I ate in Jean-Georges two days after it received its three stars. I wrote an account of my meal but never posted it. But someone posted an article yesterday claming that if Jean-Georges were in Paris it wouldn't even garner TWO stars. He's wrong. The proof of the restaurant is in the eating. Read on.
I first heard of the Michelin guides when I was eleven. In France, its ratings are worshipped like holy writ. Getting three stars from them is the restaurant equivalent of a Nobel prize. In fact, there are far more Nobel prizewinners alive than there are three star restaurants. I've always wanted to eat in one but have never even set foot in one. Until tonight. You see, Michelin had never rated New York restaurants. Until the day before yesterday, when its first ever NY ratings were announced. New York has four three star restaurants... giving it the most of any city except Paris. (London has one.) One of them was Jean-Georges. I went there an hour ago.
When they saw me walk in, the receptionists' faces lit up as if I did them honor by visiting. They welcome everyone this way -- it's part of their elegance -- except for [name deleted, he's one of the most famous movie stars around], who showed up badly dressed and didnt make it past the front door. The only reason I saw him was that I was going to the washroom, which is next to the reception desk. The only other person I saw whom I recognized was superchef Jean-Georges Vongenrichten. He was dressed in a chef's uniform and came out from the kitchen.
Here are some of the courses that enthralled me:
A trio of tiny amuse-bouches. A piece of raw fish with horseradish. Nothing to talk about... except the horseradish had been put through a snow machine and turned into snowflakes! A tiny pastry like a profiterole fllled with ground basil and topped with grated cheese. And celery soup in a glass. The soup was in striped layers which blended as you drank. A cream of celery layer, another kind of cream, an intense cinnamon.
A rich creamy soup (photo below)made with garlic and thyme and other flavors. Very much like a French sauce vert (or Basque salsa verde). On the side, two lightly fried frog's legs.
Scallops from the bays off the Massachusetts coast used to be quite common 20 or 30 years ago. Today, they are prized culinary treasures. Seven of them nestled together in the middle of a bright cranberry-colored lake. They were raw, with a few grains of salt and wasabi strewn about for variety, as well as different little leaves, each of which had a striking and unexpected flavor. The lake was indeed made of cranberry coulis, with a touch of sugar, and fragrant spices reminiscent of fine perfume. Each of those sharp, clear flavors hit with the spiritual intensity of the cracks from a water clapper in a Japanese meditation garden.
: Sweetbreads had been perfectly cooked (and when I tasted their succulent flavor I realized that compared to these, every sweetbread I've tasted has been badly cooked) after being impaled on sticks made of liquorice root. Alongside them were very sweet slices of caramelized grilled pear, and a spoonful of what looked like mustard but was instead an unsweetened lemon puree. The trick was to eat tiny morsels of all three in the same mouthful, thus blending a salty, meaty flavor, with a hint of licorice from being cooked with the root (the stick itself was inedible), a very sweet flavor, and a sour, bitter taste all at once. Like three different motifs all mingling together. Very symphonic.
It had a humourous name, seed-crusted sea bass with sweet and sour sauce. A white tender filet crusted with many freshly ground spices, each of which had a rich intense flavor. I couldnt identify the spices, except to say that they were from India. Around it was a subtle yet intense sauce which did indeed have contrasting sweet and sour notes, and was made with spices I couldn't identify and rich creamy butter. Cherry tomatoes provided color and flavor. Words cannot describe how good this is, I told the headwaiter. And indeed they can't. But I have done my best.