Friday, June 02, 2006

Getting Spoiled at Restaurant Jean Georges

1 Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
(212)299-3900
Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten
Chef de Cuisine Mark Lapico
Lunch weekdays
Dinner Monday through Saturday

Jean Georges on Urbanspoon

Last tried: May 2006

After dining at Restaurant Jean Georges, I got the distinct impression that you could not work there unless you can read customers' minds and anticipate their every wish. Of course, seamless coordination of every step of wine and food service is a given. Perhaps Jean Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller have an elite service school set up somewhere where they train their respective staff under some sort of culinary navy seal program.

To give a small example of their attention to detail, when I asked about a particular wine among the pairings that I really enjoyed, the wine director gave me the label off the bottle, embossed in a plastic cover. (At the end of the evening, he gave me all of the labels for each of the wines in the wine pairing that way so that I would have them all, just in case.) At no point in time did my eyes ever search the room to locate a server to ask for anything, as they unobtrusively took care of every detail without hovering. No one ever asked, "is there anything else I can get you?" because whatever I may have needed or wanted was brought over or cleared away as soon as the desire crossed my mind. The level of service at Restaurant Jean Georges highlighted the level of the food, creating a thoroughly pampered dining experience.

The Jean Georges menu offers three options: a three-course menu, with each course to be selected from eight a la carte choices in each category, plus desserts, at $95 per person; a six-course signature tasting menu, plus desserts, at $125 per person; and a six-course seasonal tasting menu, plus desserts, also at $125 per person. The tasting menu is not required to be ordered by the table, so we decided to try all three menu options. (Note: The portions are not diminutive although not large to the point of sacrificing elegance of presentation or flavor.)

To start, we received an amuse trio: an espresso cupful of white asparagus soup with a layer of raspberry vinaigrette at the bottom; a sourdough crouton topped with peekytoe crab confit, lemon mustard dressing, and daikon sprouts; and a single forkful of charred fava bean "salad" with pecorino vinaigrette. These contrasting flavors and textures, spiked with the tanginess of raspberry, lemon mustard, and pecorino, danced in my mouth as I moved from through each amuse. The amuse transitioned beautifully to the first course-- a liquid scrambled egg served in the shell with the top quarter shaved off, topped with vodka whipped cream and caviar. Not quite as mindblowing as the sherry cream egg with chives at Manresa, but still fabulous, and I loved the combination of the rich chicken egg and salty fish egg served inside an egg shell. The other first course was just as tasty-- a miniature toasted buttered brioche sandwich with a quail egg yolk inside, topped with caviar and dill. Thankfully the dill, which I usually find overwhelming in most contexts, provided just a hint of pickly scent and flavor, which brought out the grilled cheese-like taste of the brioche egg sandwich, and the caviar added a dimension of vibrant saltiness to this very rich taste.

Next came a crudo of translucent white snapper decorated with muscat grapes and a buttermilk ranch emulsion, topped with chervil, tarragon, thyme, and a bit of Thai chile. The fish was sashimi fresh and could easily be eaten alone, but the sweet grapes, the creamy rich sauce, the earthy and minty spring herbs, and the zingy kick of spice from the chile were delightful and harmonious together. The other raw dish, hamachi with grapefruit sorbet and jalapeno emulsion with grapefruit zest, was not quite as successful. Each of the elements by themselves were superb but together the sweet and buttery flavor of the hamachi got drowned out. I was also not crazy about the crunchy crystals of maldon salt on top, which was pretty to look at but unnecessary.

To pair with these first series of courses, the sommelier picked out a half bottle of the most amazing gewurztraminer, 2004 Domaine Paul Blanck from Alsace (which I plan to look for and acquire for future consumption, aided by the handy label he gave me to keep). The citrus, floral, mineral, and honey flavors of the wine were perfect solo and also paired well with the egg and seafood. With the next series of courses, he served a 2004 Condrieu by Les Chaillets, another impeccable selection.

Although I am still in recovery from multiple overdoses of seared scallops from the late 90's, Jean Georges' version, served with charred cauliflower bits and a nutmeg balsamic emulsion, was exquisite. I must admit, however, that I was still more in love with the cauliflower bits that were almost creamy inside the charred exterior (normally I am not particularly fond of cauliflower) than the scallops. The foie gras brulee with candied pistachios, sour cherries, lime zest, and white corn gelee was technically flawless in execution. The flavors matched, the textures were interesting, and the combination unique. Yet I found myself missing the comforting familiarity of a plain terrine or a seared slice of oozing foie gras with a crispy exterior. As a subsequent course, I did get that seared foie gras I was craving, along with a fabulous glass of 1999 Chateau Rieussec Sauterne. The dashi-yuzu foam, although lovely alone, did not quite work with the foie gras, but the dried apple pieces provided desired sweetness and chewy texture.

