Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Jean-Georges: A Luxurious Lunch
Jean-Georges Vongerichten needs no introduction. Commanding a culinary empire spanning several continents, Jean-Georges is one of the world's most celebrated chefs, and perhaps an even more successful businessman. Best known for his original take on French cuisine, preferring intense flavors in the form of oils and light broths in lieu of traditionally heavy sauces, Jean-Georges is still one of the best restaurants in all of the United States, and despite a recent price increase, remains Manhattan's best destination for a splurge lunch. Yet, for whatever reason, MW and I had never visited any of Chef Vongerichten's restaurants, let alone his eponymous flagship-- located in the Trump International Hotel and Tower-- until the week preceeding Thanksgiving, when we both were free on vacation.
Arriving a half-hour late for our reservation (thanks to some god-awful traffic), we were told we were free to enjoy our lunch at the bar in Nougatine with the full Jean-Georges menu at our disposal. Although I'd normally cringe at the idea of eating at the bar in a restaurant of this caliber, given the circumstances, we graciously accepted. Shortly after being seated, the friendly bartender greeted us and proceeded to take our drink orders. MW chose a Ginger Lemon Soda, whereas I ordered an Iced Tea. Bread and butter were provided shortly as we continued to examine the menu.
Orders taken, we were presented with an amuse bouche trio: a Fluke Sashimi with Clementine Gelée, a Broccoli Soup with Mint Crème Fraîche and a Goat Cheese and White Truffle Fritter. This was our first experience with Chef Vongerichten's food, and it surely didn't disappoint! I know it seems like stating the obvious considering the restaurant was awarded Four Stars from the New York Times and Three Michelin Stars, among its many accolades, but nonetheless, we were both taken aback by the vibrancy of the flavors. The fluke sashimi tasted very clean and was enhanced by the hit of citrus. The broccoli soup, topped with a refreshing mint crème fraîche, was both bold and refined, simultaneously. Finally, the fritter was devoid of grease and exploded with the pungent flavor of white truffle when consumed.
MW started with the Raw Nantucket Bay Scallops, Cranberry Jus, Wasabi Powder and Shiso. The dish was absolutely stunning. The scallops were incredibly sweet by themselves but were elevated by the tart, deeply red cranberry jus, herbaceous shiso and dab of wasabi. We were both struck by just how much flavor such a simple looking dish could contain.
My choice, Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Spicy Radish in a Ginger Marinade, is a Jean-Georges classic, and was finished tableside-- or in our case, barside-- as a server poured the ginger marinade around the ribbons of tuna that rested on a bed of avocado. As with the MW's scallops, the tuna was impeccably fresh and had a wonderfully clean taste which popped when combined with the fatty avocado, slightly crunchy radish and spicy marinade.
We both opted to supplement our lunch with the "famed" Jean-Georges, Foie Gras Brûlée, served with a Spiced Fig Jam and Toasted Brioche. Having dreamt about this dish the night before, it was everything I had hoped for and more. Atop a circle of toasted brioche sat a puck of foie gras that had been brûléed besides a quenelle of fig jam. The foie itself was well-seasoned and melded perfectly with the buttery brioche and sweet fig jam. In hindsight, I'm glad MW and I had each ordered our own dish, as this matched Keller's divine terrines for my favorite foie preparation of all time. Nearly impossible to share.
Having finished her soda and enjoying its originality, MW ordered a Passion Fruit Lime Soda, which was a bit sweeter than her previous beverage, but still quite good.
For her next course, MW selected the Crispy Crab, Pink Peppercorn Mustard and Exotic Fruits. A veritable study in contrasting textures and flavors, this dish was wildly successful. Tender morsels of crab were formed then fried, resulting in a crisp exterior with a pungent mustard to help cut through the richness. This was in turn topped with a medley of tropical fruit, which lent sweetness and acidity and was finished with the fruity notes from additional pink peppercorn.
Being a huge fan of sweetbreads, it was a foregone conclusion that I would order the Pan Roasted Sweetbreads, Licorice, Grilled Pear and Lemon as soon as I spotted it on the menu. Two large lobes of sweetbreads were skewered and pan-roasted, yielding a wonderfully crisp exterior. Paired with a sweet grilled pear and rather potent licorice sauce, this dish proved to be just as exquisite as the rest of our meal.
Debating what desserts to order, we were treated by a surprise visit at the bar by none other than James Beard Award winning Pastry Chef, Johnny Iuzzini, who was showing a visiting pastry chef from Japan a sampling of his confections. MW opted for Caramel, which included a Dark Chocolate Caramel Tart, Hazelnut Streusel, Crème Fraîche and an Espresso Ice Cream and Chewy Caramel Powder. I would say MW thoroughly enjoyed it, since I could only get a small bite. The chocolate and caramel torte was dense, rich and not overly sweet, while the ice cream was decadently smooth and tasted intensely of espresso.
My selection, Late Harvest, contained a Warm Sweet Potato Cake with a Cranberry Honey Compote and a Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream with Crystallized Sage and Salted Pumpkin Seeds. The sweet potato cake was incredibly moist and the tart cranberry compote offset the sweetness nicely. The roasted pumpkin ice cream was superb, and verged on the savory side with the sage and salty pumpkin seeds.
It should be noted that even at the bar in Nougatine, service was professional but cordial. Certainly nothing unexpected from a restaurant such as this, but far less stuffy than similar restaurants. Both the conceptualization and execution with almost all of our dishes were flawless, and left us marveling at the flavors the kitchen was able to coax from the freshest ingredients. After such an amazing lunch at Jean-Georges I couldn't help but wonder why we had neglected this restaurant for so long, a mistake we shall not make again.
1 Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.