Jean-Georges Vongerichten was the subject of a recent Fortune magazine article, prompted by the writer’s apparent fascination at his attempt to “create an haute cuisine chain with the reach of McDonald’s”.
All of this assumes the traditional model, of the master chef plying his trade in one kitchen only, and discounts the possibility that his acquired knowledge can be systemised. Indeed, on the day we had lunch at Jean-Georges, the man himself was hovering around the dining room in pristine chef’s whites, complete with apron, as if he had nothing to do. If, in fact, he has achieved his objective, he would only get in the way in the kitchen. Hence, seeing Jean Georges to all intents and purposes twiddling his thumbs in his own restaurant would indicate that he has been successful in this aim.
Jean-Georges (the restaurant) occupies a prime south-facing location on the ground floor of the Trump International Hotel on the south-west corner of Central Park. The combination of floor to ceiling windows on three sides of the dining area and a tiny hedged garden area outside creates the feel of a sun room; a very different kind of sun room, but one nonetheless.
All the tables around the perimeter of the room have banquettes on the outer side of the table. The inside tables have a curved banquette on at least one side, which contributes to the feeling of comfort.
Leg two – lunch at Jean-Georges – of our New York eating took place against the backdrop of me being inexplicably hungover after dinner at Daniel the night before. In an attempt to banish the babalaas I’d even had a mid-morning egg and bacon breakfast at Carnegie Deli, which was a risky amount of food to eat so close to a 1.30pm lunch booking.
Jean-Georges has a great deal going for lunch. $29 buys two courses, with $14.50 for each additional course (a couple of them have $8 supplements), which is astounding value for money.
I thought that four courses would be enough food for me, of which three courses comprising various raw fish were selected on the basis of their suitability for my weakened constitution. Andrea went for three courses, and we ordered a bottle of Condrieu from Yves Cuilleron, one of my favourites.
How was it? Put it this way, three Michelin stars don’t come in a lucky packet. It was an exceptional meal. My only criticism relates to the level of acidity in some of the dressings and foams, which for my taste was too sharp.
My pick of the raw fish dishes was the “Yellowfin tuna ribbons, avocado, spicy radish, ginger marinade”. The strength of the marinade was perfectly balanced to the flavour of the fish and the avo, which has always been one of my favourite combinations. My sole cooked course was halibut with a foam of chilli and garlic, which was delicious.
Andrea’s three courses were similarly successful. Cauliflower made a surprisingly good complement for scallops. Gulf shrimps wrapped in smoked bacon are not a new concept, but the execution was perfect. They were accompanied by a spicy papaya salsa, mustard and avo.
This dish gave us cause to consider the value being offered. A Cape Town restaurant, Fork, offers a similar dish, although with fewer bells and whistles, based upon farmed Asian prawns, at a cost of R45 (let’s call that $6). Here we were, occupying prime real estate, eating the super-amazing food of the one of the world’s top chefs, and yet the cost was only greater by a factor of a little over double.
We succumbed to sharing a dessert and then couldn’t resist a piece of fluffy marshmallow that is produced from a large glass jar atop a trolley wheeled around the restaurant. The long pieces of marshmallow are lifted out of the jar using silver tongs and then cut using stylish-looking scissors. Great theatrics!
Service throughout was efficient, as well as being warm, friendly and even a little chatty when I mentioned the suitability of the Condrieu for the tuna and avo dish.
I would put a lunch time visit to Jean-Georges atop any New York to-do list. Anyone who can afford to get to New York can afford his lunch time special offer. Not only is it phenomenal value, but it one of the best meals to be had anywhere.
Finally, with Jean-Georges Vongerichten hanging around front of house, it was clear that he himself had not laid a finger on our plates. I have no doubt that the meal would have been similarly excellent had he been on-site at one of his other establishments. That being the case, he seems to be well on his way to a mass roll-out of haute cuisine.
I can’t wait.