The following courses, asparagus with asparagus puree and morel mushrooms in hollandaise sauce, and garlic soup with fried frogs' legs, were both immaculate. The sauce on the bright green asparagus spears, a combination of morel mushrooms, hollandaise sauce, and pureed asparagus puree was so incredible that I sponged my plate clean with bread to soak up every bit of it. The garlic soup was soothing and flavorful, without being overly rich, and the aroma of fresh spring garlic mixed with the scent of butter and cream wafting up from the steaming bowl was hypnotizing. The frogs' legs were tender and moist inside and fried to a perfect golden crisp on the outside, flavored with exactly the right amount of saltiness to accompany the soup. After I ate every piece of meat I could extract from the bone and licked the garlic and spices off my fingers, I was presented with a sterling silver finger bowl filled with warm rose lemon water, along with a fresh linen napkin.

With the next series of heavier seafood courses, the sommelier served a 2003 1er Cru Pommard from Domain de Courcel. Even though I am generally not fond of the 2003 vintage for Burgundy (most are too sweet and extracted, like many California Pinot Noirs), the opulence of this wine actually worked quite well as a pairing. The poached Scottish cod with buttery purple potato fondant and charred eggplant topped with roasted garlic and crunchy bits of levain croutons, with a streak of poblano pepper puree providing an accent of tart spiciness, was hearty yet refined. The moist and creamy tenderness of the arctic char was emphasized by the slice of crispy, salty fried skin placed on the side like a potato chip. With roasted porcini mushrooms, diced jalapeno peppers, and garlic, the arctic char was an explosion of flavors and textures that miraculously blended together like they were meant to be. (The only wine pairing I was not crazy about was the 2002 Domaine Clusel-Roch Cote Rotie paired with the squab described below. I have yet to taste a 2002 Rhone wine I have really liked, and this one was no exception, with unbalanced acidity and lackluster fruit.)

The last series of savory courses consisted of turbot, poached lobster, roasted veal tenderloin, and broiled squab. The turbot was pleasantly firm and meaty, and the accompanying zucchini and tomato dice with jurancon sauce, reminiscent of lobster bisque in flavor, was simultaneously refreshing and rich. The lobster, poached in butter and served with fresh pea shoots in a lemongrass fenugreek broth, was enhanced by a light dusting of dark orange, salty dehydrated lobster roe on the plate. The veal with meyer lemon, however, was less impressive than the other dishes. The lemon tended to overpower all of the other delicate flavors, including the veal and the snow peas. We ended on a high note with the squab, which was tender, juicy, and well-spiced with a mixture of cumin, cinnamon, and curry. The slice of seared foie gras on top of the squab and the miniature corn pancake with sweet pear puree on the bottom were likewise incredible, with each individual component prepared perfectly and combined skillfully in flavor and texture.

At this point, we had to raise the white flag. We had been too greedy in our attempt to eat through the menu to be able to follow through with desserts. The server nonetheless insisted that we take a package of petit fours and Jean Georges chocolates to go.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Have you eaten at any of JGV's other restaurants: Vong, JoJo, Mercer Kitchen, 66 etc?

What do you think of Bruni's (NYT) assessment of Mr. Vongerichten?

Curious.

Stevie.

Finicky said...

Stevie: I have tried Perry Street, Vong, and the now-defunct V Steakhouse, but none of his other restaurants. Of the Vongerichten establishments I have tried, I do agree with Frank Bruni's assessment that Perry Street and Restaurant Jean Georges showcase the best of his empire. Vong was a slightly better rendition of Trader Vic's, and to be honest, I was surprised to see Jean Georges Vongerichten's name associated with V Steakhouse. I think Chef Vongerichten is a genius, but he is only one person. Notwithstanding that any of his places would be markedly better whenever he stops in and checks progress, I would expect that for the most part people are experiencing what the chefs de cuisine at each of those places have to offer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. I'm hoping to get in on "stand-by" later this month. I can't seem to locate a wine paring price anywhere on the web - do you recall what it was? Thanks in advance.

Finicky said...

$90 per person for the wine pairing with the tasting menu. You may also want to check out Le Bernardin and Megu, which are my current reigning favorites in New York (not counting Per Se, but that one really is impossible to get into).

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