Dining out is fun. But dining out with your best girl friends is the best! So once a month, I pick a place, and then we wine, dine, and catch up. This month, we ate at the Four Star Restaurant Jean Georges, on Central Park West in NYC.
Fine dining certainly has its' critics, but I am not one of them. I love the ritual. I love the finery. But most of all, I admire the training and discipline required to make the experience possible.
I therefore feel very fortunate to live in a city where fine dining has survived, and in most cases flourished. An excellent case in point is Jean-George Vongerichten's flag ship restaurant, Jean Georges. This stunning restaurant is located in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and overlooks Columbus Circle.
Like many fine dining restaurants in NYC, Jean Georges is divided into a casual dining space (called Nougatine) and a formal dining room. We ate in the latter, which has various dining options including a 3 course prix fixe menu, a 7 course "Signature" Tasting Menu and a 7 course "Autumn" Tasting Menu. (All three options come with an additional dessert course.)
We had the "Autumn" Tasting menu, which is ostensibly green market driven. Truth be told, this menu does not change much from year to year, nor does it take full advantage of the fall bounty. It does, however, highlight Vongerichten's style of cooking -- well known for its' Asian influences, complex emulsions and delicate broths. Saltiness, sweetness, texture and heat also factor heavily into his style of cooking.
The meal started with a trio of Amuse Bouche, consisting of Snapper Sashimi, Roasted Fig with Mozarella and warm Potatoe Soup with a Truffle Emulsion .
The first course, Egg Toast, is a classic Jean Georges appetizer consisting of toasted brioche, egg yolk, dill and caviar. This dish is simple, rich and luscious. In short, just perfect.
Spicy Tuna Tartar with Black Olives and Cucumber was unfortunately less successful. Both Mia and I both felt that the tuna was over powered by the embellishments and heat. And as a result, the sublime taste of the Blue Fin Tuna was compromised.
Ava does not eat raw fish, so the kitchen sent out Sea Scallops, Carmamelized Cauliflower and Raisin-Caper Emulsion as a substitution. Jean Georges has served this dish for many years, which is a testament to how good it is.
As you can see from the photo above, the scallops were perfectly cooked: caramelized on the outside, moist on the inside. The raisin- caper emulsion was also lovely. Lightly spiced and fruity, it was the perfect foil for the caramelized sugars in the fish and cauliflower.
We were all smitten by the third course, Goat Cheese Royale, Beet Marmalade and Crushed Pistachios. The "Royale" is actually a (savory) goat cheese flan, which is served with a beet marmalade and roasted Sicilian Pistachios. As a whole, the dish is nicely balance and successfully plays with both texture (silky vs crunchy) and contrasting flavors (tangy and sweet). It is also a lovely twist on a very classic combination.
Crispy Skin Black Sea Bass, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Spiced Red Apple Jus was served for the first fish course (forth course). I wanted to love this dish. After all, the sea bass was cooked to perfection: crisp on the outside, moist on the inside. And who doesn't like roasted brussel sprouts? But the spiced red apple jus was an entirely different story. Served with pork, it would have rocked. But in my opinion, the clowy sweetness didn't work with the fish. As a matter of fact, I found myself pushing the ju to the side, so I could enjoy the fish.
The second fish course (fifth course) was Poached Lobster, Saffron Tapioca, and Gewurztraminer Foam. Gewurztraminer is a full bodied white wine, typically from Alsace, which is slightly sweet and very aromatic (i.e with hints of rose petal, fruit and spices). This wine is typically paired with fatty meats and spicy foods, but it's inherent sweetness paired beautifully with the sweet lobster meat. The pearls of tapioca added an interesting texture to the dish, but the saffron was somewhat lost on me. Overall, this was a very subtle dish which allowed the palate rest before the meat course.
