What’s the first thing I think of when you say “New York”?
“Statue of Liberty?” Nope.
“Times Square?” Nawww.
“Shrimp Salad with Avocado, Tomato and Champagne Vinegar Dressing?”
How did you guess?
The prix-fixe lunch at Nougatine is an essential memory of nearly every trip we’ve made to NYC in the past decade. Because it’s that good. And because, while one could certainly argue that $38 is an eye-popping price to pay for lunch, it is really, truly an excellent value. Chef Jean-Georges debuted Nougatine as the casual sister to his eponymous, 3-Michelin starred restaurant Jean-Georges twenty years ago and both are going strong. Smack in the center of the city that is the center of the universe, you’ll find them next to the globe at Columbus Circle in the Trump International Hotel building.
The exterior view is of Central Park and the interior view can be interesting, as well. Back in the day we once sat next to former NYC mayor “How am I doin’?” Ed Koch. More recently I was nudged by a table mate to look up from my shrimp salad and see Reba McEntire seated nearby. And sometimes, celebrity chef Jean-Georges himself can be spotted greeting guests.
Speaking of that shrimp salad, let me strongly recommend it as the first of your three lunch courses. Despite the lure of the Tuna Tartare and, seasonally, the Spring Pea Soup, it is the shrimp salad that brings us back again and again. We’ve decided that the secret to this salad is that the shrimp, butterflied and succulent, are served warm. And every single time, when the last bite of shrimp and the final slice of avocado are gone, we declare that it was a meal in itself and that we could easily be done. But there’s more!
For the second course, the CE is partial to the Roasted Hake, but my go-to fave is the Organic Chicken, with accompaniments that change seasonally. A glass of Grüner Veltliner goes nicely with this, by the way. Other entrée options are Rigatoni with Meatballs and there is a nice Veal Milanese. You can even get a Cheeseburger if that’s your heart’s desire.
By now you are truly and entirely full, and whatever plans you had for galloping around the city after lunch are now being re-thought along the lines of an afternoon nap. Especially since the waiter has just arrived with dessert!
Almost everyone orders the Jean-Georges Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It’s that deceptive-looking cake that goes molten the moment you approach it. (Kind of like my heart when I’m thinking about NYC.) But there’s always an alternative; lately it has been a lovely Strawberry Pavlova.
But the ultimate Nougatine dessert (which is not on the prix-fixe menu and therefore requires an uncharge but is so completely worth it!) is their Butterscotch Pudding. Like none you’ve ever had with its thick, caramelized top layer and the occasional chip of sea salt. Just know that you’ll be canceling dinner plans if you go this route.
Location: 1 Central Park West, at Columbus Circle
High points: Their house-made sodas are especially good.
Reservations: A must. And make them sooner than later, as it can be hard to get in. OpenTable or call 212-299-3900.
Dress Code: The business casual dress code is gently but firmly enforced. No flip flops and no shorts, no matter how pink or preppy. Luckily, there is an H&M and a Hugo Boss store in the Time-Warner Center across the street if you need an instant wardrobe upgrade.
The last word: We’ve talked about some great lunches in this series, but there is no question that the iconic NYC prix-fixe prize goes to Nougatine. My advice is to go there first, last and often.