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Nocturne review

Nocturne's pan-seared scallops, served with a cauliflower puree

Nocturne's pan-seared scallops, served with a cauliflower puree and heirloom tomato salad. (July 16, 2012) Credit: Doug Young

Into Long Island's scherzo and rondo restaurant playlist falls Nocturne.

The precise, easygoing, French-New American eatery is subtle and almost shy, compared with a lot of the tables in downtown Babylon. So, it already has a little niche in a very competitive neighborhood. And the food often is very good.

Nocturne comes across more like a sunny day than an evocation of night, a storefront-size spot full of light hues. There are a few tables fenced in from the parking lot in the back, if you're feeling alfresco.

Chef-owner Mark Hrisho keeps the appointments minimal. The most eye-catching bit of decor is a period-style wall clock that underscores his modest Gallic theme.

Hrisho ensures the cooking stays unfussy and focused, with a comparatively petite menu that has just enough choices to make you want to return.

His updated and amplified Niçoise salad appetizer could pass for a main dish, with roseate rectangles of pan-seared tuna draped on haricots verts, potatoes and anchovies, along with soft-boiled quail eggs. The house's namesake salad brings in tangy goat cheese, greens, onions and figs in a sweet-tart vinaigrette.

The buckwheat crepe filled with confit of duck is sufficiently rich to benefit from a gastrique with blackberries. And, if a local mistral cuts though the July night, you can rely on Nocturne's onion soup, complete with croutons and Gruyère cheese.

Hrisho crosses borders with an excellent, curry-seasoned slab of halibut, set on coconut rice. It's boosted by a cool corn salad. You can contentedly stay seaside with an order of buttery, pan-seared scallops, accompanied by a cauliflower puree and an heirloom tomato salad. Or try the pan-roasted, wild striped bass, a dependable number accessorized with olive-oil mashed potatoes and Manila clams.

But steak frites stars a thin, dull grilled rib-eye. The Béarnaise sauce takes on the role of rescue vehicle. Better off going for the burger topped with Gruyère.

Among the desserts, the professional crème brûlée is preferable to either the heavy-duty, citrus-brown butter cake or the sorbets.

And Nocturne's cheese plate is a compact, satisfying alternative or addition. It includes a cut of mellow manchego and another of sharp, Prima Donna aged Gouda to go with the centerpiece of sharp, creamy, salty Bleu d'Auvergne. The cheeses are served with honey, a fig spread, a balsamic reduction, toasts.

Symphonic.

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