Entries in The Mark by Jean-Georges (3)


The Mark by Jean-Georges

The current crop of new restaurants is dismal these days, so I have been re-visiting places that I thought deserved a second look. The Mark by Jean-Georges is packed every time I drop in, and reservations at prime times need to be booked several weeks in advance. So, I wondered: has it improved?

When we last visited The Mark, I wrote:

. . . we were left with the impression of decent hotel food served in a gorgeous room where the people-watching trumps the cuisine. Perhaps Vongerichten is skipping the inevitable decline, and launching with mediocrity in mind from the beginning.

I was referring, of course, to the “inevitable decline” that afflicts most Vongerichten restaurants after the first few months in business. Unlike other successful chef–restaurateurs, like Daniel Boulud or Tom Colicchio, he never seems to find the talent that can run a restaurant in his absence.

I’ve been back to The Mark many times, perhaps a dozen or more, but always at the bar. It attracts a lively crowd of affluent, educated, attractive Upper East Side-types, along with assorted mafiosi and working girls. It’s not a bad place to have a drink, if you’re in the area.

But when my friend arrived first, the vibe looked so unsavory to her that she chose to wait in the hotel lobby, rather than go in alone. That sense of discomfort did not abate when we went into the dining room, where the staff seated us at a smallish round table in the corner, right next to the patio door.

Sam Sifton awarded two New York Times stars in April of last year, while finding the cuisine “so unambitious that it is difficult to fumble.” We had a similar reaction, but the crowds have not dissipated, so Mr. Vongerichten’s money men decided they could hike prices. A lot. Whereas most of the entrées were below $30 when The Mark opened, now almost none of them are. A burger, formerly $22, is now $26. The black truffle pizza with fontina cheese, $16 when I had it last year, is now $26. Linguine with clams has risen from $30 to $32, parmesan crusted chicken from $23 to $30.

But I liked the food better this time, and that counts for something.

The amuse bouche was a honeydew gazpacho (above left). We shared the Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad ($14; above right), which the kitchen plated as two half portions. It’s served with cracked white pepper and a dash of olive oil, a perfectly balanced summer dish.

Both entrées were faultless. Scottish Salmon ($29; above left) is lightly poached, served with sprink leeks, roasted peppers, and artichokes. Casco Bay Cod ($32; above right) rested on a bed of spinach, with sweet garlic lemon broth and a coating of crunchy lemon crumbs.

All of these plates shared that wonderful combination of sweet and sour that Vongerichten is known for, so satisfying when it works, but so difficult to duplicate. There is much more to the menu, but in these selection his vision is evident, and the deputies he left behind seem to know how to execute it.

I still like The Mark, but it isn’t for everyone. Some will find the “scene” there a distinct turn-off. If you can tune it out, or don’t mind it in the first place, the food is actually very good.

The Mark by Jean-Georges (25 E. 77th St. near Madison Ave., Upper East Side)

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


Review Recap: The Mark by Jean-Georges

Apparently, when an absentee chef opens a mediocre restaurant in a neighborhood accustomed to mediocrity, he gets two stars. That is the lesson of Sam Sifton’s review in today’s Times:

Mr. Vongerichten himself has been present, on and off, standing by the passage to the kitchen, his hands clasped in front of his waist, dressed in crisp kitchen whites. What he sees before him surely matches the prospectus he offered the newly renovated hotel: a neighborhood restaurant for a neighborhood sorely lacking in neighborhood restaurants, with the prospect of hotel guests as insurance against those periods when the neighborhood is in Palm Beach or Paris, Nantucket or Gstaad…

The menu at the Mark is a smart hedge against the possibility that his inattention would lead to a drop-off in quality there. It is so unambitious that it is difficult to fumble, at least as long as Pierre Schutz, a loyal Vongerichten lieutenant for decades who serves as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, is there to keep a close eye on the plates…

Mr. Vongerichten’s great genius used to be how he used the spare aesthetics of Asian cooking to improve classical French cuisine. Then it became how he used the lessons of that experience to raid other larders, and to create steakhouses and street-food emporia, Japanese noodle bars and market-driven French bistros.

Now he opens hotel restaurants all over the world. This one is hardly a risk. But it is a welcome addition to the Upper East Side.

I wouldn’t really have an issue with the rating, if it wasn’t the identical rating awarded to a vastly better restastaurant, SHO Shaun Hergatt, a week ago.

Instead, Sifton just gives the impression that he is just a star-struck amateur.


The Mark by Jean Georges

Among four-star chefs, none has syndicated himself more broadly than Jean-Georges Vongerichten. His flagship, the eponymous Jean Georges, remains one of the sublime dining experiences in the city. There are at least fifteen more restaurants (in multiple cities) that he owns directly, and many others—various Vongs and Spice Markets—where he pockets a consulting fee without managing the property.

The rap against these places is that they seldom command his attention after they’ve opened and the (usually) rave reviews have rolled in. This spring brings two new Vongerichten restaurants to New York, raising the city’s total (by my count) to nine. Even for him, it’s an ambitious agenda.

The Mark by Jean Georges is a fancy place in an even fancier Upper East Side hotel, but the menu is surprisingly low-brow, with its $22 hamburgers and pizzas in the teens. There’s the obligatory $89 ribeye for two, but most of the entrées are below $30, and very few of them set the pulse racing. The servers marching through the dining room with their silver platters are incongruous with the lack of ambition on the plate.

The fit-out is gorgeous. On a recent Saturday evening, the Mark was a mixture of the old-school Upper East Side crowd, European and Russian accents, and fashion-plate trophy dates in party dresses. Many of the women could be illustrations in a costmetic surgery textbook, illustrating both the right and the wrong way of doing it.

The restaurant, at least early on, is not lacking for business. We couldn’t do any better than 9:30 p.m., even a month in advance. We arrived early for drinks, only to find a cocktail menu as uninspired as the food. However, it was worthwhile for the people-watching alone.

I’ve never seen so many rent-a-dates. One seated near us had been promoted to concubine. “Can I rent an apartment under $10,000?” Her apparently stoned companion, who was at least twice her age, didn’t have an intelligible answer. Later on, she pouted, “I’ve been waiting patiently for a week!”

What about the food? Oh yes, they do serve food here. Some of it is good. A small black truffle fritter was served as an amuse-bouche.

A black truffle pizza with fontina cheese ($16; right) continued the theme. We shared it, and that’s the way to go. Although it is excellent, even truffles can be cloying if you eat too much of them. But I can’t complain about the price. At $16, this wouldn’t have been a bad deal even without truffles.

The entrées were standard-issue hotel fare: a pedestrian linguine with clams ($30; left); an overly salty parmesan crusted chicken ($23; right).

The wine list has decent selections that don’t break the bank. I chose a $43 Syrah. Rather oddly, the sommelier brought a $65 bottle, which he opened before showing it to us. As it was quite clearly not what I had ordered—not even close, actually—the restaurant had to eat it, which was done without complaint.

There is, of course, much more to the menu than what we tried, but we were left with the impression of decent hotel food served in a gorgeous room where the people-watching trumps the cuisine. Perhaps Vongerichten is skipping the inevitable decline, and launching with mediocrity in mind from the beginning.

The Mark by Jean-Georges (25 E. 77th St. near Madison Ave., Upper East Side)

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

The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon