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Jun 28, 2000 11:42 PM

Dinner at Vong (long)

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Last night I made a reservation at Vong for tonight, then searched this site and to my dismay found more negative than positive comments. I considered cancelling my reservation, but since there were some raves, decided to try for myself. I'm glad I did. It's not the equal of Jean Georges (but then, it's not its equal in price either) and it's not the perfect fusion of French and Thai cuisines, but I found it very good for what it was.

I ordered the tasting menu, which began with crab spring rolls with a tamarind dipping sauce--good, but not outstanding. The next course was seared tuna with Szechuan peppercorn, soy mustard sauce. This was excellent, my favorite dish of the night. Next was a chicken and coconut milk soup with galangal and shiitakes. This, the most "Thai" dish of the meal, did have a real Thai taste and was very good. I can't judge how authentic it was, and a Thai aficionado might have found it insufficiently hot, but it was
much hotter than anything in French cuisine, without drowning out the other flavors.

The next two courses were disappointing, though. The "fish" with wok-fried napa cabbage, water chestnuts, and chilies (that's how it was written on the menu: "fish" in quotation marks), which turned out to be skate, was not very good at all. The skate was pretty flavorless, and the accompanying vegetables added very little. The lobster which followed was nothing special, and the yellow curry sauce accompanying it was very mild. With the last course of the main meal, things picked up again. This was crisp squab with egg noodle pancake: the squab was very good, and the "egg noodle pancake"--slightly gummy egg noodles pressed together--was also tasty, and had enough chilies added to make an interesting counterpoint to the squab.

The dessert menu was full of exotic-sounding desserts, but the dessert served with the tasting menu was the most conventional one: warm valrhona chocolate cake, good but unremarkable. Since I'm unlikely to make it back to Vong in the near future, I decided to order a second dessert. I had what the menu described as strawberry wontons, fromage blanc, and lime leaf ice cream, but when it arrived lemongrass sorbet had been substituted for the lime leaf ice cream. The lemongrass sorbet and strawberry wontons actually worked very well together.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. While the meal was more inconsistent than a meal that costly ought to be, it was refreshingly different from your average haute cuisine. I'm inclined to give Vong credit for trying something new, rather than slamming it for being "watered-down Thai food" (when in fact it's basically contemporary French cuisine with some Thai touches).


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    Adam Stephanides

    I wrote the preceding message immediately after returning from Vong. On thinking it over, I'm less enthusiastic. I'm still not sorry I tried Vong, but I wouldn't recommend it as a destination spot. While much of the food was very good, as I said, nothing was really memorable; and for the amount I paid (it's not as expensive as Jean Georges, but it is expensive) I expect at least a couple of the courses on a seven-course tasting menu to be memorable.


    7 Replies
    1. re: Adam Stephanides

      For the record, it should be noted that the "warm Valrhona chocolate cake" was in all probability invented by Jean Georges himself. So his putting it on the menu at Vong is not the lame, bandwagon-jumping move that you might think. Of course, if the kitchen isn't executing it well, that's another matter.

      1. re: pete wells
        Leslie Brenner

        In response to Pete Wells, there are more than a few chefs in New York who claim to have invented the warm Valrhona chocolate cake; I'm thinking in particular about David Bouley. I'm curious to know: is there something specific that has convinced you it was Jean-Georges?

        1. re: Leslie Brenner

          Jean-Georges is credited with ``inventing'' the molten-center Valrhona cake only because he was the first to import the idea from the French chef Marc Meneau--as I think he admits.

          1. re: Pepper
            Leslie Brenner

            I certainly think it's possible that Jean-Georges was the first to import it from France via Meneau. On the other hand, it could have been another chef importing it from some other restaurant in France. Other than the fact that Jean-Georges reportedly says he was the first to bring it over, is there anyone out there who really knows (eg. dates and stuff)?

            I was enchanted some months ago by the elderflower soup with elderflower sorbet at Danube. I thought it was so original, so very Bouley. A few days ago I happened to be looking at Michel Bras's website, and noticed "elderflower water" on his menu (could it be just like "elderflower soup?") If it is the same thing, which seems likely knowing the sytles of Bras and Bouley, I don't want to suggest that the recipe went east to west or west to east, only that many chefs at this level don't seem to have much regard for the intellectual property of other chefs. Or maybe calling it intellectual property is too harsh, but a nod to the creator of a dish sure would be nice.

            I'd also love to hear from any chefs out there who might have an opinion about originality of dishes and whether there's any ethical issue there.

            1. re: Leslie Brenner



        2. re: pete wells
          Adam Stephanides

          I had in fact heard that Vongeichten had invented the warm Valrhona cake, and I didn't think its being on the menu was a bandwagon-jumping move, just that it's so ubiquitous now that it's not exciting unless done with a novel twist or done spectacularly well. Neither of these was the case here. Although it was very good, there was nothing distinctive about it. I'm sure I've eaten at least five warm Valrhona cakes just like it.


        3. re: Adam Stephanides

          I can think of WAAYYYYYY better ways to spend big bucks than at Vong's. "Unmemorable" is putting it mildly. Maybe it's because I'm spoiled from living in Queens, where every night you can get wildly different ethnic cuisine that is top quality, tastes awesome...and is cheap. But I thought my meal at Vong's was rushed, inconsistent and worst of all, heinously overpriced. Get 3 meals at 3 different places in Jackson Heights and take a cab with your money.