NYC – Monday – Jean-Georges
Waking up on Monday, we decided to keep breakfast light with fruit and coffee. After a few slices of mango and strawberries, we started to get ready and pack up our suitcase. We lazed around a lot on Monday morning, something that’s a luxury for us during the week so it was really nice compared to the usual “get up and go!” routine. After getting nicely dressed again, we made our way in a cab to Jean-Georges in Columbus Circle. We had heard rave reviews about both Jean-Georges and Eleven Madison Park and had decided that we needed to go to both and compare. Deciding that EMP was more aligned with our interests, we saved Jean-Georges for lunch. Realizing they weren’t open for lunch on Sunday, we had to get new departure tickets and stay at our hotel for an extra night just to take advantage of the $28 prix fixe lunch menu.
We were seated at a table at the back of the dining room. Again we were side by side and facing the whole room, which we loved. The space was very bright but also very stark—there was just one lone lighting structure on the ceiling and some tiny flower arrangements on the tables. After placing our orders and refusing wine (I don’t like to be tired after lunch), we were treated to a trio of amuse-bouche. The crab fritter was the standout offering of the bunch, with it’s flaky crab meat and sprinkling of spices. The dehydrated pineapple on mozzarella was nothing exciting even though the mozzarella was good. I’m not sure what would make anyone pair mozzarella and pineapple but it just didn’t work as well as some layered cured meat or even roasted vegetable would have. The herbed broth wasn’t hot enough for me and tasted suspiciously like dishwater by the time I got to the bottom of the glass. I should have stopped after the first sip which was the best of the three I took.
For my first course, I choose the foie gras brulee on brioche with pineapple-Meyer lemon jam. The foie was FANTASTIC; however, I would have liked to have the brioche on the side as opposed to under the foie because it made it harder to eat. That’s just a small complaint, though. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about the foie because it truly was delicious. Buttery yet firm, cool but not cold, crispy but not burned, it was perfect for me. I had been worried that, as a result of being bruleed, it would be too sweet or taste like flammable fruid but was very pleased to learn it did not. The boy seemed to really dig it as well but we both agreed that the jam didn’t do much for it. The jam was good on it’s own but the flavor was completely lost when paired with the foie. I think a savory jam, instead of sweet, would have paired better with the rich-tasting foie. The boy was presented with a dish of goat cheese gnocchi with caramelized baby artichokes and parsley. I was a little surprised when it was set on the table because I felt that we had been lied to. Where was the gnocchi? These were balls of goat cheese sitting in a little pool of plain olive oil. I was so confused. They were good, don’t get me wrong, but… really? I was expecting gnocchi that tasted of goat cheese. If I take chocolate and make it into the shape of ice cream, I cannot call that chocolate ice cream just because I feel it resembles it. Or can I? I guess if you’re Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, you can. The artichokes and parsley were a little lost in the big bowl but they were good after I took the time to dig some out. I don’t want to say this dish was bad, because it was not, it was just misleading. Had we known it was just lumps of cheese, we may have ordered something else.
The boy was happy to see sweetbreads on the lunch menu and, after such success at EMP, he wanted to give the sweetbreads at Jean-Georges a chance. They were nicely pan fried and contained the perfect mixture of creaminess and fattiness. I didn’t taste the orange sauce with it (mild allergy, not worth it) but the boy said it was a very bright flavor. The pickled asparagus that came with them was especially interesting. I truly am a big asparagus fan and seeing it all over menus in the spring tickles me pink. All things considered, the sweetbreads were excellent. My dish, however, sucked. I’ve tried to come up with some positive words for the halibut dish I was served that was swimming in almond milk but there are just none. I don’t even think a fan of almonds would like this dish unless they like to drink sugared almond extract. The flavors of the chili oil, peas, ramps and halibut were all completely lost. I had been especially excited about the ramps and the chili oil, a combination I’ve never had. I’ll still never know if they worked together. Very rare for me, I actually said something to our server about how let down I was with the halibut dish. I love halibut and I’ve had it more times than I would ever care to count. It wasn’t just a case of being unfamiliar with the fish–this fish was ruined. I would not recommend this dish to anyone.
In an effort to make up for the halibut fiasco, the kitchen sent out a complimentary dessert of raspberry macaron with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh berries. It was good and it was very nice of them. How were they to know I don’t like raspberries? :) I ate a few spoons of the ice cream portion and, of course, all of the blueberries. (Sidenote: Why won’t someone make blueberry macarons? I should write to Chef Humm and suggest that he make them for EMP but mail me some in advance to taste test…) The boy said the macaron base was very good but I had already moved on to our other dessert.
The rhubarb offering was 1/2 great, 1/2 just okay. The rhubarb and birch beer float was fantastic and I was happy to get a little spoon with it so that the boy and I could both get a bit of the ice cream in the small cup. The green tea cake, however, was a little dry and had nothing that really gave any creaminess to it. The rhubarb alongside it was delicious but nothing to write home about. The petit fours chocolates stole the show from the meticulously plated rhubarb dessert even though they seemed like more of an afterthought. We couldn’t help but ask for an extra PB&J chocolate for each of us after fighting over how we would split that one. I was surprised that the boy liked it as much as he did since he is not a fan of chocolate! It was sweet, broke apart nicely and had a salty aftertaste due to some large crystals on the outside of the hardened dark chocolate. I wish I could buy them in a store somehwere!
Just like at EMP, we were offered macarons. Unlike EMP, the macarons were different sizes, mismatched and flavorless. Perhaps I’m spoiled after eating macarons at Pierre Hermé. Perhaps my taste buds were already killed from the coffee we were sipping on. Perhaps I was just in a bad mood. I’m convinced, though, that two of them tasted like cardboard and the PB&J was just passable. The homemade marshamallows, however, were great. I was really excited to have these fresh, fluffy pillows of sugary goodness plated in front of my eyes. Cut from long strips in a jar, we were treated to vanilla, rose water and ginger. The rose water truly tasted of rose water while the ginger was the best. I could have done without the vanilla but it was nice to make the progression from vanilla (plain) to ginger (unique). In hindsight, I regret not asking for more of the rose water and ginger marshmallows to take home as I sat at the table and dreamed up some upscale s’mores I would make with them.
All things considered, we left happy but the meal definitely had some low points. I expected more from “one of the most celebrated chefs on the planet.” I do have to say that I’m not sure I understand the three Michelin stars awarded to Jean-Georges after our experience there. There were some hits but it really seems like there were more misses. I really doubt that we will return to JG on our next trip to NYC.