The scene: my birthday
The restaurant: Jean Georges
The dilemma: wanting to try both tasting menus
What to do? What to do? There was only one possible course of action, when faced by a dilemma. I ordered one and my fiance, the other. Which one is better, is a question often asked upon this board and I set my mind to find out the answer. Course by course, in a head to head competition.
First up: my French roll was exquisite. Perfectly room temperature butter. Tiny dish of flaky sea salt, with tiny spoon. Wonderful. Excellent crumb, good crust.
- Salmon with cilantro and pineapple was sweet, citrus-y, refreshing. Vietnamese in influence it seemed. Delicious.
- Warm cauliflower puree was silky smooth and creamy. A hint of cumin and other spices. Gentle and soothing. Perfect for cold weather. I know it's a bit of a tired old trick to do a shooter of soup as an amuse but this was wonderful.
- Dehydrated clementine was a bit odd. I can leave a tangerine sit out on the table too long at home, too, you know?
And now, dish by dish, the Jean-Georges tasting versus the Autumn Tasting.
Round 1: two egg dishes.
Egg Caviar: The lightly scrambled eggs seemed more soupy than anything to me. I had trouble eating this dish. The egg with the top cut off is extremely clever but given the mound of caviar on top, I had trouble composing each individual bite of caviar, cream, and egg. Tasty but flawed, I think.
Egg toast with dill and caviar: Great toasted brioche. Thick, gooey, cheesy egg yolk. Like the world's best grilled cheese sandwich in miniature. With a hit of dill. And a small mountain of caviar on top, the tiny eggs popping in your mouth against the thick egg yolk and crunchy toast. Thumbs up. Wonderful. One of the standouts of the meal.
Winner: Autumn menu.
Scallops with charred cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion: This dish didn't leave much of an impression on me. And I love scallops in all forms: cooked, sushi, raw, grilled, I always go for scallops. But these scallops seemed a bit meager in portion size, especially comparison with the caper-raisin emulsion and charred cauliflower (which didn't make me sing nor snore). I would not have put these flavors together, and while the overall effect was pleasing, I was not stunned or blown away.
Kanpachi sashimi, sherry vinaigrette, and toasted pecans: Fabulous blend of sweet, fresh fish, a contrasting sauce on top, and sprinkling of toasted pecans and spices. Nicely balanced. The toasted nuts were ground so finely to appear almost like bread crumbs. I found myself wanting to continue eating the crumbs even after the fish was gone.
Winner: Autumn menu.
Young garlic soup with thyme and fried frog legs: I wonderful what JGV's kids eat when they're sick. I like to imagine they curl up in bed with a big mug of this fragrant, creamy, wonderful soup. Comfort food with a gourmet execution. As a garlic lover, I especially appreciated the subtlety of the young garlic and how the flavors permeated without being too stark or sharp. And the frog legs were good, although a bit awkward to eat, but the meat was wonderfully flavored, well cooked, and tender. I'm a dark meat fan, and I love eating really moist chicken and duck legs, so that probably helped my opinion of the dish.
Nishiki risotto with porcini marmelade and five herbs: creamy, delicious, but a bit on the heavy side. The texture of the risotto was nicely al dente which I appreciated (although personally I sometimes want mine a little more cooked-through). This was good but you could probably get a nearly as good risotto elsewhere in the city.
Winner: JG menu.
Turbot With Château Chalon Sauce: What struck me at first was the gorgeous presentation of this dish. The turbot was moist, well seasoned, and well cooked. The chateau chalon sauce was dreamy. And I'm always in awe of the poor prep cooks who have to chop tomato and zucchini into tiny, perfect cubes. Very well done. Even my fiance, who is usually not a fan of white fish, agreed.
Crispy black bass, roasted brussels sprouts, spiced apple jus: The crispness of the fish was amazing, and the flesh of the bass was wonderfully supple. The roasted brussels sprouts added a bit of bitterness for contrast (maybe just a little too much to my palate), but the spiced apple jus was spot on and extremely satisfying. I have to say that this dish is up there with any of the dishes I enjoyed at Le Bernardin during my tasting menu a few months ago.
Winner: Autumn menu, by a nose.
