Entries in Jean Georges (4)


Jean Georges

It took me a while to become a fan of Jean Georges. It’s not that I disliked it; but I didn’t quite get the case for four stars. After my fourth visit, last night, I’m smitten. It’s not that every course was uniformly superb: a couple of items wobbled a bit, and wouldn’t earn four stars on their own. But the experience on the whole is among the best that New York City has to offer.

Although no one goes to a four-star restaurant seeking bargains, it’s worth noting that the four-course prix fixe at Jean Georges ($98) is lower than that of Daniel (three courses, $105), Le Bernardin (four courses, $112), Eleven Madison Park (four courses, $125), or Per Se (nine courses, $275). And Jean Georges was available on OpenTable at 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening with under a week’s notice. The others weren’t.

Vongerichten’s cuisine at its best, interpreted nowadays by Chef de Cuisine Mark Lapico, marries sweet and sour flavors in ways that make you smile. It’s not that no one else has a good crab cake, but no one pairs it with a pink peppercorn mustard and exotic fruits that make such a vivid impression.

I was gratified to see a smattering of wines under $50 — not a ton of them, but you often don’t see any at a place this expensive. At a restaurant like Jean Georges, you are pretty much assured that nothing they serve is plonk. A 2006 Trousseau Lornet from Jura was only $46, and it was one of the most enjoyable wines we’ve had in quite a while. The Jura wines are practically always worthwhile, and because few patrons order them, they’re usually a bargain.

I’m going to keep the food comments to a minimum, and let the photos do most of the talking.

First up was a trio of amuses-bouches (above left) — I believe a black truffle fritter (12:00), fluke sashimi (4:00) and a hot cucumber soup (10:00). Our appetizers were the Santa Barbara Sea Urchin (above right) with jalapeno and yuzu on black bread; and a Jean Georges classic, the Foie Gras Brulee (below left) with fig jam.

As it was my birthday, we sprang for the White Truffle Rissoto ($35pp), which was as intense as any truffle dish I’ve had.

The fish courses were perhaps the best examples of the kitchen’s talent for flavor combinations: the Turbot (above left) with château Chalon Sauce; and the Crispy Crab (above right) with pink peppercorn mustard and exotic fruits.

Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken (above left) with artichoke, basil, and lemon butter, was just a shade on the dry side, but nevertheless very good. Maine Lobster ($15 supplement, above right) came with perfect black truffle gnocchi and a fragrant herbal broth.

Jean Georges may have the best dessert program of the four-star places, given that each dessert is actually a quartet. We had the Late Harvest (above left) and Chocolate (above right).

The “birthday cake” (more like a flan) was obviously a comped extra; but beyond that was a blaze of petits fours and house-made marshmallows that a party double our size couldn’t have finished.

We were seated at one of the two alcove tables, which the restaurant generally reserves for VIPs or special-occasion guests (I think we were the latter) — clearly the best place to sit, if you can get it. Service was superb.

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

Cuisine: Modern French with Asian accents, beautifully executed
Service: Elegant and luxurious
Ambiance: A comfortable room in soft biege with views of Central Park

Rating: ★★★★


Lunch at Jean Georges


Note: Click here for a more recent review.

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


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


Jean Georges

Note: Click here for a more recent review.

The dining room at Jean Georges
Over at eGullet, there’s a long-standing discussion thread that asks: “Has Jean-Georges Vongerichten Jumped the Shark? Or does he still have the magic touch?”

In other words, can a chef manage an empire of sixteen restaurants, and still turn out four-star food at his flagship, the eponymous Jean Georges? To be sure, many of those restaurants don’t generate the excitement they once did. JoJo has left me underwhelmed on each of two visits; I found Perry St uneven (though many swear by it); most people won’t touch Spice Market with a ten-foot pole; Frank Bruni demoted both Vong and Mercer Kitchen earlier this year; and V Steakhouse at the Time-Warner Center folded quickly. I was a fan of 66 before it closed, but few diners took it seriously.

No other elite chef has attempted to juggle so many responsibilities at once. But against all odds, most people agree that Jean Georges is still the extraordinary restaurant it was in 1997, when Ruth Reichl awarded four stars, a verdict that Frank Bruni re-confirmed earlier this year. The Michelin Guide has been the butt of every imaginable criticism, but no one disputes that the Michelin inspectors know French cooking, and the Guide has awarded its top honor of three stars to Jean Georges in each of the last two years.

