opinion, for an $11 dish), all the ingredients were top-notch and remarkably flavorful. I particularly loved the mushrooms, which were actually the best part of the dish for me.
Mom chose the red snapper, with asparagus, shiitakes, and sesame vinaigrette. It was as satisfying as she expected, with perfectly-cooked fish sporting a crisp crust and a flavorful, Asian-inflected gingery sauce.
Of course, dessert was up next. The dessert menu was extensive and enticing, with everything from carrot cake to hazelnut dacquoise. It was hard to choose, but we did. In a startling turn of events, Mom chose the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. She loved it, but I thought it was surprisingly plain for a Jean-Georges dessert: pretty standard chocolate cake, above average vanilla ice cream, job done.
Mine, however, was transcendent, one of the best desserts I've had in a while, in fact. This was a coconut and mango-passion mint vacherin with exotic fruit chutney. A cylinder of mango-passion sorbet-ish substance sat atop a dish of crunchy meringue, all crowned with whipped meringue and crystallized mint and surrounded by a small-dice tropical fruit salad. The plate was painted with passion fruit puree, and a long stick of meringue provided both garnish and textural and visual interest. The dessert was an explosion of flavors, fresh and vibrant and sweet and satisfying. And the textural range was impressive, from soft and silken purees and whipped meringues to firm, toothsome fruit to crunchy baked meringue. In.Sane.Ly. Good.
Oh, and to send us off were three tiny mignardises each: two pates de fruit of indeterminate flavor and a chocolate-covered orange jelly stick. These were ah-kay, nice sweet bites but nothing too special.
All in all, though, Nougatine is quite a special place. The food is spectacular, and the service and overall experience are both pretty great as well. It's a four Offset Spatula destination that's perfect for special occasions and any time you want to feel, well, delighted.
1 Central Park West