Arriving in from the cold for dinner on Friday night with friends at Jean-Georges, the night began on a warm note with ample staff at the front door to take my coat and quickly find my reservation. So far, so good.
Having arrived early, I elected to sit at the bar. I told the bartender I was dining in the main room and wanted to choose some wine for the evening. After a brief look, I told him I would start sparkling water and then ordered a fairly priced 1998 Clos St. Hune and went back to further peruse the list. When I looked up, I found my wine had been opened and was about to be poured. I quickly stopped the bartender and asked him if was not the custom to show me the bottle first or even ask if I wanted it opened. He assured me that he had just pulled the cork and that he would put the cork back in if I wanted to wait. Hmm. OK, breathe deep and just have him pour the wine.
A few minutes later, my party had arrived and I asked for everyone to be poured a glass of wine. We chatted a bit and then asked to be seated. This seemed to cause commotion behind the bar and about two minutes later, someone came to take our glasses. We were then seated and the waiter produced the sparkling water we had left at the bar, but no sign of our wine. When I asked him where our wine was, he told me he only knew about the water. I assured him we had wine at the bar. He came back, did not apologize and simply refreshed our glasses.
We decided against the tasting menu, as one in our party was highly allergic to anything made with grapes and we knew this would not be fair to the kitchen. When we told the waiter this, he informed us that all dishes would need to be reworked somewhat, but that the kitchen would gladly accommodate us. We all ordered from the a la carte menu and then I again asked for the wine list. After a bit more work, I zeroed in on the Italian section, which was far better priced than the fairly extensive selection of Bordeaux and very young list of Burgundy. I asked the waiter to speak to the sommelier, to which he responded that he could help me. I then asked him about the 85 Barolo from Conterno, to which he answered that he would fetch the sommelier.
After settling on the 85 Conterno, the amuse buche arrived- three morsels on a rectangular plate. A sliver of marinated beet on top of puff pastry was pretty darn good, followed by a rather plain dollop of crab and then the signature soup in a glass. I like JGs mysterious mixtures- mine being a frothy rosemary cream puree of whatever. Quite yummy. The tables reaction was mixed, however.
Being a cheese lover, I ordered the Gruyere flan with sliced pear and truffle oil to start. I could not have been happier upon its arrival- the entire table could smell the dish, which was finished with a heady truffle oil. The composition, however, could use some work. The flan itself was somewhat bland- I guess to be offset by the pear and truffle. In the mix, however, was a very sharp tasting tamarind-like sauce which simply overwhelmed the truffles and did nothing to enhance or work with the pear. It was a fairly silly dish where nothing really worked. My wife had the scallops with cauliflower. Again, a case of a badly thought out dish. The scallops were well prepared and quite edible once the cauliflower covering was dispensed with. The star of the starters was the justly famous young garlic soup with frogs legs. After leaving half my plate of flan, I was given the honor of cleaning my neighbors plate and did so with much gusto. The special no-grape starter of crab was not on the menu and was pronounced excellent- cheers to the kitchen for thinking on their feet.
Well into the Barolo, the main courses arrived and all were stunningly good. I had the duck with honey, which was coated with a nutty nougat-like crust that was slightly sweet but infinitely interesting. The duck leg had been cooked down so it barely kept its shape, but melted away once you placed it on your fork. I was able to steal of taste of my neighbors lamb with leek puree. The lamb was seared on the outside with an exotic mix of spices and matched perfectly with the rest of the plate. Of the two fish dishes, I only tasted my wifes cod, which was crisp on the outside, creamy within and set against a heady acidic broth that brought all the tastes into sharp focus.
We then had the cheese course and asked the waiter to select for us based on a few preferences. He graciously pointed out those cheeses washed in marc for our grape adverse friend. All cheeses where well ripened, but served somewhat austerely with no accompaniments save a single slice of raisin bread. Our sommelier came to the rescue offering a second helping of bread.
The list of dessert wines was rather short, but we managed to find a wine from Hugel that fit the bill. JG likes to serve a number of tastes at one time for dessert (four small servings on one dish), which is fun in some ways, but lacks focus when it comes to remembering what one ate a few days later. All were good, but perhaps not great. Maybe winter reminds me too much of the hot fruit tarts Andre Soltner used to pull out of his oven at Lutece.
One closing observation. We were seated next to the waiters station, of which there were two in the restaurant. This is the first time I had sat in there and it is very distracting to have servers put away silverware, chat about their table, etc. I have no clue why a restaurant that aspires to a certain level would even put a station in the middle of the room. The silver, menus and computer should be moved to a more discreet location.