The meat course (sixth course) was Minted Rack of Lamb, Autumn Mushrooms, Red Curry Emulsion. I apologize, but I forgot to snap a picture of this course. Full disclosure: I was fighting off a food and wine coma at this point. I was also delightfully distracted by the banter at the table, which went something like this:
Mia: I can't eat another bite.
Ava: I can. Is there any wine left in that bottle? I'll have it.
The lamb was a double cut rib chop, which was traditionally prepared with a herb and bread crumb crust (The kitchen used an herb paste, in lieu of dijon mustard, to adhere the bread crumbs). The meat was served with chanterelle mushrooms and a lovely red curry sauce.
Jean Georges is well know for its' Dessert "Tasting" which consists of 4 individual desserts. Our Autumn Selection included:
Cranberry Parfait, Walnut Nougatine, Soft Vanilla Meringue (to the left)
Sweet Potato Soufflé, Cranberries and Medjol Dates
Wine Braised Pear Tart (to the right)
In addition, there were petite fours (French Lavender Macarons), Chocolates and home-made Marshmallows (cut table-side)
The only dessert that I sampled was the Cranberry Parfait. The parfait was chilled and it was topped with a luscious meringue that had the consistency of Seven Minute Frosting (i.e sweet, billowy goodness). Mia and Ava raved about the soufflé.
And finally, a word about the wine. The restaurant offers a "wine pairing" for an additional $120 pp. We opted out of this, and asked the sommelier for help choosing a white and red wine to go with the meal. He didn't disappoint.
For the white, he recommended Savigny Les Beaune Simon Bize Blanc 1ER CRU Aux Vergelesses (See below for a quick break down of what this all means!).
This wine is made by the Simon Bize Estate in Burgundy, France. Most wines produced in Burgundy are red, so this was a very unique wine. It is 100% Chardonnay and aged in oak. The wine had notes of lemon, with a crisp mineral finish (neither overly sweet nor dry). We were all amazed at how well it went with the first five courses.
For the red, we moved across the Atlantic to Epoch Estate Wines in Templeton, California. This is a small, boutique winery, which produced its' first vintage in 2007 to rave reviews. The vineyard produces mostly Rhone Varietals, such as Syrah and Grenache, but also produces Tempranillo Grapes -- which are rarely grown outside of Spain.
Ava has had this varietal before, but it was my first time. And oh, this wine made me so happy! The wine was ruby red, with a bouquet of cherries, black raspberries and herbs. It is what I consider a "big red" -- deep and expansive with dark berry flavors and an underlying minerality. It had a long, fruit driven finish. It screamed: Bring on the red meat and desserts!
So there you have it. What more can I say? A meal at Jean-Georges comes with a hefty price tag, which precludes going on a regular basis. But this is also what makes the experience all the more meaningful. It is a treat, and one knows it from the moment you set foot in the door. The good company is also priceless.
And yes Ava, we did pay for dinner (wink, wink).
A French wine label has a lot of information on it! Here is a break-down:
Savigny les Beaune = Appellation, or place where the grape is grown. SLB is located to the northwest of the city of Beaune, in the Burgundy Wine Region of France. Burgundy is represented by red on the map (to the left.)
Simon Bize = Domaine, or wine estate (in this case, named for the wine maker)
Blanc = White
1ER CRU = Premium Quality, wines of high quality (12% of the production of Burgundy). This appellation does not produce Grand Cru wines, which are considered to be the finest wines produced in Burgandy (2% of the production)
Aux Vergelesses = Climat, or actual site that is unique because of it geographic characteristics (soil, climate, topography) or Terroir
This is the northern most climat in the commune, which jetties out to the right, like a heel, on the map.
French wine labels do not indicate the grape varietal, which in this case is Chardonnay. (This region grows mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.)
Wine Spectator Tasting Note: This well-defined white offers a lemon candy note, with a whiff of clove and an underlying mineral element. Builds nicely on the palate to a long, mineral- and toast-infused aftertaste. Best from 2012 through 2020. 125 cases made.