My SO and I recently returned from our NYC trip and we went to several restaurants after doing much research on Chowhound. We had narrowed the list down to the following:
2) Jean Georges (for lunch)
4) Nougatine (for breakfast)
(please see some of my other posts for reviews of the other restaurants with pictures)
We were only there for 5 days, so that was about all we could fit in given the tight timeline. If I had to rank the meals, I would do as such:
2) Nougatine for breakfast (OK this is relative to all other breakfasts I have ever had, and this was quite the experience. I will be entering a post for it as well)
3) Jean Georges
The reasoning behind this is NOT that I found it to be a bad meal - it's just that the novelty was just that - a novelty. The food was not particularly mind-blowing in any way. It was slightly disappointing just because that was our most expensive meal by far (we had the taster menu) in NYC, but ranked lowest on our list in terms of food. Overall, the experience was mediocre at best. One thing my SO noted was the casual atmosphere of the restaurant. For $150 a head, one generally expects a more polished atmosphere and serving staff. We were fortunate that our waiter was well informed of all the dishes and preparation methods. I could not say so for the poor unfortunate diners that sat around us that had to suffer through misrepresented wine pairings, colourful explanations of the dishes (this is the duck...), or complete silence. When one orders a taster menu, one feels that part of the experience is the outlining of each dish with a background on what the chef was trying to achieve. One waiter just plopped the dish infront of us and ran off. Luckily, we called over our knowledgeable waiter and he described everything in minute detail (Unfortunately, I forgot his name even though I had specifically asked for it for this posting. I do remember, though, that it was quite unique and short - my SO recalls it as "Mars" - and I think that was what I remember as well).
My main issue lies with Chef Wiley's obsession with doing things differently - if only for the purpose of doing it differently. Sure, I had never had my foie gras nicely tied into a knot, but did that necessarily enhance my dining experience? I would have to say no. The foie had a tougher texture necessary to execute the knot-tying, which removes one of the finer qualities I find about foie - the silky smooth texture that just melts in your mouth. In this case, the mad-scientist in him actually made him create a worse-off dish. Another example would be the Chicken Liver Spaetzle. I would have to say this was not the most mouth-watering-inducing dish I have ever seen. You would have had to have seen it to understand fully what I meant by that. We learned the reason for this ‘shape’ was that the liver was forced through a colander into boiling water. So picture brown, misshapen tube-like pieces, with a mushy texture, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. The boiling removed much of the flavour of the liver, and actually made the liver chewy – in a bad way. Another dish that fell flat was the Yuzu Ice Cream dish with the black condiment ‘packets’. I did not get this dish at all – the package, though told it was edible, tasted inedible. Sure, it was quite a novelty (look Honey! I’m eating the ketchup packet!), I quickly regretted actually trying to eat it. It was bland and had a gummy texture. And don’t get me started on the pizza pebbles. I felt like I was eating those “Nibs” pizza bites from the 80s, but at a much elevated price.
However, in order to offset the cons, there were several solid dishes in which science complimented the food and elevated the experience. The winners included:
1) Crab tail, soybean noodles in a cinnamon dashi,
2) Hamachi tartare, wakame, sake lees tahini, grapefruit-shallot,
3) Yogurt, olive oil jam, rhubarb; and the
4) Beef tounge, cherry-miso, fried quinoa, palm seeds.
Hamchi tartare: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Toasted Walnut Cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Eggs Benedict: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Beef Tongue: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Crab tail: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
The tartare perfectly showcased how science can enhance a dish. The tartare was chopped and this allowed the marinade to better penetrate the fish. After marinating, the pieces were ‘glued’ back together with a binding agent. This permeation created a great tartare, with even flavouring throughout. The Crab tail had excellent chewy bite to it, a texture I’m not accustomed to when eating crab, and was a welcome contrast to the smooth dashi-based broth it swam in. The yogurt was an unexpected cylindrical shape that afforded a beautiful presentation and created a texture contrast to the condiments that accompanied it. Finally, the beef tongue. Excellent as it wasn’t overcooked, as I find at many other restaurants. This allowed the natural texture of the tongue to come through, as well as the delicate, sweet taste.
My SO also had to physically wrestle the bread away from me. They reminded me of popcorn skins when I was noshing on them. I must have refilled the breadbasket 4 times before it was confiscated away from me.
Overall, I would have to say that it was a great experience, just to have seen what science can do – but also to see its limitations. I am now more wary of the mad-scientist type chefs out there that push the boundaries merely for the bragging rights to say they could. I would however like to see chefs employ some of Chef Wiley’s more successful creations. And that’s what this industry needs – people like Wiley that think up these wild, and crazy ideas, just so that others can stand on their shoulders to fine-tune the preparation methods and use them sparingly to create more effective dishes. I therefore applaud Wiley, as I see what he was trying to achieve, and judging from his demeanour – you can tell the man loves playing with his food and that it has nothing at all to do with pretension. This has made me therefore leave the restaurant with a pleasant view of the restaurant, though I would have to say I would not return.
Cheers and Happy Eating!