Monday, May 9, 2011

JBF LTD: Laurent Gras

With food trucks becoming a fixture into the New York dining scene, it seems as though yet another L.A. food trend has found its way to the Big Apple. They're called pop-ups, and much like food trucks, it appears the concept just might stick around. Roughly defined, a pop-up is a temporary restaurant installation, with "temporary" being the operative term. Chef Ludo Lefebvre popularized the form when his LudoBites restaurant literally "popped-up" six times in five different locations, quickly selling out on each occasion. Naturally it was only a matter of time before pop-ups started appearing in New York. And, after the success of John Fraser's What Happens When, it was all but assured that more would soon follow.

Taking this idea and running with it was the James Beard Foundation who launched their own pop-up in the Chelsea Market. For 27 days only, the JBF LTD would host a series of dinners featuring some of the world's best chefs.

On the heels being awarded three Michelin stars for his endeavors at Chicago's L2O then suddenly leaving under tumultuous circumstances, Laurent Gras was tapped as the inaugural chef, selling out every meal in under ten minutes! With advance notice and seemingly nothing better to do at work, I somehow managed to grab two seats for his final meal.

Located in a converted space inside the Chelsea Market, the JBF LTD looked surprisingly nice for something with such a short lifespan. Above a series of long white tables were a tangled mass of hanging lights strung together. After being greeted with the hostess and checking our belongings, we were led to a standing table with stools and were presented with two glasses of Veuve du Vernay Brut, France NV. Being in the final week of my abstinence from alcohol for Lent, I reluctantly ceded my glass to MW, and instead of enjoying a nice glass of bubbly, I ended up settling for a bowl of Salted Nuts.

At about ten minutes past eight we were eventually seated. Having spoken with the server who generously refilled MW's glass throughout the night, we were informed that the staff was a catering crew. That said, they did a fantastic job pouring each wine pairing, describing each course, refilling beverages, even refolding napkins as patrons left the table. Another logistical note, the pacing of the meal was outstanding with no noticeable delays.

Being a non-profit, a good portion of the food was generously donated. All wines were provided by Delta Air Lines, and an assortment of different breads were given by Grandaisy Bakery. Provided with Salted Butter, MW and I took Raisin Walnut Rolls.

The first course was an Atlantic Halibut Ceviche with Green Curry, a Hint of Chili, Coconut, Garlic, Lime and Thai Basil. A very nice opening course, we enjoyed how Gras successfully incorporated Southeast Asian flavor profiles into the dish, elevating it from the standard ceviche. The sweetness of the coconut played beautifully against the bright lime and clean taste of the fish. If there was one flaw, it was a personal preference that the chili be more prominent, but overall, this was great and gave us an idea of what to expect from the remainder of the meal. The course was paired with a Finca La Celia Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina 2008.

Next was Butter Poached Jonah Crab with a Red Togarashi Bouillon and Celery. A stark contrast to the acidic ceviche, this course exuded decadence. Half-joking with our neighbors about how the French love their butter, a mound of sweet crab meat sat in a pool of a rich togarashi-spiked bouillon topped with cubes of nutty celery root. Alternating between the tender crab and the crunchy celery, everyone told me how well the dish paired with the Albert Bichot Montagny Blanc, Burgundy, France 2008 as I sipped my glass of water.

Known for the seafood heavy menu at L2O, it came as somewhat of a shock when Gras chose to serve a Roasted Côte de Boeuf with Foie Gras, Sake, Bonito Flakes and a White Soy Sauce Bordelaise as his final savory course. But during an interview with the James Beard Foundation, Gras expressed a sense of liberation associated with the pop-up concept, allowing him the opportunity to do something original like serving beef when everyone expected seafood. Served table side from large trays, we were served the beef and foie with king oyster mushrooms as a trailing server finished the plate with the soy-infused Bordelaise. A tad under-seasoned by itself, the beef was very good when paired with the foie and apparently even better with the Burgess Napa Valley Merlot 2005.

Before our dessert we were served Lavazza Coffee and Espresso. To finish, we received a Honey-Yuzu Consommé with a Raspberry Salad and Mascarpone. While the raspberries were just fine paired with the creamy marscarpone, the truly memorable aspect of the dish was the stunningly complex consommé. Once again fusing Asian and French flavors, this was a refreshing conclusion to an excellent meal.

It seems that though Gras has really embraced the pop-up concept. Having already done a dinner with Andrew Carmellini at Locanda Verde, another with Paul Liebrandt at Corton and a third at BLT Fish, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Gras would be perfect for the JBF LTD series. One thing is for sure, Chicago's loss is New York's gain, and after experiencing his cuisine I'm greatly anticipating his next restaurant.

75 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.


  1. Great writeup! I am glad I was able to go to at least one JBF LTD meal. They did a great job and the price was more than reasonable.

  2. I agree with you TT. All the foods they've served are all awesome and very delicious! Got the opportunity to taste their "Raspberry Salad" and it's very refreshing!