Jean Georges (NYC) – Bombastic Fantastic
Memories can often conspire against one’s enjoyment of food. My last Jean Georges meal did not remind me of that glorious dinner six years ago. However, the pricing for lunch 1 is too cheap not to try it again. On its own terms. I changed my approach with this visit. The flavors would not be subtle; instead, they would be bombastic. I would accept that and eat the meal from that perspective. 2
The amuse bouches, Sunchoke & Cranberry, Shitake, and Salmon Belly, laid the blueprint for the meal – sharp tastes with an emphasis on textures.
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Black Bread, Jalapeno, and Yuzu began the meal with a forceful punch. The flavors were intense, seemingly bouncing around without concern for integration, but they melded together with each bite. The yuzu and jalapeno took turns dominating the tastes but both gave way to the urchin’s lasting sea flavor at the end. As jarring as the tastes, the textures of the dish played as prominent of a role – the crisp jalapeno, the transformation of the bread as you chew it, and the pervasive creamy uni. Very Good.
Sea Trout Sashimi Draped in Trout Eggs, Lemon, Dill, and Horseradish continued the full-blown taste and texture themes. The sequence of silky fish, popping fish eggs, and (I believe) crunchy skin lit up your mouth as much as the powerful tastes. And powerful they were. Blindly sticking your fork into the bowl would yield a completely unbalanced proportion of horseradish to lemon. After experimenting and adjusting, a powerful, but balanced, combination emerged where each ingredient managed to complement each other. Very Good.
The Foie Gras Brulee with Sour Cherry-Yuzu Marmalade was absolutely stunning – it will make it into 2008′s list of great dishes. The crust was tough while the cold foie inside was very creamy. The textural sensations were on par with the tastes; again, a wide range – the hard crunch of the shell, the ‘softer’ crunch of the brioche, and the creamy foie inside. The marmalade gave the dish just enough acidity. Excellent.
On paper, the Black Cod Steamed with Honsheimeji Mushrooms and Lemongrass Consomme sounded like it could hit that right note of subtleness with me. However, the dish was a bit bland. The fish was slightly over-cooked, preventing the texture from achieving that wonderful black cod silkiness. The lemon zest in the mushrooms perked up but nothing else popped. The lemongrass consomme lacked much flavor, despite being mixed with tomato water. Ok.
The Crispy Arctic Char, Miso-Potato Puree, and Granny Smith-Jalapeno Juice was a fantastic concept with some execution issues. Texture was front and center – crisped skin, the red chips, the fish, and the puree. The fish was not cooked correctly – the outside was overcooked while the inside was raw. Regardless, the taste sensations reminded one of the earlier dishes – upfront jalapeno and miso that gave way to the fish and apple. Good.
The Tangy Glazed Short Ribs, Crunchy Grits, and Herb Salad, no fault of the restaurant, were too much – I was full. The glaze was quite sweet but the herb salad was powerfully acidic and did a great job balancing out the richness of the ribs. The crunchy grits fulfilled the textural obligations of a Jean Georges dish.
There were a lot of desserts and I didn’t keep notes. However, I thought they were very good overall. They blended effortlessly into the meal – a sweet continuation of the savory courses. There were big tastes – tamarind ice cream and apple/dill sorbet – and textures – jicama noodles. I would probably order one less dish next time so I could enjoy dessert more.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable lunch. This time, I enjoyed the in-your-face flavors, so much that I missed them in the cod dish. For the price, I think every food lover should try Jean Georges for lunch. Jean George’s dining empire spans the globe, and much of his cuisine is ubiquitous, but the flagship restaurant offers a worthwhile experience.
1 – This meal cost $149 with a $70 bottle of wine. That is a remarkable value.
2 – It is also worth nothing that I have the special asterisk next to my name in their computer. That symbol may, or may not, account for the quality of the meal.