Jean Georges

From the minute you walk in Jean Georges, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s namesake restaurant, expect nothing less than pure perfection from the service to the cuisine. My dream has been to dine at Jean Georges, one of New York City’s most expensive restaurants. But it was not because of the price tag that I wanted to eat there, but because of its acclaim. Only three restaurant establishments in New York have the distinction of having been named three-star Michelin restaurants. I had previously visited Nougatine, which shares the space with Jean Georges, during restaurant week in February and I was not let down then and I was not let down again.

The two rooms of Nougatine and Jean Georges differ in design and menu, where Nougatine retains a casual French bistro quality of what Jean Georges used to be, the redesigned Jean Georges is instead contemporary with a monotone color palette of white, gray, and dark wood finishes. The interior of Jean Georges creates a soothing environment with elegant undertones. You cannot have a three-star Michelin restaurant without a little bit of showcase, here most evident in the leather sofas, large silver service trays, and push carts, which adds a bit of old-fashioned charm. So for an unforgettable dining experience I made reservations for lunch the day before for my mom and me.

On entry we were warmly welcomed by one hostess and soon taken in to the dining room by another hostess. We were seated comfortably in a corner, which afforded a bird’s-eye view of the dining room and its patrons. I kept noticing all throughout our two-hour lunch that many of the restaurant patrons were twenty-year olds, which left me very intrigued. Soon after being seated, our suited waiter, who seemed to be one of two main waiters, asked if we wanted to take a look at the wine menu. I gladly looked through the wine menu, and after noticing some of the exorbitant prices, ordered glasses of the 2005 Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia and the 2006 Fritz Hag Riesling. The Riesling was light and sweet, while the Cabernet was a perfect red color and tasted of berries. Both wines were good complements to our courses to follow.

The restaurant features a two-course $28 prix-fixe lunch menu, and with each additional plate for $12. Lunch is the best time to experience the restaurant for less than third of the dinner price. For a first course we both ordered fish and for a second course we ordered meat. We enjoyed delicious breads of brown sourdough and white rolls with soft butter while tasting our wines before receiving our amuse-bouches. We were served a small glass of edamame soup, a grilled shrimp skewer, and a mango cube. The edamame soup was just that, liquefied soybeans and topped off with lemon foam. I was expecting a cold soup but was pleasantly surprised to find it warm, which brought out a complex and herby flavor. The shrimp on a skewer with a sliver of fennel and garnish of fennel frond was a perfect crunchy morsel. And I especially liked the small cube of mango, which was dusted with dehydrated black olive crumbs.

Soon after we began the first course, a fish course. The arctic char was topped with sautéed onions and thinly sliced green asparagus with its skin fried separately and presented vertically on top of the dish, which was finished tableside with a dressing of ginger sabayon. The skin was a perfect chip, seasoned well and crackly, and the fish was perfectly cooked and complemented nicely by the vegetables and sauce, lending a faint Asian flavor. The flavors were subtle enough for the most non-adventurous eater too; thus the dish was perfect for my mom who shies away from sushi, ceviche, and tartare. I had the red snapper crusted with ground nuts and seeds, served over a sweet and sour jus that included red and yellow cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, and potatoes. Once again the fish was perfect, the skin was crispy underneath the coating, but soon softened. The fish was served in a multifaceted cubist bowl, which made it seem even more unique. When ordering I could not make my decision between the snapper and the steamed halibut with mushrooms and lemongrass consommé, but the waiter recommended the snapper for its boldness of flavor over the subtle Asian flavors of the halibut. I like the trend of serving fish with unusual broths, but I do not go for mushrooms with fish, so my decision was made easier. I did like the sweet and sour jus, but found it to be a bit too sweet after a while, maybe a bit more sourness or acidity would have made its boldness more to my liking.

If you are in for an indulgence, the new summer menu features a terrine of foie gras with strawberries, strawberry syrup, and a twenty-five-year-old balsamic vinegar reduction. It is pure decadence. The terrine is covered with a caramelized crust that melts in your mouth, while the the liver is as smooth as silk. The sweet strawberry and vinegar provide a counterbalance to the richness of the fatty liver.

On to the second course, the meats: the confit of chicken leg was crusted with Parmesan and served elegantly on a bed of white asparagus spears in a basil and butter sauce. The chicken was tender and full flavored while also pleasingly homey and cosy. I enjoyed the spare rib, which the menu specifies as ‘spare rib vinaigrette, spring pea puree, and baby carrots.’ It seemed the spare rib was marinated in a barbecue-type sauce that they named a vinaigrette. The spare rib was one of the best pieces of meat I have had in a long time. I do not usually use the word wielded by many gourmands, but I will use it here, the spare rib was superbly unctuous. (In her book The Tenth Muse, Judith Jones used the term to describe her consumption of a fried beaver’s tail.) The peas tasted purely of peas, reminding me, in fact, of mushy peas served commonly with fish and chips in Britain. I used to hate peas as a child, and the pureed peas brought back to mind the reason why: they are mushy when overcooked, but these were not. (It would be interesting to taste pea caviar à la Ferran Adrià.)

We went on to order two $8 dessert tastings, of which there were four to choose from: rhubarb, cherry, chocolate, and citrus, each consisting of two desserts. I had a very hard decision ahead of me, and was caught between the rhubarb and cherry. The cherry includes the rhubarb clafoutis with a whipped strawberry crème fraîche and the rhubarb ricotta, red sumac sablé (a thin cracker-like cookie), and pickled rhubarb. The cherry tasting was a recent addition and I chose it for that reason. It included a cherry and crème fraîche sponge cake with sangria-soaked cherries, garnished with pine-gel droplets and pine needle snippings and then a scoop of half pistachio ice cream, half cherry sorbet served on top of chopped pistachios, garnished with freeze-dried cherries. The ice cream and sorbet was by far my favorite because I love pistachios. But I also was impressed by the concentration of flavor in the freeze-dried cherries and the pine gel, which tasted as best I can describe, of Christmas, made from what else but pine needles. I highly recommend the cherry tasting over the rhubarb, which I ate at a later date and did not enjoy as much as the cherry. We also ordered the must-have signature chocolate tasting, which included the molten chocolate cake with vanilla-bean ice cream, and then a gianduja (chocolate-nut paste) gnocchi rolled in toasted hazelnut flakes, served on top of a grapefruit and vanilla-bean gel. And on the heels of our dessert tastings we were served complementary dessert: a wide selection of macaroons, petits fours, and marshmallows.

I don’t think there is anything unpleasant that can be said of Jean Georges. Jean-Georges has put his unique stamp on French cuisine, Orientalizing it a bit, and making it interesting, lighter, more flavorful, and simpler, what I would call a paring down of fussy French food to the most simple and elegant purist substances. But to demonstrate this involves new procedures or ingredient combinations, e.g. experimental cuisine, that produce complexity in flavor. I think that almost any of the choices on the menu achieve this. With its many exceptional menu offerings, airy and comfortable dining room, and knowledgeable and deft wait staff, there is more than enough reason to go back to Jean Georges countless times, if you can afford it.

Jean Georges
Trump International Hotel and Tower
1 Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
Open daily for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and for lunch Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The three-course dinner tasting menu is $98, and the Jean-Georges menu and seasonal menu are both $148.
The two-course lunch tasting menu is $28, with each additional plate at $12, and the lunch dessert tasting is $8.