The Distinguished Gourmand: Jean-Georges
Who goes out for a 3-michelin-star dinner the night after Thanksgiving?
I’ll tell you exactly what kind of reckless eater makes such a foolhardy decision: Me. The same kind of “gourmand” who started this website by reviewing Qdoba burritos and chicken finger sandwiches. Now look at me.
No. Don’t look at me. I’m hideous.
I guess it’s pretty hard to get reservations at fancy Manhattan restaurants, so sometimes if you’re gonna slip through the cracks (like the little sewer rat you are) you need to do things like make an early dinner reservation the night after Thanksgiving. Although, to be honest, we couldn’t be bothered to actually make the reservation. The American Express concierge service took care of it for us. So I donned my finest suit and a warm coat (it was 28 degrees in the city last night!) and headed to the Lincoln Center area for a delicious and memorable dinner.
In the ongoing ranking of finest dining experiences I’ve ever had, the meal at Jean-Georges compared favorably to most other establishments which appear on the vaunted “Top 100 Restaurants In The World” list and even some other NYC Michelin Star recipients. The best — far and away — has been Eleven Madison Park (#4 in the world, 3-stars). The second best would be a toss up between Per Se (#30, 3-stars) and Jean-Georges (#98, 3-stars). Daniel (#40, 2-stars) and Blue Hill At Stone Barns (#54, 0 stars) would be round out the list. Although Au Pied De Cochon (not ranked, 0 stars) was probably the most memorable and decadent meal of my life, I don’t know how its quality compares to the aforementioned restaurants.
We arrived in the city early, shortly after the sun had set. With time to kill, we walked around the shops at Columbus Circle before heading up the block to the restaurant. I was on the hunt for a baby gift for Ian’s newborn daughter but came away empty handed. Unless I wanted to buy a toy car from some little fancy toy shop that cost about three hundred dollars. I don’t think baby girls care about toy cars, and I didn’t want to spend THAT much on a gift. I later settled on two smaller gifts, which I promptly forgot at home when I went to visit Ian…but more on that later. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Located on the bottom floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Jean-Georges is the flagship restaurant of chef Jean-George Vongerichten. The front room and bar has an elevated-casual feel, whereas the 70-seat restaurant is a much more formal affair. The dining room is quite stunning as it overlooks Columbus Circle and Central Park. Despite the extensive wine list (which included a couple recognizable California wineries) and optional wine pairing, I chose to consume their updated take on a classic cocktail — a cherry-yuzu old fashioned — which was made with Jefferson’s Reserve bourbon. As you’re about to see, there’s a lot of yuzu incorporated into the menu at Jean-Georges, which made me quite happy.
The meal commenced with a trio of amuse bouches. There was a small bowl filled with a tiny ravioli in a nutty broth (chestnut?). There was an oyster with some kind of foam (it tasted yuzu-y). There was a thin crisp covered in diced tuna tartare with avocado and something else. As has become par for the course, I was cripplingly self-aware throughout the entire meal and didn’t want to take any notes or pictures at the start of the meal. So my memory is hazy, and I’m pretty sure no one else took note of what we were eating. Following the amuse trio we were served some fresh bread and butter. Both the ciabatta and Swedish rye were yummy. We elected to go with the build-your-own three course tasting menu as opposed to the chef’s seven course menu or the autumn-themed seven course menu. I mean…as much as I would have loved to let chef Vongerichten do his thing, it was the day after Thanksgiving. My stomach might have exploded. As it turned out, we wound up with some extra dishes anyway (more on that in a bit) so…we made out pretty well with the three courses.
First up for me was the diver scallops with caramelized cauliflower and a caper-raisin emulsion. Elsewhere at the table there was yellowfin tuna ribbons with avocado and spicy radish in a ginger soy marmalade, and hamachi sashimi with avocado, yuzu and radish. All three were tasty in distinct ways but I definitely enjoyed mine the best. I usually steer clear from capers and raisins, but in this configuration they were delicious. Capers were once described to me as “little gasoline bombs” and I really like that description, but often they’re better as one element in a larger dish. If it weren’t one of the top restaurants in New York City I would have licked my plate clean.
My second course was an absolute standout, and that was the Autumn Salad with foie gras, porcini mushrooms, artichoke hearts and pecans. I can’t help but scan menus for foie gras ever since it was made “illegal” in California. If anything that stupid law has inspired me to order MORE foie gras whenever I leave the state. Fuck California. Anyway, the salad was incredible. Had I not ordered it partly out of spite there were a number of other options I could have chosen. I got to try the slow cooked arctic char, roasted jalapeno, garlic and porcini with crispy skin. That was quite good as well, but no match for my salad.
As my main protein, I ordered the crispy confit of suckling pig (topped with a thick cut of skin), rhutabaga “pudding” and smoked bacon marmalade. It was as incredible as it sounds. The pig was cooked perfectly, delicate, and filled with rich porcine sapor (WHAT, REALLY EVAN!?). The skin, “pudding” and the marmalade were excellent compliments and — again — had I no decency whatsoever I would have licked the plate clean. I got to try the roasted Maine lobster with romanesco and a smoked chili-almond emulsion (that hit of spice from the chili was perfect) as well as the wagyu beef tenderloin with mushroom yuzu broth and crunchy rice. Obviously that was awesome too, the buttery melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin and sour hit of yuzu were just incredible.
Before dessert, there was a palate cleanser: three flavors of sorbet (passionfruit, green apple, and cranberry…something). Then we were instructed to choose a flavor that would encompass our individual dessert plates. I chose chocolate. Each plate had about five or six different bites on it. Mine included a yuzu sorbet with white chocolate, a bittersweet chocolate tart with fudge and red wine sorbet, something I can’t recall, and a warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream. The “autumn” dessert plate arrived with a delicious carrot souffle and what was described as “concord grape sorbet brioche meringue, peanut mousse”. Awesome. The caramel dessert plate featured a “floating island” with vanilla anglaise and spun sugar. As if that wasn’t enough, the kitchen sent out two complimentary desserts one was a butterscotch pudding that I nearly put away just by myself, and the other was a sour cream cheesecake with some kind of berry sorbet on top. I assume the two extra desserts were delivered because someone recognized me and wanted to impress me. Either that or because one of the head waiters went to high school with my sister. Either way…that was a special little bonus that was an incredibly thoughtful — and entirely unnecessary — gesture that made us all feel like were real high society types!
Even though were completely stuffed by this point, the cart of Mignardises was rolled over to our table and we were presented with one more plate of little bites. There was a pumpkin-spice macaron, chocolates imbued with Bailey’s, hazlenut, caramel and passionfruit, and freshly cut vanilla marshmallows. The ladies were gifted small boxes with two chocolates to take home with them. The man…well, I got nothin’. But I secretly ate one of the boxes of chocolates later so…I win.
So that was the meal at Jean-Georges. Everything was perfectly on point, cooked to perfection and beautifully plated. The flavor combinations were all brilliant, and I especially loved the tart hits of yuzu in dishes wherever it was incorporated. I found no fault in anything I consumed. From the scallops to the salad to the pig and desserts. I was so impressed with the technique, the presentation, and flavors of the cuisine. Everything was flawless. I’d also like to point out that the service was beyond exemplary. I was so happy that the restaurant didn’t have any hint of the stuffy vibe I’ve found in other restaurants of this caliber. The staff was amiable, and really imbued a sense of warmth and fun that turned a world-class meal into a truly special evening.
I’ll be back, when I can afford it.
Andy Stott – How It Was [MP3]
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