Jean-Georges -- vaut le voyage ***
- Brian S
I ate in Jean-Georges two days after it received its three stars. I wrote an account of my meal but never posted it. But someone posted an article yesterday claming that if Jean-Georges were in Paris it wouldn't even garner TWO stars. He's wrong. The proof of the restaurant is in the eating. Read on.
I first heard of the Michelin guides when I was eleven. In France, its ratings are worshipped like holy writ. Getting three stars from them is the restaurant equivalent of a Nobel prize. In fact, there are far more Nobel prizewinners alive than there are three star restaurants. I've always wanted to eat in one but have never even set foot in one. Until tonight. You see, Michelin had never rated New York restaurants. Until the day before yesterday, when its first ever NY ratings were announced. New York has four three star restaurants... giving it the most of any city except Paris. (London has one.) One of them was Jean-Georges. I went there an hour ago.
When they saw me walk in, the receptionists' faces lit up as if I did them honor by visiting. They welcome everyone this way -- it's part of their elegance -- except for [name deleted, he's one of the most famous movie stars around], who showed up badly dressed and didnt make it past the front door. The only reason I saw him was that I was going to the washroom, which is next to the reception desk. The only other person I saw whom I recognized was superchef Jean-Georges Vongenrichten. He was dressed in a chef's uniform and came out from the kitchen.
Here are some of the courses that enthralled me:
A trio of tiny amuse-bouches. A piece of raw fish with horseradish. Nothing to talk about... except the horseradish had been put through a snow machine and turned into snowflakes! A tiny pastry like a profiterole fllled with ground basil and topped with grated cheese. And celery soup in a glass. The soup was in striped layers which blended as you drank. A cream of celery layer, another kind of cream, an intense cinnamon.
A rich creamy soup (photo below)made with garlic and thyme and other flavors. Very much like a French sauce vert (or Basque salsa verde). On the side, two lightly fried frog's legs.
Scallops from the bays off the Massachusetts coast used to be quite common 20 or 30 years ago. Today, they are prized culinary treasures. Seven of them nestled together in the middle of a bright cranberry-colored lake. They were raw, with a few grains of salt and wasabi strewn about for variety, as well as different little leaves, each of which had a striking and unexpected flavor. The lake was indeed made of cranberry coulis, with a touch of sugar, and fragrant spices reminiscent of fine perfume. Each of those sharp, clear flavors hit with the spiritual intensity of the cracks from a water clapper in a Japanese meditation garden.
: Sweetbreads had been perfectly cooked (and when I tasted their succulent flavor I realized that compared to these, every sweetbread I've tasted has been badly cooked) after being impaled on sticks made of liquorice root. Alongside them were very sweet slices of caramelized grilled pear, and a spoonful of what looked like mustard but was instead an unsweetened lemon puree. The trick was to eat tiny morsels of all three in the same mouthful, thus blending a salty, meaty flavor, with a hint of licorice from being cooked with the root (the stick itself was inedible), a very sweet flavor, and a sour, bitter taste all at once. Like three different motifs all mingling together. Very symphonic.
It had a humourous name, seed-crusted sea bass with sweet and sour sauce. A white tender filet crusted with many freshly ground spices, each of which had a rich intense flavor. I couldnt identify the spices, except to say that they were from India. Around it was a subtle yet intense sauce which did indeed have contrasting sweet and sour notes, and was made with spices I couldn't identify and rich creamy butter. Cherry tomatoes provided color and flavor. Words cannot describe how good this is, I told the headwaiter. And indeed they can't. But I have done my best.
I ate at Jean-Georges last night. The service was certainly a cut above and the room was beautiful (although staring at the "J. Crew" and other signs in the TW building next door made me feel like I was in a mall). It seemed like it was 100% tourists (present company excepted). The food was good, not great. I had the $95 menu. The amuse bouche (sp?) was ok. Nothing that stood out as really delicious. The raw clam was, well, just fishy. For the 1st, I had the scallops, which were tiny but delicious. For a 2nd course, I had the seared foie gras with chestnut. It came in a deep bowl and was really hard to eat. For the 3rd, I had the lamb. Two tiny pieces that I had to pick up in order to actually get the meat off of. My wife had the beef, which she said was so salty it was close to being inedible. For desert, I had the chocolate sampler. The after-desert freebie were flavored marshmellows, some chocolates, and macaroons. The marshmellows were no better than store bought (City Bakery's are much better) and the others things were tastless. Hey, everything was good, but nothing was memorable. Maybe its because many of these things have been copied (eg. the chocolate cake with ther molten inside) but I had that "been there, eaten that" feeling, especially from the desert. Certain meals stay with you for weeks after eating. This one disappeared a couple hours later. Too bad. I ate in a 1 star in Lyon over the summer which blew J-G away. I can still taste that meal....
