Culinaring Through NYC: Day 4 – Jean-Georges: A Living Room Worth Eating In (Lunch)
Sitting on a train whisking its way through Manhattan towards Columbus Circle where three Michelin stars were waiting for me for lunch, I wasn’t nervous. My heart rate was controlled. Even now I cannot explain why I felt nothing as I approached a destination I had been salivating over for the past three years. In high school I wasted countless hours combing through the menus at Jean-Georges, Per Se, Daniel — the very best of NYC fine dining. And three Michelin stars? All this should have been enough to send me into some kind of coma (the good kind).
The inside of Jean-Georges is undeniably beautiful, modern and comfortable, maybe even cozy, all at the same time. I’ve been to far stuffier, starchier restaurants that deserve negative Michelin stars. As light poured into the dining room through the floor to ceiling windows looking out into Central Park, a server wearing a coat and tie handed us a menu. The show had begun.
amuse bouche: sunchoke soup with black truffle dot (left), beet with homemade ricotto (middle) and salmon over potato cake (right).
At last an amuse bouche done right. A creamy, smooth sunchoke soup akin to potato, an earthy beet paired with airy ricotta, and warmed salmon over a crunchy potato cake — together the entire plate evoked a range of flavors appropriate for the dishes that followed. This was an amuse bouche that was more than a free sample from the chef, but one that woke up palettes.
foie gras brulee, meyer-lemon gelee
This was the moment when I forgot where I was, when my heart started fluttering, and when I started grinning madly. As a general disclaimer I have a sadistic fetish for anything foie gras and here was a combination new to me. A wheel of foie gras topped with sugar and then blow-torched for a caramelized crust (like a creme brulee). The crunch was an added layer to play on the gelee which was like a bright, slightly sweet palette cleanser paving the way for the foie gras. Fabulous, I say. Absolutely fabulous.
yellowfin tuna ribbons, avocado, spicy radish, ginger marinade
While enjoyable, this starter didn’t come near the foie gras as far as complexity goes. The tuna was fresh, but the ginger marinade was overpowering and common. With a “marinade” so distinct, it’s easy to see how the avocado gets buried under the commotion.
coach farms goat cheese gnocchi, caramelized baby artichokes, lemon and olive oil
Gnocchi is a challenging pasta to make. It’s often too chewy or too soft or too starchy or too dense. Jean-Georges took the clever approach of serving a gnocchi unconventionally shaped like a tube. Rich, yes, but both the presentation and execution here was precise and without flaw. And instead of using a heavy red sauce or a distinct brown-butter sage sauce, lemon and olive oil acted like simple flip-flops on a dish usually wearing loafers or, in worst case scenarios, giant clown shoes.
wild mushroom risotto, parmesan
Disclaimer #2: I also have a fetish for risotto. How, I wondered, was Jean-Georges going to deliver this classic dish. While slightly over salted, the risotto made use of bitter greens on top to undercut the richness of the cream, butter and starch. A clever idea. As far as technicality goes, the risotto’s consistency was exceptional. Creamy, gentle with no sign of anything remotely gelatinous.
butternut squash soup, black trumpet mushrooms
At any other restaurant I would throw a tantrum in the dining room at the sight of butternut squash soup. Let’s be real here. Ever since last year, I feel like butternut squash has become the prostitute of winter menus. It’s everywhere. But how about from now on only Jean Georges is allowed to serve his light, clean version of a dish usually so thick, heavy and sweet it’s a three-course meal in one. This, here, is butternut squash done elegantly.
baked salmon, black truffle crumb crust, crispy parsnip
The salmon was a tender medium-rare, but besides that it was a forgettable dish. This was plain salmon presented and served as plain salmon that could have gone much, much further. A disappointing dip in the meal.
parmesan crusted confit leg of chicken, salsify, basil and lemon butter
I never order chicken at nice restaurants but if lunch at Jean-Georges were a normal thing for me, I’d order this one. A crispy exterior, thinly cut, moist and brooding with basil, chicken parmesan never tasted so fancy.
caramelized strip loin, roasted brussel sprouts, pecans and avocado, maître d’hôtel butter
I didn’t try any of the butter, but from what I could tell, this was a thick steak for a man with an appetite, as all steaks usually are. Seasoning and so on aren’t really the point, and this was a steak that is on the menu because something has to feed the crazy carnivores, not because it’s exceptional or characteristic of a restaurant with three michelin stars.
veal sweetbreads (thymus gland) w. grilled pear, licorice.
Talk about large sweetbreads. The earthy, gaminess of the sweetbreads paired well with the sweet pear and bitter licorice. I can’t say I’ve ever had breads as large and juicy as these either. Presentation, though, was colorless and cramped on the small, square plate it was served on, but still I recommend this to anyone who enjoys sweetbreads.
Sadly I don’t have a picture of the one entree that will stay in my mind for some time. The broth for the red snapper crusted with “nuts and seeds” was impossibly light, buttery and direct.
caramel: salted caramel tart, hazelnut streusel, creme fraiche, caramelized expresso ice cream, chewy caramel powder.
I’m almost done. Hang in there. For dessert, the “caramel” was the ugly child in a family of beautiful siblings (e.g the chocolate dessert). The sorbet tasted of grass and the spiral on top the cake was unnecessarily phallic in shape. As for flavor, the cake was airy but that alone isn’t enough for a Michelin powerhouse to serve it.
chocolate: chocolate cake, vanilla bean ice cream, caramelized honey ganache, amaranth, seeds, hibiscus streusel
What’s admirable about this dessert was how balanced it was. Even the molten chocolate cake didn’t end with that sudden sugar spike you always get with cheap chocolate candybars. Because the menu simply called this dish “chocolate,” I’ll give Jean-Georges leeway to put items on a plate together that don’t exactly match. The peanut butter and chocolate (left side) was a dessert of its own.
petit fours: chocolate
petit fours: macaroons
serving handcut marshmallows. lol.
The meal finished with several petit fours. This, of course, two hours later and who knows how many glasses of wine. Service was good, but not three-michelin star quality, which calls for anticipation of needs before needed and, in general, a flawless performance of busboys and servers working in tandem. Twice, plates were given to the wrong people. Jean-Georges does a much better job refilling your wine glass while you’re not looking. Too many times did I mistakenly think that I hadn’t had any wine yet. Read as much into that as you want.
OK. Was Jean-Georges worth the money spent? Yes. At $29 for two plates ($16 for each additional) and several treats before and after, this is one of NYC’s best lunch deals. That being said, lunch was not a three Michelin star experience and probably because it was lunch. Dinner is where the real forks and knives come out (I hope). But certainly this was a wonderful performance featuring carefully constructed dishes executed on levels with the precision that of a surgeon. This all in a dining room so relaxed and chill, it’s easy to forget that you’re eating in a restaurant, much less one of the top-rated in the New York City.
Upper West Side
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023