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Jean-Georges Vongerichten's '66'

Note: 66 closed in 2007. Matsugen, a Japanese soba restaurant, is its replacement.

A vendor took me out to dinner at 66 on Monday night. That meant I wasn’t paying. We had a fun night out, but I wouldn’t rush back to spend my own money there — not because there’s anything wrong with 66, but because there’s plenty of other fun places I haven’t tried yet. My feeling now about 66 is, “been there, done that.”

66 is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s riff on Chinese cooking. Neither the menu nor the wine list is long, but this is not a complaint. Vongerichten has narrowed the stereotype Chinese menu down to the things his kitchen can execute well. Aside from a dessicated plate of overcooked spareribs, every dish was fresh, tasty, and inviting.

The menu is divided into appetizers, dim sum, rice/noodles, and entrees of vegetables, fish and meat. The apps top out at about $14, although most are under $10. The entrees top out around $26, although most are around $20-22. As at Spice Market, plates are brought out when ready. Our server assured us that all of the dishes are designed for sharing (which wasn’t always true), and encouraged us to do so—which we did.

There’s a tasting menu for $66 (get it?), which our server advised was “personally selected by Jean-Georges” (no surname required). Three of us were willing to go that route, but one of our party was skittish about trusting the famous chef’s judgment, so we created a more conservative tasting menu of our own. Our server advised ordering one app, one dim sum, and one entree/vegetable course per person, which turned out to be an ample amount of food, and indeed perhaps a tad too much.

I can’t find a menu for 66 online, and I can’t remember everything we ordered, but I’ll run through a few of the highlights. The two standout appetizers were cubes of pork belly and shrimp prepared two ways. We ordered four different kinds of dumplings, of which I remember three: foie gras, mushroom, and lobster. All were excellent, and you’re not going to find them on the typical Chinese menu.

We ordered a fish entree, which I believe was a grilled sole. It was an undivided fillet, and it quickly crumbled into bitty pieces when we tried to divide it among the four of us. It was a wonderful dish, but hard to split among a large group. The traditional duck with scallions and pancakes was more successful in this regard. Here, Vongerichten was just replicating a Chinese standard (albeit with happy results), without putting his own stamp on it. A plate of mixed vegetables (including the inescapable snow peas) and a sweet & sour chicken dish completed the main courses.

The cocktail menu included a concoction called Mother of Pearl, with rum and coconut milk, which was so wonderful I ordered a second. After dinner, I ordered a 14-year-old Oban (single malt scotch), which was very reasonably priced at around $15, and included about twice as much as you normally get in a restaurant portion. Our meal concluded with chocolate fortune cookies—once again, Jean-Georges is winking at us.

The Richard Meier décor has been much written about. It is spare, sleek, and doesn’t at all resemble your typical Chinese restaurant. The entrance on Church Street (between Leonard and Worth Streets) is so subtle you could easily miss it. My hosts had no trouble getting a 6:30 reservation, and when we left about two hours later 66 was not yet full.

66 (66 Church Street between Leonard & Worth Streets, TriBeCa)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: *
Overall: **

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