That’s the backdrop to my own first visit to Jean Georges last weekend for a 46th birthday celebration. The restaurant offers a choice of four courses prix fixe at $95, a seven-course tasting of Vongerichten favorites at $125, or a seven-course seasonal tasting menu, also $125. We chose the autumn tasting menu, which was fairly close to what is now displayed on MenuPages (sure to change in the near future):

Hamachi Sashimi Fresh Herbs, Champagne Grapes and Buttermilk
Foie Gras Brulé Spiced Jam and Toasted Brioche
Wild Mushroom Tea Parmesan, Chili and Thyme
Red Snapper Lily Bulb-radish Salad, White Sesame and Lavender
Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Fuji Apple, Endive and Crystallized Wasabi
Roasted Venison Quince Madeira Condiment, Broccoli Rabe and Cabrales Foam
Dessert Tasting

(The night we were there, the first course on the menu was scallops, but we requested the Hamachi Sashimi as a substitution.)

The were two highlights. Foie Gras Brulé was one of the best foie gras preparations we could recall, with a light crisp crust covering a perfectly prepared lobe of foie gras, and the spiced jam adding a contrasting flavor kick. Likewise, the snapper was probably the best seafood dish we’ve had all year, again because of the contrast of ingredients—the fish and the radish salad. On the other hand, the Hamachi Sashimi, the Lobster, and the Venison, are all dishes I will quickly forget.

My friend and I had different reactions to the Wild Mushroom Tea (actually a soup). This dish is served tableside from a silver bowl, with the warm soup poured over parmesan shavings. My friend seems to have gotten far more of the chili peppers than I did, so whereas my portion lacked the contrast that is essential to these dishes, her portion was far more successful.

I haven’t found the desserts anywhere on the web, and after seven courses I’m afraid my memory has failed me. I do know that we were offered a trio of options, each of which was a quartet of small desserts on a square plate. I have completely forgotten what they were, but all four were excellent—and it is rare that I feel that way about desserts. This was followed up by petits-fours and servings of home-made flavored marshmallows, cut tableside from large multi-colored strips. There was also, of course, birthday cake.

The amuses bouches were also strong. As often occurs in restaurants like this, the server’s explanations went by all too quickly, but there was a trio of them—a small square of goat cheese, a small sliver of sashimi-quality fish, and one other item.

The bread service was distinctly inferior for a restaurant in Jean Georges’ class, with a choice of simple French-style baguette rolls or sourdough bread (neither warm) and garden-variety butter. Per Se, Alain Ducasse, and Bouley all have far more impressive bread service than this.

We noted that all of the serving staff are quite young. (Our primary server reminded us of Pat Sajak in his twenties.) Perhaps this explains a number of service glitches. At one point, the server started to pour my wine glass before catching himself at the last moment, as he had not yet poured for my girlfriend. At another point, plates were deposited, taken away, then brought back again. Servers were at times unsure about when to pour and clear wine glasses, and at one point in the meal we felt that the pace was slightly rushed.

We ordered a wine pairing and received six excellent choices, with contrasting varieties and regions, although at no point did we speak to a sommelier—again, I consider this a minor lapse for a restaurant in this class. It is not the wine staff’s fault that five of the six wines were white, as they were all sensible choices for the menu. But perhaps the overall effect would have been better had the fifth course (the lobster) been an item that paired with red.

There are a couple of wonderful tables at Jean Georges that occupy small alcoves, and we were lucky enough to have one of these. With a wall on three sides of us, it almost felt like our own private world. However, it meant that all we saw out the window was the Time-Warner Center across the street, instead of the more compelling park views that many of the other tables have. We noted that there is nothing particularly lovely about the room itself, although it is of course tastefully decorated, and the service accoutrements are all lavish. When we left, we were sent on our way with just a tiny paper bag, containing a tiny box, containing two tiny pieces of chocolate.

On our tasting menu, the foie gras, the red snapper, and the desserts showed how Vongerichten’s cuisine can still be extraordinary, even if (as Frank Bruni claimed in his review) not much has changed in ten years. I do realize that it’s nearly impossible for every course out of seven to be a mind-bending experience. Certainly everything we tasted was at a high level of competence. But I wanted just one or two more of those courses to be sublime.

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

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