Trip Report - Jean George, Lupa, Saravanaas, & more
Just returned to Boston from a 48 hour trip to the food mecca NYC:
Oh may I drop to my knees and bow to those who said pack the slacks and go to Jean Georges! I packed the pants and the heels (and then the resulting sundry so, in the end, I needed a suitcase rather than a tote) and took myself there.
What a meal
What a price
I won't going into detail of the various dishes we had. A meal here must be a personal discovery for each diner. Most of the dishes are served in bowls - inferring a private theater of each course for the pleasure of the table. And entirely frustrating for a food voyeur. Superb and finely balanced food served as art.
Dining notes - the tasting portions of wine where the same as the full pours; small stumbles in service (seemed like a large portion of new support servers during lunch); the wines we selected where good but not challenging (and most unknown to me); white new napkins left 'droppings' all over my outfit; very comfortable, unpretentious, elegant room; how do they make a profit - I would have happily paid double.
I would have never found this - it looks like every other slightly run-down Chinese restaurant from the outside. Inside, the aroma enveloped and lured. Each dish had its own complex and rich flavors and textures (I swear they distilled an entire pig into a single course). And there was an entirely different scoville scale here than in my world - very happy not to order very hot. It was very tempting to return here a number of times within my short trip.
Very good meal with a couple of hiccups. Pecci was a special and my SO order it immediately remembering the many excellent pecci dishes eaten in Tuscan hills. As we were often told, the best pecci is made my rolling the pasta on the thighs of young virgins. Unfortunately, there must be a shortage of these in NY since the pasta was long and stringy. It as good pasta just not pecci (my SO, who eats what is served and never complains or questions a dish, asked the server twice if he had received the right meal). My cappellacci filled with pureed asparagus were a tad tough but tasty. The cured meats and verdure were excellent and worthy. A very good meal that I would happily repeat. (An aside - the tables were 2tops that could fold open to 4top rounds. They were uncomfortably thick so difficult to cross one's legs. I wondered if they were a cheap acquisition since none of them could be opened given the very close spacing of the tables.)
Mmmmm - enough said.
Having just seen the documentary, we had to go. Since we had such low expectations of the food, the meal was a very pleasant surprise. The food was fresh and well prepared, the flavors and textures were layered, and the spice was right. And all this just for breakfast (should have gone for lunch instead). Good food and great entertainment - I was unable to keep count of the number of f#'s heard. Would return if in the neighborhood again.
I have no idea how this place ended up on my list. I love great, localized, vegetarian Indian food (typically, the best vegetarian meals made).
At the recommendation of the manager (owner?), we ordered two meals that offered a sampling of all of the offered dishes (sauces and rice varieties). Each was different:
There was a difference in texture - thick mush, thin mush, and soupy
There was a difference in spice - coriander, cumin, curry leaf, etc
There was a difference in vegetables - although I couldn't begin to guess what was what
All in all, this place left me more than indifferent (rather like the staff as well). If this is like south Indian home cooking, then the people recommending it grew up in orphanages. Normally, I'll try a place a few times before posting a bad review but this place had more issues than just one bad night.
Cart food - halal, falafel (I love NYC)
Cafe Diner - cute but eh
Amish Grocery - great browsing
Essex market - loved the cut of meats
The scope of the menu alone led me to believe that it could not be well executed given the 16 chairs at the restaurant (actually 15 available chairs since he uses one for himself when not in the kitchen). The turnover of food necessary for the menu and the number of possible patrons seemed mismatched. I was pleasantly pleased wrong.
(Very amused that when we walked in at 11, we were told that we'd be having breakfast!)
One further note: I ordered an 8 on a scale of 10 for heat - I should have said 16.
I can totally understand that logic. Generally the rule of thumb is that the smaller the menu, the better they are at executing the food.
Wow, for 48 hours you certainly did a lot of damage! Glad that you brought your slacks and did JG. It is truly one of the best lunch bargains around.
For me the purpose of going to Saravanaas is to get dosa; I like the masala dosa. I assume you got something else as the texture was either mush or soupy. I once got the thali as they were really promoting it as a lunch special. The thali is a sampling of various things so maybe that's what you got - to me it wasn't nearly as good as the dosa despite being a little more expensive.
I always get some combination of iddly, masala dosa or utthapam, and often dessert. I haven't been there for probably 3-4 months but have never had less than delicious food there.
Have you had Madrasi vegetarian food you loved before? What do you normally order at Madrasi establishments?
"Isn't that kind of like recommending the pastrami sandwich at a deli and saying the bread is great but ignore the pastrami since it's so so?"
NO. Utthapams and masala dosas are NOT like the flimsy bread that is essentially a prop to hold a huge helping of pastrami at Katz's. Instead, those savory pancakes ARE the meal, with sambhars and chutneys functioning more or less as sauces. I hope you answer my question about what you usually order at Madrasi restaurants, because it sounds like you don't understand the cuisine. It's too bad you hated your meal, regardless.
From your frequent postings Pan, it's clear that you favor Sanavaraas - I didn't like it. As I said, the sauces each seemed to me to have a single note rather than the complexity and fragrance I normally associate with Madras food. I was also unable to detect any flavor from the vegetables - every sauce could have just been russet potatoes.
If this this restaurant is traditional Madras food, then yes you're right, I don't understand the cuisine. Guess I'll just have to miss out on the dosa.
I personally think Tiffin Wallah makes the best dosa in the area. I'm not an expert on South Indian cuisine, although I used to eat it a lot in SEAsia, but out of the 3 places I've tried in Curry Hill so far I'd rank them for their dosas:
1. Tiffin Wallh
2. Sarvannas Bhavan
3. Pongal (they did however make a good cup of Madrasi coffee).