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Jean Georges

Note: Click here for a more recent review.

Even four-star restaurants have to adapt. A couple of years ago, the dining room at Jean Georges got a make-over. I’m not the one to itemize all of the changes, as I visited the original space only once, but the space now seems brighter and yet more spare—a kind of Scandanavian economy that ensures no distractions from the food and the adjoining Central Park views.

The current recession brought another change: a $58 four-course menu that is served from 5:30–6:00 p.m. and from 10:00–11:00 p.m. (At other times, the minimum entry point is $98 for four courses.) Those might not be ideal dining hours, but it’s still the lowest available price point of any four-star restaurant, or indeed, of just about any luxury restaurant in the city. For that Jean Georges deserves to be applauded.

It was the $58 menu that brought us into Jean Georges the other night. With a $74 burgundy added to the tab, we were still out of there for $205 before tip, making this one of the better meals we’ve had for the price in quite some time.

The $58 menu offers no choices, except at dessert: you are going to get the three savory courses they’ve mapped out for you. However, it is not a bad selection at all. If I’d ordered these dishes at full price, I would not have been disappointed.

We started with a trio of amuses-bouches (above left): a swirl of pickled rhubarb on a disc of mozarella, a peekytoe crab fritter in a light mushroom sauce, and an herbal chicken broth. The crab fritter was the best of these. The chicken broth seemed like a throw-away. The appetizer (above right) was classic Vongerichten: cubes of delicate hamachi paired with Japanese cucumber.

The next two courses were superb, and at least to me, bracingly original. First was a goat cheese gnocchi with caramelized artichokes, rosemary and lemon zest (above left). I wrote in my notes: “remarkable”.

The last course was an arctic char (above right) with a rhubarb compote, ramp ravioli and olive oil foam. It had a sweet–tart contrast that Vongerichten is so well known for. The tart elements were slightly over-powering to my taste, but I give full credit to the ravioli and the fish itself, which was more tender than I thought possible.

We had our choice of any dessert on the regular menu. I chose “Caramel” (above left), while my Mom chose “Chocolate (above right). (“Rhubarb” and “Apple” were the other options.) It all seemed competent to me, but not as memorable as the savory courses.

We concluded with the usual array of petits-four, including the house-made marshmallows (left).

The service seemed more polished than it was on our last visit, but it surely helped that the dining room was not yet full. I still think that Jean Georges is a half-step behind the city’s other four-star restaurants, but this was my best meal to date in any Vongerichten establishment. I should schedule another visit while it is still possible to eat here at bargain prices.

Jean Georges (1 Central Park West at 60th Street, Upper West Side)

Food: ***½
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***½
Overall: ***½

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