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Lunch at Jean Georges


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For years, I’ve heard about the remarkable lunch menu at Jean Georges: any two courses, $28; additional courses, $14 each; desserts just $8 each. It also includes the same amuses-bouches and petits-fours served at dinner.

Few luxury restaurants come close to offering that kind of deal at lunch. Le Bernardin, for instance, is $68. The Modern is $55. Eleven Madison Park recently started offering two courses for $28, but Jean Georges was doing it before there was any recession. And Jean Georges has four stars.

For such a low price (the normal dinner menu is $98), you’d expect limited choices, but that’s not the case. There are twenty-one options (just two carry supplements), and most are recognizable versions of those offered at dinner. The list isn’t divided into the standard appetizers and entrées, just a long list: if you want two meat courses, you’re welcome to have them.

Even more remarkable, the prix fixe in the adjoining Nougatine, the casual front room, is $24.07, so the dining room is charging only a four-dollar premium for considerably more ambitious food. A friend and I had lunch there today. We ordered the standard two courses each and shared a third, bringing the savory total to $63. After a couple of glasses of wine, the bill was just $98, including tax.

The trio of amuses-bouches was nearly identical to those my mother and I had at dinner last month: a disc of homemade mozzarella, a crab fritter in mushroom sauce, and an herbal chicken broth. After we tasted the crab fritter, my friend said, “The wonderful thing about Jean Georges is that he never makes a mistake.” Then we tried the chicken broth, which tasted like dishwater.

A Warm Green Asparagus Salad was just fine, but overly simplistic. My friend’s appetizer of Tuna Ribbons with avocado, spicy radish, and ginger marinade, seemed a lot more interesting. We shared the Foie Gras Brulee, a Jean Georges staple, which must be the best foie dish in the city. It has been perfect both times I’ve had it.

For the main course, my friend had the same remarkable Goat Cheese Gnocchi with baby artichokes that I tried last month. He was equally impressed. I loved the Red Snapper crusted with seeds and nuts, and served in what appeared to be a stew of baby heirloom tomatoes.

It used to be that Jean Georges was my least favorite of the four-star restaurants. More than the others, it seems more prone to the inevitable minor screw-up (in this case, the dishwater chicken broth). But I have to admit the place is growing on me.

Vongerichten himself was in the house and came over to say hello. The dining room was full (as was adjoining Nougatine), which makes me wonder why the chef is quite so generous at lunchtime.

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

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

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