While in New York last weekend, I had two lunches at JoJo (160 E. 64th St., between Lexington and Third; 223-5656). Contrary to what I posted last week (the website had incorrect information), JoJo does not open for Saturday lunch or Sunday brunch until noon.
(1) The decor. JoJo reopened in September after an 8-month renovation. The look is totally changed and I have to admit that my feelings towards it so far are somewhat ambiguous. I haven't yet seen the second floor. The first floor (a few steps below street level) used to be a long narrow room with cream walls and red leather banquettes and a service area breaking up the east side of the room. It is now two rooms separated by the service area and heavy drapes. I sat in the back room for both meals. The floor is terra cotta tile which presented no noise problem. The walls are sage green, the banquettes burgundy tufted velvet and the chairs burgundy and sage velvet with high backs and fringe! Lighting via sconces, large mirrors on the side walls, and black tables with white paper placemats (I don't know if tablecloths are used at night). Because of the new colors and the drapes, the entire area is darker than it used to be, although reading the menu was certainly not a problem. Except for the two tables at the rear which seat 3, all tables seat 2. The biggest flaw was that all the tables seemed to wobble and had to have bits of wood wedged under to stabilize them. I suppose the overall atmosphere might be considered romantic, although hothouse also comes to mind. A very precious realization of what was a pretty precious concept to begin with. Big plus: the faux Boteros are gone. Also, the two restrooms are now unisex (and also redecorated ... they'd be the perfect place to meet for a quick opium party) which means no one has to wait for one room to empty while the other goes unused ... a nice touch, I thought.
(2) Noise level: certainly not quiet, and perhaps too loud for those looking for a romantic evening. When I was there it was never so loud that it hindered conversation (and all tables were taken during my first meal).
(3) Service: Just fine. I had the same waiters both days, so I can't comment on the staff generally.
(4) A la carte menu: 6 appetizers, 6 entrees. This is changed very little from the pre-renovation menu (except that it is shorter). To some extent it reads like a list of JoJo's greatest hits: goat cheese and potato terrine; roasted chicken with green olives and fabulous chickpea fries; venison with poire au lard. Appetizers are about $10; the most expensive entree is $32. I didn't have any of this stuff.
(5) JoJo used to offer a variety fixed price menus: the tasting menu, the vegetable menu, the $28 lunch menu (three courses, two choices per course). These are all gone. In it's place, the $20 lunch menu, three courses, two choices per course. No, this was not RW related. I was told it's offered yearround. I found this astonishing. I was told it changes daily, although the Saturday menu was the same as Friday's.
(6) Friday I had garlic soup with crispy sweetbreads, roasted red snapper with lemon risotto and Meyer lemon salsa, and almond cake with blood orange compote and orange marmalade ice cream. The soup was excellent, a very concentrated garlic flavor, strong enough perhaps to displease someone not as enamoured of garlic as I am. The fish and risotto were delicious. The almond cake didn't appear to have almond flour in it and tasted quite strongly of almond extract. The orange marmalade ice cream was absolutely wonderful, the bitterness of the marmalade providing a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the ice cream.
(7) Saturday I had smoked salmon with a salad, hangar steak with parsnip puree and roasted carrots, and the almond cake (for the ice cream; the other dessert offered was chai pot de creme with a cinnamon twist). The salad was crisp and citrusy-vinegary, which balanced the salmon nicely. The steak and vegetables were great, especially the puree. The dessert was still great. The salmon was very popular; Friday, when I sat facing the room, it was like watching a parade of smoked salmon appetizers passing by.
(8) The wine list includes 9 wines by the glass: three champagnes (brut, brut rose, and blanc de blancs), three whites, and three reds).
I can't wait to return.