Last January, a friend took me out to JoJo for a belated birthday dinner. This restaurant was Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship, before he opened the four-star temple Jean Georges. (JoJo is Vongerichten’s childhood nickname.) Now that Vongerichten has a restaurant in every neighborhood, I suspect he seldom visits JoJo. I found it remarkably uninteresting on that first visit, but it was just interesting enough to merit a return engagement for the right occasion. Last night, I decided to give it another try.
JoJo is located in a remodeled Upper East Side townhouse. There is a tiny bar up front, with tables on both the first and second floors. We were seated upstairs, which is a considerably more romantic and intimate space than downstairs, where I was last time. When we arrived at 6:30, there was just one other couple in the back room. My friend whispered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could ditch the other couple? We could imagine that this was the private dining salon of our elegant New York townhouse, and all of these servers were here to wait on us alone.” We wondered why the fireplace wasn’t lit on such a cold evening (perhaps it is not a usable fireplace).
To start, she ordered the Peekytoe Crab Salad ($13), and I the Pumpkin Ravioli ($12), which was superb, especially at such a low price point. For the mains, she had the salmon ($24) and I the duck ($26). I had a taste of the salmon and found it bland, although my companion was satisfied. The duck was excellent: four thick breast medallions with a crisp crust and tender flesh; and a pastry filled with shredded leg meat confit. Several fingerling potatoes added to the lovely geometry of the presentation, but nothing to the taste. For dessert, she concluded with the molten chocolate cake ($10), and I had the cheesecake (also $10), which was again wonderful.
Service throughout the evening was attentive and efficient, although I felt that both the appetizers and the entrées came a tad too quickly. However, the restaurant was not full, and at no point did I get the impression that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. We lingered for a long time over our desserts, and in total we were there for around 2½ hours.
On the strength of this second visit, I retract my “remarkably uninteresting” verdict. JoJo is highly competent, and the upstairs seating areas are most charming. With plenty of appetizers in the low-teens and entrées in the mid-twenties, JoJo is one of the better restaurants at its price point. Still, there is a certain lack of sustained inspiration that one expects to find in three-star dining.
Of course, we are in the Frank Bruni era. When The Red Cat attracts two stars, it’s difficult to argue that JoJo isn’t worth the three stars it currently carries at the Times. In a less grade-inflated era, I would award two.
JoJo (160 E 64th St, just east of Lexington Ave, Upper East Side)