Nocturne

Nocturne
(631) 482-9909, Babylon

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Don’t be deceived. An empty restaurant is not necessarily a bad restaurant.

Nocturne in Babylon was deserted when we visited. On a Sunday night earlier this spring, only our table of four diners was occupied. Why numerous mediocre spots do a consistently brisk business while exceptional eating-places sometimes struggle is a mystery, especially in what is an increasingly hot restaurant spot like Babylon. In short, Nocturne deserves much more notice.

From the get-go all signs at this unpretentious, little family owned American-French bistro are positive. Diners are served sophisticated amuses (don’t be surprised to find caviar in yours). Not one but two baskets of warm French bread and butter pats in the shape of rosettes follow. They are delivered to the table by the very affable hostess Suzanne Hrisho, her husband Mark is the chef and their son Mark Jr., is the bar manager.

Physically Nocturne is anything but a big deal restaurant nor does it pretend to be. Its small bar and slip of a dining room are joined by a narrow corridor but the little touches that illustrate concern (in addition to the amuse and bread) are evident. The flowers on the tables are real and there are flickering candles on the paper covered white tablecloths. Desserts, pommes frites and even pickles are made on premises and there’s both a beer and a wine list. On Sundays half price bottles of wine, available with any two prix fixe dinners, are an added attraction. There’s also an outstanding nightly $32 three-course prix fixe menu.

And the food? It’s exceptional. The powerfully flavored French onion soup studded with sweet onions ($7) ranks among the Island’s top five. The escargot, while not in the usual garlicky snail butter, offers an interesting alternative: Truffle parsley butter that was a delightful surprise ($9). Spreadable duck rillette reminiscent of rich foie gras arrived with an impressive array of plate mates like celery root slaw (thin celery remoulade) and toasts ($9). Why don’t more restaurants liven up very ordinary green salads with figs? Nocturne does with both the fruit and fig vinaigrette ($8).

Entrées continued the winning streak. The hanger steak was as usual, chewy, but it was tasty and juicy as well and came with crisp, world-class pommes frites and a lip smacking bordelaise sauce ($29). Three tender, jumbo pan seared sea scallops also boasted lively, creative accompaniments like spaghetti squash, lime jam, cava vanilla sauce and oyster mushrooms ($24). A fanned out Long Island duck breast, offset by tart little cranberries, offered braised Brussels sprouts with pancetta that even sprout haters loved ($28). Finally the entrée that could be (and often is) the most boring dish on the menu, the pan roasted half chicken, turned out to be absolutely delicious ($25). It was moist, smooth, succulent chicken at its best.

Finales were a decadent, dark chocolate cake with strawberry sauce not particularly influenced by its espresso mousse and Kahlua ganache ($8), a generous oval of crème brûlée with a perfect crackly surface ($7) and a French, skewed sweet strawberry crêpe with champagne sabayon, strawberries and melted chocolate ($8).

It remains to be seen what kind of foot traffic Nocturne will attract but it deserves much more than it was getting when I visited.

Photos by Stephen Lang

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.