Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guess Where I Just Ate?

Excuse the glare, but I think you can probably still read it OK: that's right, it's Jean-Georges, the flagshiprestaurant of the famed chef-restauranteur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, located in the very ritzy Trump Hotel near Columbus Circle in NYC. This orgy of three-star dinner photography brought to you courtesy of Mom and Dad, in honor of this lovely lady:

 That’s my sister, who graduated from Binghamton University this past May. In my family, graduation from college (or any other major occasion, really, we don’t need too much of an excuse) calls for a Michelin-starred dinner.

So we drove into New York City to meet my sister (who was coming down on one of her rare days off from her job at Binghamton’s zoo – because she's a zookeeper. Yeah, how cool is that?). Our reservation was early and we were seated promptly at 5:30, so the room was still full of light.

A beautiful dining room, very formal but not stuffy at all. We decided to get the tasting menu (the whole table has to choose either the tasting or the three-course prix fixe); Steph and my parents went for the seasonal summer menu, while I chose the Jean-Georges menu of signature dishes (call me a rebel). For the sake of brevity I will focus on my menu only (also because I didn’t want to ruin my meal and call attention to myself trying to get shots of the entire table’s food. I already felt like an idiot taking pictures of all my courses, though the waitstaff didn't bat an eyelash; they probably get that a lot now that everyone and his mother has a food blog... I'm so late to this game, argh!).

Things got off to a good start with an amuse-bouche, which was the same for everyone:

 That’s a shot of miso soup with popcorn (genius combination, though a bit hard to get down with dignity as we were not provided with spoons – I ended up fishing the popcorn out with my fork and drinking the soup); a slice of house-made dill pickle; and hiding behind the soup, a square of watermelon with Roquefort cream. That last bite was my favorite – I had heard of watermelon and feta being a good combo, but the blue cheese was genius. My mom and I even went out the next day and bought a wedge of watermelon and some Roquefort cheese to make a Jean-Georges inspired salad later this week.

My first course was called Egg Caviar, a really famous dish some iteration of which is on every menu (my fam got a similar type dish on their tasting as well):

Softly scrambled egg topped with whipped cream and caviar, set in an egg shell. I expected not to liek this very much since I'm not much of an egg person and have heard icky things about caviar (had never had it before this dinner), but it was awesome. Like eating a cloud. A salty, creamy, eggy cloud - doesn't sound too appealing but it was good, trust me.

Next came another very famous Jean-Georges dish: scallops with caramelized cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion. 

Scallops are probably my favorite seafood, and these were of course cooked to perfection; that sauce is what really took it over the top, though, with its intriguing mix of sweet and sour.

Third course: young garlic soup with fried frog’s legs. 

Creamy yet still light, and the waiter encouraged me to use my hands to nibble at the frog legs, so that was fun! I’ve only had frog’s legs once before, at a Chinese restaurant in Paris (go figure), also fried; I think it’s safe to say these were better. And so cute! Never thought I'd say that about frog parts...

After the soup course I was brought a little dish of warm water with rose petals to wash my hands of froggy juices. No alcohol wipes here!

 With my hands now clean and rose-scented, I was ready for the next course:

That's butter-poached turbot topped with cubed tomatoes and zucchini, with Chateau Chalon sauce poured tableside. I had no idea what this sauce was and had to look it up at home: turns out it's a very old and unique wine from the Jura region of France, called Vin Jaune or "yellow wine," which I guess explains that impressive color (though there must be something else contributing to that; maybe saffron?). To me it mostly tasted like butter, in the best way possible of course, with a bit of tang from the wine. Very rich; good thing it was a small portion.

Next came what is described on the menu as lobster tartine:

A "tartine" is traditionally a French open-faced sandwich, but this seemed more like a crostini to me, with the giant piece of lobster balanced on a little sourdough toast, topped with pea shoots, surrounded by a lemongrass and fenugreek broth and little tiny peas in their pods. Again, sauce poured tableside, and again, a lovely color. I have no idea what made it so pink, but I had to restrain myself from picking up the bowl and drinking it. I love lobster and hardly ever get to eat it, especially not a nice hunk like that.

