Last week my wife and I flew from San Francisco, where we're law students, to St. Louis for our wedding, followed by a five night honeymoon in Manhattan. We're definitely foodies, and have probably been spoiled by the Bay Area's range of high end and ethnic dining. I wanted to share our thoughts on a few of the restaurants we experienced in New York -- so those of you planning a similar vacation have one more opinion to go on. I'll begin with our least enjoyable meal, Jean Georges. I'll post later much more favorable reviews of Aureole, Gotham Bar and Grill, Trattoria dell'Arte, and Union Square Cafe as I find time.
Night 1 - Jean Georges, expensive French
We decided to start off the honeymoon with a bang, and by all accounts, celebrity chef and NYTimes 4-star restaurant Jean Georges seemed like just the way to do it. As it turns out, JG was the most disappointing (and expensive) meal of our trip.
MEAL: Jean Georges Tasting Menu
- Amuse bouche of goat cheese stuffed won ton; lemongrass soup with sweet corn; bruschetta with chanterelle mushrooms, pancetta and baby arugula.
- Egg shell with scrambled egg, caviar and vodka cream.
- Seared scallops with carmelized cauliflower and caper raisin sauce.
- Young garlic soup with chive blossoms and sauteed frogs legs.
- Turbot with diced zucchini and tomato.
- Lobster tail.
- Roasted squab with foie gras and glazed fruit.
- Desserts: Strawberry water with coconut tofu and berries; raspberries with twice-baked cookie; flourless chocolate cake filled with fudge; meringe shell filled with pureed passionfruit and passionfruit sauce.
- Bottle of burgundy.
- Glass of merlot.
- The Jean Georges tasting menu was by and large superb, especially the new garlic soup with frog's legs and the lobster tail.
- The sommellier was extrememly helpful in selecting a bottle of burgundy for under $100, and even brought us a complimentary glass of merlot with the squab that he thought was better suited to it.
- The meal lasted from 8 pm to 11:30 pm with excellent pacing; no signs of rushing us through the meal.
- The decor was washed out in pearls and off white and overly formal, nothing of the luxuriousness one would expect for such a meal.
- The china, with its minimalist geometric patterns on white, suggested one was being schooled in food, rather than being asked to enjoy it.
- Except for the sommellier, the staff was cold and distant.
- As I said, the tasting menu was excellent. But it too suffered from a sense of self-importance and reservedness. Luxury ingredients are no substitute for a luxurious sauce -- with the exception of the lobster tail, these were sub par for French sauces -- or imaginative preparation. It all had the air of the movie Babbette's Feast, except without the "oohs" and "ahhs" from the diners.
- Finally, and most annoyingly, we were seated at a table for two less than two inches from another table for two, which was far too close; the proximity was so uncomfortable for us and for the older couple beside us that we felt compelled to make conversation most of the night -- hardly the intimacy one would have liked for us, on our honeymoon, or this couple, celebrating a birthday.
For a French meal that celebrates food and allows its guests to celebrate each other, I recommend Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. It's a far more opulent space, one in which you won't resent being forced to wear a jacket and tie, and where each course is to die for.