Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dinner at Jean Georges (food)

I've never been to any of Jean Georges' restaurants, so I decided this past Wednesday that it would be a good time to break out my newly bought suit (JG requires jackets for men) and give it a try. From what I've read, his food is supposed to be "vibrant and spare". When I think of vibrant flavors, my mind jumps to any of the more authentic Latin American places in Queens and Brooklyn.

So it was a Wednesday night, and I got a seat right next to the door adjoining the less formal Nougatine. The color scheme and lighting were simple and nice, but the chatter from the room next to us easily pervaded into the main dining room. The room was never more than half full during my entire time there, from about 7:30-9:30. I don't know if this is a result of the worsening economy, but the server did say that they were very busy during restaurant week. During my dinner I also noticed that there were two other lone diners, both men.

Now onto the food. JG offers a 3-course prix fixe for $98, and two 7-course tasting menus for $148 each. There is a tasting of signature dishes as well as a seasonal tasting menu. I'm a big fan of signature dishes. I believe a restaurant that does a few dishes very well is still a better restaurant than some place that caters to big groups and does everything decently but not spectacularly. Therefore I went with the signature tasting. I did not take any pictures, but if you work some google magic, you should be able to find at least one blog with pictures (and review) of the whole menu.

Amuse

Salmon sashimi with kumquat sauce, chili flavored shrimp spring roll with lettuce wrap, and meyer lemon chicken soup. The soup had a strong flavor that seemed like lemongrass, and there was nothing particularly special about either of these.

Egg Caviar

The presentation was nice with a hollowed out egg shell topped with creme fraiche and caviar and filled on the inside with scrambled eggs with vodka and cayenne. The cayenne caused a burning sensation that I wasn't thrilled with in terms of how delicate everything else was. The egg was held in place by some salt. While I was fishing for some of the caviar that fell down the side of the egg, i got some of the salt on my spoon and it made the dish much better. I wouldn't say the eggs weren't seasoned, but the extra salt really perked it up. Perhaps this was because the caviar was less salty than I would have imagined.

Sea Scallops, Caramelized Cauliflower, Caper-Raisin Emulsion

The cauliflower on the scallop provided a really nice balance in texture. I was served two half pieces of scallop, and while it was cooked pretty well, I wouldn't call it a perfectly cooked scallop, which is what I've had the last two times I've had scallops at expensive restaurants. In all, I still think of the dish as being perfectly put together.

Young Garlic Soup with Thyme, Sauteed Frog Legs

I've had some really great soups whenever I've had it in these top tier restaurants. I still remember the asparagus soup from L'Atelier in Las Vegas. While not everyone would consider this the tastiest of soups, I thought it was a masterpiece in terms of showing off the chef's skills. Most soups are made with ingredients where the stronger and richer the flavor, the better. Garlic is not such an ingredient. No matter how many times Emeril and Rachel Ray make it look like the more garlic the better, there really is a point where there's too much of it. However, this was the perfect garlic soup. You get the flavor, but not too much of it. The frog legs were a nice touch and dunking the lightly fried pieces into the soup made for a pleasant experience. However, as a kid who grew up on Mom's frog leg congee, there wasn't enough of them. They also provided hot rose water for cleaning your hand after the soup, which was a nice touch.

Turbot with Chateau Chalon sauce

I love the flesh of turbot but there's not a lot of flavor to really work with. There were small dices of tomato and zucchini which provided nice texture. The chateau chalon sauce tasted like chinese wine to me for some reason. Again, I thought the dish was put together nicely and this was a really good example of JG's use of vibrant colors and flavors as opposed to a more old-school French dish.

Lobster Tartine, Lemongrass and Fenugreek Broth, Pea Shoots

I don't know what a tartine is. I thought there would be some pastry involved, but it just turned out to be lobster meat on top of a small toast chip. The lemongrass and fenugreek broth was very nice and definitely was a great match for lobster, especially when eschewing the usual butter or cream. The lobster was similar to the scallop in that I would call it very well cooked, but not perfectly cooked.

Pan Roasted Sweetbreads, Glazed Chestnuts and Black Truffle Vinaigrette (Supplement)

I know for a fact that I'm at least the third blog with a JG tasting review that supplemented this dish. The price was definitely right ($25 for the supplement) and I enjoyed it. The textures and flavors were nice and no single component was overpowering at any point. This was the first dish that really made me think French food.

Broiled Squab, Onion Compote, Corn Pancake with Foie Gras

One of the good things about the wine selection here at JG is that they offer 3oz tasting portions in addition to normal 6oz glass portions. So I had a tasting portion of the pinot noir which went pretty well with this dish. The onion compote was really nice with the squab, and the squab itself was juicy and tasty. However, all this did was make me miss eating lots of cheaper, tastier squab in Hong Kong. Whoever first matched corn and foie gras was a genius. This is a good pairing and provided a similar taste to the foie and corn grits that I had at Cafe Gray when Kunz was still the named chef there.

Dessert

For dessert, there are four choices for the main theme. Chocolate, caramel, apple, and seasonal. With each selection, there are four small dessert components. I chose chocolate, which included JG's signature molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, aerated chocolate sponge, chocolate gnocchi, and their version of a chocolate egg cream. None of these really wowed me and while I appreciated the progression of textures and concentrations, I just wasn't that into it.

After dessert was a large selection of petit fours, which included 3 flavors of macarons, 3 flavors of housemade marshmallows, 6 chocolates, and 2 flavors of gelees. I felt about them the same way I felt about the dessert. Perhaps I was just full.

Overall the service was nice and the pacing was fabulous. There was little waiting in between courses. I thought their crumb brush was pretty cool, a metal box that had a rolling brush underneath, and much better than the scrapers you see used at many places. The staff was friendly and had none of that "French" air about them as I felt at Le Bernardin. The food was pretty good overall. I felt that the menu was put together very well and executed brilliantly, but that the food itself lacked a little of the soul and comfort of classic French food that I would have preferred.

1 comment :

catherine said...

Squab in HK! Just a mention of it makes me homesick. I take one on the plane and eat it before I get to customs in the U.S., same with goose. haha.