I agonized for weeks over where to go for a special birthday dinner for four - Daniel or Jean-Georges - I used to work in a four star restaurant, I cook avidly, and I reserve the four star dinners for very special occassions. When I spend $600 for four people with only a $60 bottle of wine, I expect to be blown away - I expect textures and layers of flavor, I expect to be surprised and mesmerized by the art and creativity and talent of a chef such a revered restaurant. Excited, we picked Jean-George because I was told I'd be blown away by the food. We went with a sous chef from another top NY restaurant (which shouldn't matter, but unfortunately does), who made the reservation.
As it turned out, dinner was hugely disappointing. The best part was the amuse goulle, which was a three part tasting -- corn and lemongrass soup (a 2-sip slurp) which was fantastic; a goat cheese filled crispy wonton in a cider vinegar reduction with concord grapes, and a toast with proscuitto and spicy mache. All were great. Then it went downhill fast.
My next course was one of the signature dishes - sea scallops on caramelized cauliflower in a raisin-caper emulsion. Firstly, all my food was tepid -- not a single hot or fresh tasting dish. This particular dish tasted like it was in a simple honey-mustard dressing, flattened scallops, somewhat rubbery, on discs of more-raw-than-caramelized cauliflower. Just horrible. Nothing special there. Saddened, I ordered a middle course of seared foie gras in sour cherry sauce. Sounds great. Hard to mess up seared foie gras in a tangy sauce. But, alas, there was nothing more to it than stated -- just plain seared foie gras in a sour cherry sauce. Oh well. What was I expecting. I was starting to doubt myself.
Next I had a boneless loin of lamb in a mushroom crust over a leek puree -- sounded great, and visually stunning with the fuscia colored medium rare meat and the bright chartreuse leek puree. But nothing special. No surprises, no layers, no strong flavor. Served lukewarm and boring, I searched for more, but there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. And that's very disapppointing.
So I opted for a cheese course. Our haughty waiter knew only the basics about the cheese cart and when I asked additional questions, his response was "do you want to try it?" I ended up with quiet a selection of cheeses and a bunch of dried fruit. Crappy presentation and very boring. Still nothing.
I assumed it had to be in the dessert. I got a peach cobbler which bored me to tears with its banal, predictable flavor. I couldn't believe it!
To their credit: the lemongrass/corn soup tasting was fantastic, and a sour cream sorbet served with my wretched cobbler was out of this world. The hosts and maitre'd were wonderful and gracious. The sommelier was courteous and knowledgeable and unassuming.
HOWEVER: the waiter was awful, snooty and rude, with a shockingly trendy attitude and a pointy finger. We were going to get the tasting menus but two people in our party were vegetarians and the waiter's offer for the menu adjustment was to serve three fishes a row. No creative vegetarian options, such as those at Lespinasse or Chanterelle. Ridiculous. So we were stuck with the prix fixe. The food was my biggest disappointment. I can stand nasty service if they are at least serving a glimpse of nirvana, a taste of the world to come. But this was more a taste of the netherwold. It was really a shame. And one would think the food could at least be more than lukewarm.
My dinner companions had a crab tasting (four small dishes in one, two of the four were good, the remainder very plain and uninspired), tomato soup, and their signature tuna/yellowfin checkerboard. They also had a broiled squab which was good but again, nothing special, and stripped bass that was served in a broth as simple as any homemade weekday dinner.
All in all, I was so deflated. I was so bored. I left yearning for that high one gets when they leave Nobu or Chanterelle or Lespinnasse. But NOTHING. This restaurant has taken their stature for granted and it is slipping. No matter that we sat next to Howard Stern and his bimbo date at one of the best tables in the restaurant. I'd rather sit in a corner by the kitchen. But I want what I came for -- the kind of food that should bring tears to my eyes, the kind I can't stop exclaiming over and admiring the creative artist who put this in my mouth. I am sorry to report that there is none of that at Jean George.
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