Lobster tartine, lemongrass and fenugreek broth, pea shoots: a quite generous helping of sweet lobster. Perfectly cooked. Seasoned just right, with a wonderful broth I wanted to sop up with my roll. The pea shoots seemed a bit unnecessary to me, but I suppose some greenery is required with my giant chunks of tender lobster. And there was this beautiful piece of toast hidden under the lobster, soaking up all the delicious broth, but still retaining its crunch. Just biting into the piece of toast was one of the highlights of the meal. Remarkable.
Maine lobster, gnocchi, smoked butter and pickled chilies: the smoked butter contrasting with the pickled chilies was the most interesting part of this dish. It was rather rich, and I wasn't sure my stomach could handle it, but I couldn't stop eating the lobster. The gnocchi was fine (not as great as, say, Hearth's rendition) but not memorable. But who can go wrong with sweet Maine lobster and smoked butter? This was a dish to swoon over. Our server said the dish was a newer preparation, and I hope it is here to stay.
Winner: Tie (Truly a first world problem to be unable to decide which lobster dish you enjoyed more.)
Broiled squab, Onion compote, Corn Pancake With Foie Gras: the sauteed foie gras was lovely, with just the right texture and went very well with the corn pancake. The squab was beautiful to look at and the skin had excellent flavor. However, the squab flesh was just a tiny bit overcooked and consequently a little on the tough side. Not any reason to send it back, but with a meal as great as this, even the smallest mis-steps stick out like a sore thumb.
Roasted Venison, Quince-Madeira Condiment, Broccoli Raab, and Cabrales Foam: Venison was cooked medium rare and was nice and rosy in the center. The flavor of the protein really shone though, but I found the quince-madeira a bit overwhelming. Strangely, I thought it tasted a bit like cranberry sauce, almost like Thanksgiving Part II, and this did turn me off a bit.
Winner: Draw. Neither dish really stood out but at this point in the evening, I could see that palate fatigue was beginning to get to me.
Desserts: I was waffling between the chocolate and the caramel, but decided to stray from my usual inclinations, and ordered the caramel. My fiance the Autumn. (Do you see a trend?)
Caramel overall was OK. The oddest part about the dessert was how "un-sweet" things felt. Perhaps my palate had been blown out already?
- Vanilla soda, liquid caramel sphere was very strong. More like a palate cleanser, I suppose. It tasted like vanilla extract smells and I didn't find the liquid sphere that popped in my mouth to be all that delicious (and I usually love that sort of thing). Odd. Not actually sweet.
- Chocolate pop, coffee-cardamom ice cream was adorable and very playful. Good.
- Caramel curd, dehydrated sponge, roasted pineapple sorbet: one of those "a bunch of stuff on the plate" that tastes good only when you get the "right" components together. The caramel + pineapple match-up was inspiring but the caramel "ribbon" didn't seem sweet at all. It seemed flawed from the start.
- Warm caramel tart, crispy olive-hazelnut praline, caramelized bacon: wonderful, I couldn't taste too much of the bacon, but the caramel matched so well with the praline.
I can't remember too much of my fiance's Autumn dessert except that the red wine and poached pear tartlet was excellent and well balanced, he had some sort of donut like item with dipping sauce which was tasty, and he also had a wonderful Concord grape sno-cone, which was great and I loved the concept. His dessert plate didn't seem to skimp on the sugar like mine did but I only got to try a little of his items. The problem with all these desserts is that it's so hard to share! (Though I suppose if we have figured out that the Autumn tasting is the better of the two, perhaps the Autumn dessert is the best of the four?)
And we asked for some of the molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream in addition. I'm a chocolate fan, the cake is to die for, and I love that the accompanying vanilla ice cream is not too sweet. It plays nicely with the oozing center of the cake. Another highlight for this chocoholic.
Winner: The chocolate cake, of course!
Petit fours: The jellies were fine (raspberry and pear, if I recall correctly). The only chocolate truffle that really stood out was a peanut butter and jelly one, where the insides contained a thick layer of jelly with a thick layer of peanut butter. But the component that really tied it all together was a thick sprinkling of salt on the top. Excellent! The macarons were good and sweet but on the dry side, and I thought the cookie component was too puffy. The marshmallows were fine but a bit boring as the flavors didn't really taste like much. Chocolate? More like a kind of chocolate-flavored foam, I suppose.
Overall: I'd have to say that the Autumn menu was the winner. Not that either menu is "bad" per se, but the Autumn menu, being newer and seasonal, really hit all the sweet spots for me in terms of concept and execution. Fantastic meal, and I can't wait to go back.