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Nov 15, 2010 05:39 AM

Emperor has no clothes? Pedestrian, disappointing lunch at Jean Georges

I had lunch this past Saturday at Jean Georges, and my companions and I were thoroughly disappointed with both the food and service. We had the $32 taste of autumn menu (choice of 2 menu options), plus dessert and tea/coffee. In general, we found the food to be pedestrian, banal, over-salted, and occasionally inexplicable. Service was officious and perfunctory.

To start off, my friend and I had the cherry yuzu soda, which we'd had previously (and loved) at Perry Street- and it was still delicious here. My husband ordered a passionfruit whiskey sour, but received a passionfruit soda. We found ourselves unable to get a waiter's attention for quite some time, and then when we did finally get some service, the drink was whisked away with barely an apology (we sort of assumed that in this stratosphere, we'd have gotten to keep a drink that had already been tasted!). The bread was very good, as was the butter and the salt, presented nicely in a salt dish with a mother-of-pearl spoon.

The amuse-bouche consisted of a goat cheese fritter, fluke sashimi, and a broccoli soup. The goat cheese fritter was decent, but on a whole this course was unmemorable. Bouche was not amused.

For appetizers, my friend had the scallops ($8 supplement), I had the skate, and my husband had the crabcake. My friend felt that the major flavoring in her scallops was salt. The skate itself was bland, although the garnish was somewhat interesting. It just didn't cohere as a dish. Finally, my husband's appetizer, described as "crispy crab," was a mediocre crab cake doused in wasabi, which destroyed any taste the crab cake might have once held.

For entrees, my friend was quite happy with her slow-roasted salmon, I was reasonably content with my red snapper, but my husband found his beef tenderloin to be boring and not a particularly good cut. The entree was certainly the best part of my meal. The delicate flavor and creaminess of the red snapper was lovely contrasted against the smokiness of the crisp nuts and seeds and was well melded by the flavorful broth poured over the top. However, my husband's caramelized tenderloin, was entirely ordinary. The meat itself was merely broiled and somewhat dry. It was presented upon a heap of brussel sprouts, pecans, and avocado. The vegetables were indeed tasty; however, their flavor was largely overpowered by the chef's inexplicable infatuation with salt. Overall this was something trivial to make at home with greater success. I suppose that two out of three was an improvement over the first course, but disappointing for a four star restaurant!

As far as service went- everyone seemed to be reading off a script. It was all quite rote and unwelcoming. My favorite part was the waitress who refused to point to or show me to the ladies' room until she had set the table for dessert. And, for the record, the facilities were somewhat lacking- one stall in the ladies' room for a fairly large restaurant.

Desserts- lowlights included the appalling fennel and seaweed garnish on an otherwise perfectly nice green apple sorbet, a spice cake that reminded my husband of one he'd made in junior high home economics, and a bitter blackberry strip that seemed to be an adaptation of a fruit roll-up. Originality was attempted in the sweet-pea sorbet, which sounded suspicious and for good reason. Think ground frozen pea mush. My friend was overall pleased with her dessert, but complained that her pumpkin ice-cream had virtually no flavor.

Highlights? The included chocolates (reminiscent of Maison du Chocolat but not quite as good) and the chocolate cremeux on my dessert (tiny but quite fabulous). The little macarons were also interesting and had a very lovely and light red-hot-like flavor. This worked well, but this was not enough given the expectations!

As an accompaniment to the finale, you are also offered fancy marshmallows cut off with scissors by a surly gentleman severely intent in performing his grave task and moving on as soon as possible. Yes, they are fancy...but they are also marshmallows (sweet, pillowy, juvenile). To be fair, there was clearly an attempt to infuse these staypuffs with vanilla bean to add value, however, the occasional clumps of the black vanilla bean scrapings were somewhat unsavory. Really? This merits four stars? My husband's coffee was good, and the tea was fine (although I was rather surprised that there were all of three choices- English Breakfast, Earl Grey, and chamomile, much like my diner down the street.)

I am disappointed because I'd done a lot of research into picking JG (also considered Eleven Madison Park and Del Posto). I really enjoyed Perry Street, so I thought JG would be similar but more spectacular. I have a baby and I don't get to go out to nice restaurants very often. I love food and I appreciate a great meal, and this was definitely not it.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Perry Street
176 Perry Street, New York, NY 10014

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  1. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your meal.
    I also had a very disappointing dinner there last year. While half of the courses were totally forgettable (literally, I cannot remember them! and I always remember a good plate!) - but the dessert was memorable because it was just awful. I remember thinking that a muffin from Starbucks tasted more complex and interesting than the dessert in front of me.
    Very surprising.

    1. Honestly, I've never NOT been disappointed by JG's flagship. I find the food unadventurous, the ambience far too corporate, and the service quite stiff. Maybe once upon a time it was exciting and new, but that zeitgeist has long since passed. Much like Daniel, I'd sooner eat at any of his "lower" restaurants (Perry St, Spice Market) than at the main one.

      That said, I did find the desserts really good - though how good a judge of that I am I don't know, I don't have a terribly big sweet tooth.

      Spice Market
      403 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10014

      1. The Emperor has no clothes was the first reference that came to mind for me after a bad lunch experience at Perry.

        I've had good meals at JG, and better at Nougatine for some reason. I enjoy the playful service of the handmade marshmallow strips, and liked the experience.... but even at it's best, I'm not sure it represents 4 star dining, let alone the height of NYC dining. I've had better service, and food at Ritz Carlton's in years past, though much less inventive...

        That's where the no clothes part comes in. When JG dishes at any of his places aren't up to par, the ingredients come undone, and you start to taste and see the gimmicks. An inverted brownie with the sauce inside, or abuse of tahini, or tempura, or some trendy ingredient. It's not exactly deconstruction as much as stunts. He can't let these restaurants have mediocre days or it unravels. I don't think I could suggest it the way I did even a year ago, confidently.

        1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023

        2 Replies
        1. re: sugartoof

          While Jean Georges certainly falls prey to inconsistency more often than a restaurant of its reputation and rating should, describing his signature molten chocolate cake as an "inverted brownie with the sauce inside" is probably a bit unfair, and I don't especially like that particular dessert. Would you like to extend that criticism to Michel Bras as well?

          Outside the flagship, all bets are certainly off. But at least at JG proper, I find that lunch is usually enjoyable.

          Jean Georges
          1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

          1. re: hcbk0702

            That is what their Lava Cake amounts to. A light brownie with a hot fudge filling. At JG, they typically make a stellar version of it, but once you've had it on a mediocre day, it tastes like what it is, without the illusion. Much copied, and innovative as it was, it's lacking something. In concept it's almost Chevy's or TGIF in class, but the execution was so good it became a signature of JG.

            I don't have much to say of the Michel Bras version. I've never tasted it.

        2. I'm sorry you had what sounds like a bad experience there. But after all these responses, I have to be the voice of dissent.

          I still think JG is the best restaurant in Manhattan. In spite of frequent menu changes (in addition to his classic signature dishes), the quality and taste of the food consistently impresses me. And when you take into consideration the food, service, decor and price point, I just think it's a winning combination.

          I say the emperor has a stunning suit!

          1. I, too, was at JG this past Saturday for lunch, and agree with most of your comments. The service was perfunctory and the food had few highs (the cod) but for the most part, the menu choices and execution were not up to the hype often bestowed upon this place. As an out of town visitor who tries to make the most of each meal when visiting NY, I was disappointed by this lunch. Past meals at adjoining Nougatine were much more enjoyable.

            1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023