In late 2005, a friend and I enjoyed the tasting menu at Vong ($65) with paired wines ($45). The selections on our tasting menu were as follows:
THE TASTING PLATE
Crab spring roll, tamarind sauce
Prawn satay, sweet & sour chili sauce
Lobster & daikon roll, rosemary ginger sauce
Duck rolls, plumb sauce
Raw tuna and vegetables, namprik vinaigrette
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Valdobbladine
This was a large plate of appetizers, mostly looking like sushi rolls or dim sum. There were four of each item (two apiece), except for the duck rolls (one apiece). We were also each presented with a sauce dish with four compartments, one for each appetizer except the duck rolls, which already had the plum sauce inside. The sauces contrasted beautifully, and all of these items were immaculately prepared. We were delighted with this hefty start to the meal, and it was difficult to wrap our minds around the fact that four more courses were to come.
CHICKEN & COCONUT MILK SOUP WITH GALANGAL & SHITAKES
Rudi Wlest Rhein River Riesling 2004, Rheinhessen
This was a wonderful soup. I didn’t taste much chicken, but the coconut and shitakes were plainly evident.
STEAMED STRIPED BASS WITH SPICED CARDAMOM SAUCE, CABBAGE, & WATERCRESS
Jeanne Marie Viognier 2004, California
This course was less successful. The bass was rather dull, and we were given far too much of the watery cabbage, which added nothing to the dish.
ROASTED VENISON WITH PUMPKIN-LEMON PUREE
AND JUNIPER BERRY JUS
Mas du Boislauzon Cotes du Rhone Villages 2003, Rhone
This was about as good as venison gets. It didn’t taste gamey at all. Two slices were prepared rare, with a wonderful crunchy char on the skin.
WARM VALRHONA CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH
COCONUT SORBET & PEPPERED TUILE
Domaine la Tour Vielle Reserva Banyuls, Banyuls
Is it any surprise that a Jean-Georges Vongerichten tasting menu would end with a chocolate cake? I’m not a big chocolate fan, but this was a dessert no one could pass up. It had a warm exterior and a molten center. Superb.
Overall, the fish was the only course of the five that misfired. The cuisine had Vongerichten’s fingerprints all over it, although one wonders how much time he devotes to Vong any more. (Pierre Schutz is the credited chef de cuisine.) The paired wines were generally well chosen, but I found that after three whites in a row, my tongue was a bit deadened to the red that came with the meat course.
Service was attentive and precise. My only complaint was that our server spoke with such a heavy accent that we could not grasp his explanations of the courses as they were presented. After a while, we just gave up on him. (Thankfully, we were presented with a card listing the menu and the wines, which we kept with us all evening.)
My companion and I felt that the courses came a shade too quickly. At more than two hours, no one would say we were rushed out of the restaurant. Yet, I sometimes had up to half-a-glass of wine remaining when the next glass was presented. Tasting menu courses tend to be small, and you don’t want to be chugging the wine afterwards.
By the time we left, the restaurant was full, and the noise level loud. Much as we had enjoyed our evening, we were more than ready to give our tender ears a rest.
Update: Eight months after I posted this review, Frank Bruni of the Times issued a rare two-step demotion, downgrading Vong from three stars to one. It seemed a bit punitive to me, but perhaps some readers will dispute the continuing validity of my three-star rating.
Vong (200 East 54th Street at Third Avenue, in the Lipstick Building, East Midtown)