Saturday, December 10, 2016

Jean-Georges

Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a juggernaut of French Cuisine. His flagship and masterpiece, Jean-Georges, has earned both four starts from the New York Times, and the ever-coveted Three Michelin Stars (which the restaurant has managed to grip on to for over a decade). They also have a James Beard award for their incredible wine service. The accolades flow on and on.

These kinds of things tend to make the check at the end of the meal a bit hard to swallow. Restaurants like this are a big financial commitment. A few weeks after I ate at Jean-Georges, billionaire and newly appointed President-Elect Donald Trump and potential Secretary of State Mitt Romney dined in the same room. It must be nice to have a world-class restaurant in your basement.

Jean-Georges is an exceptional dining experience, from the second you walk in, until long after you’ve rejoined the streets of Manhattan. As expensive as it may be, the overall experience of perfection and precision is humbling and motivating. My interest in dining at restaurants like this lies in line with my passion for human excellence. I absolutely love to see what motivated people can achieve when they are provided with the very best on every level. Jean-Georges meets and exceeds all expectations and shows the extraordinary level of human possibility in the culinary world.

Now to seemingly contradict myself. The service, the d├ęcor, the wine, all top notch. But to be totally honest, I was not blown away by the food. When I think over the best dishes of my life, 42 Grams, Blue Hill, Le Bernardin, Eric Fulkerson’s Chef’s Table Experience, Canlis, little plastic stools on busy street corners in Vietnam serving piping hot bowls of Pho, fresh tagine’s whisking quickly from busy kitchens in Morocco, Argentinean steaks… well, a lot of food comes to mind before Jean-Georges. But this is not to say that there isn’t anything of value here. The dishes ARE delicious, subtle and exquisite. The meal began with a Butter Poached Hakurei Turnip with Golden Ostera Caviar and Chives. It was a beautiful and delicious dish. Simple and focused. The Hamachi Sashimi with Sherry Vinaigrette and Toasted Pecans followed and was the best thing on the menu. It was exquisite. The Ten Mushroom Tea with Parmesan, Chili, and Thyme was served with a Vintage 1985 Coteaux De Layon, Moulin Touchais, Loire, from France. It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful and flavorful wine that I have ever experienced. Tasting it was one of the most special and humbling experiences of my life.  Black Sea Bass with Purple Potato Butter and Charred Poblano Peppers, Maine Lobster, Spice Crusted Venison, all of the dishes were beautifully plated and truly very good.


Then they brought the cheese cart. They tricked me into it. I was not going to do it. I had already spent enough money. But then I saw it… and it was impossible to say no. Beautiful, delicious, stinky, creamy, gooey, exquisite cheese. If they would let me, I would go back just for the cheese cart. I wish I had written down the names of what I ordered. I have never had better cheese anywhere ever.


One of the real treats came at the end of the meal. In my reservation, I asked for a quick tour of the kitchen.  I had no expectation of them fulfilling my request. It was not mentioned once during my meal and I figured that it was a hopeless loss. After I paid my tab (and cried a bit to myself), the front of house manager came over and asked if I was still interested in seeing the kitchen. Absolutely. It was a real treat to see the engine room of one of the most respected restaurants in the world. The kitchen was exquisitely clean and ran with insane precision and skill. It was massive and beautiful. The kitchen is busy 24 hours a day preparing for service. There is an entire butcher shop, a pastry kitchen, a refrigerated chocolate kitchen, a prep kitchen, several walk in fridges, a line, and on and on. (I’m pretty sure there isn’t a freezer, but the wine had started to take hold by this point) I was given a thorough tour and it was an incredible experience.


Do I recommend Jean-Georges? Absolutely. It is a special and wonderful experience. If you have the expendable income, it’s worth it. But I just as strongly recommend that you get on an airplane and try to find that same little plastic stool on that same little street corner in Vietnam.