(First published June 3, 1999)
Jean-Georges, By Spencer Sloe
1 Central Park West
Trump International Hotel
Over the past 8 months the members of Eat Me NYC have indulged, or, I should say, overindulged, at some of the most distinguished eating establishment's Gotham has to offer. Having tasted culinary masterpieces, I was finally ready to embrace my role of the dining knight and challenge the crown jewel of Jean Georges Vongerichten's empire to a duel. Little did I know that I would soon be humbled, only to realize I was not a knight at all, but a pawn in Jean-Georges' wicked feasting game.
I rolled to the front of the magnificent Trump Tower in my golden chariot and was awestruck at the magnificence of the exterior. As I walked up the granite stoop my smile widened with each fateful step, for I now knew in my stomach that this would be a night to remember. Upon being greeted at the front gates, I was escorted inside. At 6 in the early evening, the interior looked simply wonderful. Though minimalist in décor, it was well lit by a warm sunshine, which poured through the windows. With a splendid view overlooking Central Park, Jean-Georges and his Chef De Cuisine, Dider Virot, made me feel welcome. Large purple rhododendron bushes, some eight feet tall, adorned the walls in large glass vases. An open kitchen housed a brigade of some of the most seasoned chefs who looked larger than life in their tall white hats as they bustled to and fro. Only the finest culinary weapons could find homes in this marvelous kitchen overlooking the courtyard, copper pans hung from steel hooks along the wall.
I proceed to make my way to the bar and sit next to my good friend Alex, who was sipping a vodka gimlet and, curiously, looking over the wine list. The rest of our party arrived within the next couple of minutes. We shared a smoke, a drink and a laugh or two but became impatient by the tardiness of one of our guests. With all the commotion in the kitchen, it was difficult to wait a moment longer. We were seated.
Our headwaiter, and Alexander, the sommelier-extraordinaire, soon greeted us. Alexander is the jester in King Jean-Georges' court but is by no means the fool. Brimming with recommendations, he will play with your palette and juggle your senses. After we decided on ordering the Chef Tasting Menu ($90), Alexander made some fine suggestions. We started with a Sancerre Villes Vignes Reverdy '97 ($110), a light but stiff white wine with strong citrus, peaches and apples - a very nice recommendation. Soon our final guest arrived and we began.
We first started the meal with a Salmon Carpacchio in a lemon-coriander virgin olive oil, with a dash of salt and pepper over shaved baby fennel and chervil. The salmon was sliced so thin that it seemed to melt away in my mouth. The flavored olive oil provided a hint of variety but was not overly complex.
Next we were served Almond Tuile (this was a terrine slice, with layers of foie gras and almond pastry,) with a side of vin de paille consumé, made with delicious bullion and a rare, sweet wine based on the Pinot Beurot grape, made on a commercial but minute scale in Jura, France. Now, I am a big fan of sauces, but this had a consistency and flavor I had never experienced before. Better yet, it wasn't really a dipping sauce at all but a sipping sauce that glazed the palate after each wonderful bite. Marvelous.
It was time for our second bottle of wine. Something a bit more robust and flavorful perhaps? With our next course we were served an old friend, a Pinot Gris Grand Cru Clos St. Urbian, Zind Humbrecht '95 ($125). The Pinot Gris has become a favorite among the members of Eat Me NYC -- especially ones bottled in 1995. If you are willing to spend a few bucks on potent potables I highly recommend you try this one. You won't be disappointed.
Sautéed Frogs Legs with parsley and young garlic soup over chive blossoms then made its way to our plate. The aroma from soup made my mouth water and was too hard too resist. Young cloves of garlic swam in a pond of creamy garlic broth and chive blossoms that looked like lilies. Frogs legs sautéed to perfection, so delicious, the meat simply drifted off the bone.
A time out was necessary. How long could I hold out? Alex and I would proceed to step outside and sit on the porch overlooking Central Park to smoke a cigarette and talk a little bit about the dining experience occasionally. Alexander, the sommelier, noticed us sitting outside and decided to engage us in conversation about fine dining and fine wines. But, after about five minutes, he was whisked away by some anxious diners. Little wonder that Alex and I decided it was time for more.
THE REVIEW, PART DEUX:
Another bottle of Pinot Gris was poured and a mysterious bottle of red was decanted. [The decanter was lovely. --.ed]
The feast continued: Chilean Sea Bass over four different types of cherry tomatoes and country potatoes in vegetable vinaigrette. Then, Grilled Maine Sea Scallops with port and cherry emulsion, baby beet tops, Buckwheat crepe and sour cherry. Next, a bowl of Lobster Tartin with pea shoots in creamy pumpkin seed and fenugreek broth. I thought to myself: how much longer could this go on? Dish after wonderful dish, all extraordinary.
However, nothing could prepare me for the main course or the magnificent wine I was about to taste.
Broiled Country Squab with onion compote, corn pancake, sliced foie gras and fresh almonds became my final conquest. Now, I have sampled Jean-Georges' take on squab before at Vong, his Asian-French amalgam, but I assure you, this was far superior. With flavorful 4-spice skin coating tender meat, this dish was stunning. The corn pancake was a nice accompaniment and the slice of foie gras on top lent a deserved richness. I was so surprised by the flavor of the fresh almonds that I didn't even know what they were until I asked the steward. He informed me that they had been Fed Ex'ed to the restaurant the night before. Very grand indeed.
The mystery bottle of red was a Pauillac Pinchon-Longueville-Lalande '88 ($295). It was deep, rich and a bit dry. It is so hard to accurately describe the actual flavor of this vintage because it seemed to alter with every passing moment, unlike anything I had tasted before. The Pauillac was simply awesome. Wine Spectator gives it a high rating.
The meal was finally finished. Dessert was next. Dessert arrived on a British Navy style square plate, white. I was presented with a chilled mint rhubarb soup and coconut pate, kiwi lemon crème tart with lime sorbet, sour raspberries with vanilla ice cream, and a warm chocolate soufflé with hazelnut ice cream. The steward brought us a complimentary Muscato D'asti Cascianetta Piemonte '98, desert wine which was smart, brave and sweet.
An incredible cheese plate.
A bold cup of coffee.
A final sampling of tasty treats.
An enormous bill.
A much deserved thank you.
While Jean-Georges teased my palette with exquisite dishes, while the sommelier poured his knowledge into my glass, and while the steward presided with respect and grace, I no longer felt like I was a pawn, but a king, who is now all the wiser.