Last course before dessert (yes, this is a lot of food; it was almost dark outside by this point): 

Broiled squab with a curry sauce. Squab being just a fancy word for pigeon, I expected something similar to chicken, but it was surprisingly gamy and "red meat-like."I smelled that sauce before they even set the dish down in front of me and was immediately transported back to the Netherlands, where curry sauce is a popular condiment for French fries. I loved that stuff, and it made me so happy to see it again here, albeit in a Frenchified, fine-dining format. The squab sat on an onion compote (you can just see it peeking around the squab) together with a slice of preserved lemon – I was a bit hesitant biting into the lemon but it was soft and only slightly sour, not astringent at all. Off to the side is a corn pancake, so soft it was like eating custard in pancake form, topped with a bit of foie gras. I’ve had foie in pate form before, but never a chunk like this – pretty good, I have to say, though I’m still iffy on the ethics of the whole force-feeding geese thing. Not like I eat it everyday though, so might as well indulge once in a while!

Last but certainly not least, dessert! This is probably the course I was most excited for outside of the scallops, because as anyone who knows me will tell you, I have an ENORMOUS sweet tooth. My menu came with the chocolate tasting, four different little chocolate desserts:

Starting from bottom right, that's the famous Jean-Georges molten chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and little brownie crumbles. Next to that is a very strange concoction consisting of some sort of cake-like substance (I think the waiter said it was white chocolate flavored) sitting on some kind of citrus curd. Those pink things were cold and creamy and I honestly have no clue what they were. Above that was my favorite of the desserts - caramelized bananas on a chocolate biscuit, with peanut butter ganache and a band of some kind of white, jellied substance that I assume was vanilla bean-flavored because it had little black specks in it. Oh my god, the bananas and ganache together...I would've have taken a whole dessert just of that! (Well, that cake was pretty amazing, too...) Finally, there's a little dish of spiced chocolate sorbet, which tasted like just pure, ice cold chocolate, none of the graininess or wateriness you sometimes get with sorbet. Mmmmmmm! 

My mom, who had the summer fruit dessert tasting, agreed to switch plates with me halfway through so I could try her desserts too. Forgot to get a picture (too busy shoveling the food in my mouth as fast as I could), but I especially remember the plum sorbet on top of sake gelee, which was probably the best sorbet I've ever tasted. The food was beautiful too, of course, with impeccably fresh fruit. I was pretty full by this point but I made myself finish every last bite.

But wait, there's more! After dessert and coffee came plates of petits fours for the table: 

The (slightly blurry) square things in the front are sugar-coated jellies, lychee on the left, apricot on the right. These were amazing; I ate my dad's share. Behind those you can see lavender macaroons - these were interesting, because though the texture was absolutely perfect, the flavor wasn't spectacular. They weren't too "flowery" tasting which was good cause then they would've tasted like soap, but this also meant that they didn't have much of any flavor at all. Oh well, I still ate mine! Behind the centerpiece you can just barely see the plate of assorted chocolates - chocolate-covered orange peel (which went to my dad; it's his favorite candy) along with variously flavored chocolates. I remember peanut butter and jelly (awesome), marzipan & espresso ganache (also awesome), vanilla bean, some sort of liquor-flavored ganache (maybe rum?), earl grey truffle, and I think chili. Finally, not pictured, our server opened a giant jar of homemade vanilla bean marshmallows and snipped off four big chunks with a pair of scissors. They were nothing like store-bought marshmallows in texture - so soft and pillowy they practically melted in your mouth. I wanted to make a bed out of them.

When the waiter brought the check, he presented my mom, my sister and I each with a little gift bag, containing a box of two chocolates to enjoy at home. How sweet is that (literally!)? None for my dad, unfortunately, though with his blood sugar he wouldn't have eaten them anyway. Still, do the men of the party never get chocolates? Seems kind of unfair if you ask me. Oh well, at least I got some!

So that about wraps up our dinner at Jean-Georges. We left the restaurant just in time to get caught in a torrential summer downpour, with lightening, howling winds, the works. At least we didn't have far to go to get the car, and the evening was definitely worth getting wet for. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a fabulous dinner!

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