Wow!! If you hadn't mentioned seeing the Time Warner building, I would be certain you had eaten at a different restaurant. Maybe you somehow wandered into a Bizarro alternate universe in which Jean-Georges is lackluster and the best cuisine is to be had at McDonalds...
re: Brian S
Hmmmm. Could be. When I saw the woman eating by herself wearing what had to be a $250K diamond necklace, I did get that "its not Kansas anymore" feeling. On another note, I do wish people would stop taking pictures of the food. The flash reflecting off the plates makes me want to run for cover.
I'm happy to say that after many years, Jean-Georges remains my absolute favorite restaurant in NYC. When it comes to combining quality and inventiveness of food, warmth of service, decor and price, no other restaurant comes out on top. True, many others are great -- Per Se always delicious, Masa luxurious -- but when asked, "what's your favorite restaurant?" the answer is always the same. Jean-Georges.
Sorry, I didn't read your long post, but I will always sing the praises of J-G whan I have the chance. DH and I are going to be in town next month and have a lunch reservation (the greatest Manhatten deal in dining, IMO). I have no doubt at all that we will have a sublime meal. This place is a no-brainer. They never make a misstep.
The day before my all out luxury trip to Europe for my fortieth birthday I had dinner at Jean Georges to sort of prepare myself for the 3star restaurant meals I had arranged for in Europe (months in advance). I loved Jean George, but after eating at the best restaurants in Amsterdam ( La Rive *), Florence (la giostra ), Paris (Taillevent *** at the time, L'ambroisie ***, Grande Vefour ***), and Brussels (Comme Chez Soi ***, The Black Truffle *) I have to say that Jean George was about equal to 1-2 stars. Not to say it wasn't great and wonderful because it definitely is, but the places in Europe might be a little more refined ; however, Jean George is great and I had a wonderful and memorable time there and would go back in a ny second, but the highlight was the wine not the food for me. I would equate it somewhere between La Rive in Amsterdam and Comme Chez Soi in Brussels which has 1 and 3 stars respectively. BTW I gained thirty pounds on that trip, no kidding, happy birthday to me. Since then I managed to get a reservation at PER SE, now that is *** 3 stars!
I think a lot of people underestimate Jean-Georges because of the presentation. There is a certain refined, artistic, almost fussy presentation that has become the hallmark of a top French restaurant, with, for example, tiny pieces of chives the size of a period. Jean-Georges doesn't do that, and I believe it's deliberate. Mr Vongenrichten goes for gaudy swathes of color, for a marriage of flavors so different you'd think they were totally incompatible but when you taste them you know they are beshert. It's like the difference between Matisse and Bouguereau. And I should add that though the dishes sometimes deliberately LOOK like big blobs of color, they are carefully thought out and executed and may take days to prepare.
Consider what I ate yeaterday:
First course: A little heap of succulent crabmeat, a little heap of perfect mango cubes. A dusting of a moss green powder provided a line of bright color along the side of the bowl (it was served in a soup bowl) and an exhilarating jolt of flavor. Around all this was a bright orange lake of chili-champagne foam.
Second course. I ordered roast chicken, since it was one of the few things I haven't tried. I thought it wouldn't be very good, but what I got jolted me awake. At least, the taste did. Unlike the other dish, this didn't look that exciting. Chicken pieces on a plate, a bit of green puree to the side, a wine-red gravy poured over the chicken. But the chicken had been pressed, then (I believe) prepared for days confit-style, and a spice rub had been put on the skin. The gravy was surprisingly tart and citric, though it had pan juices as well, and the green puree was made with galangal. It was exquisite.
As I recall, the original NY Times review back in 1999 said that Jean-Georges had developed a new idiom for cooking, that Mr Vongenrichten had created a new cuisine for the 21st century, much as Picasso et al did for painting a hundred years ago. At the time this sounded like hyperbole, but I think the passage of almost a decade has shown it to be correct.
Jean Georges is definitely a quality joint, but having recently dined at Per Se, I have to say that it simply doesn't compare (if you've been to both and disagree, please feel free to rebut). Twice I've dined in the formal dining room, and both occasions they managed to mess up our orders (moreover, they were tasting menus)...really should not be happening at a 3-star restaurant. Also, I found overall execution a little inconsistent--some dishes amazing, and others less-than-stellar. Personally, I preferred my lunch at Nougatine and immediately fell in love with the short ribs. Per Se on the other hand constantly blew me away...dish after dish, the progression was marvelous (that's hard to do when the first dish is oysters & pearls!). Service, impeccable.
I like to eats.