Sunday, November 08, 2009

Starry, starry nights, part one: Jean Georges

I took part in a rigorous fine-dining press trip in Las Vegas earlier this year and, when all the truffles and gold-dusted Rice Krispies were said and done, I began to suspect that an American Michelin star is not quite the same as a European one. The big star places were nice and all that, but they weren't up there with Lyon's Bocuse (three) or Nicolas Le Bec (two, and so exciting and wonderful that it's become our benchmark for posh eating). Now we're in New York, we're putting that theory to the test. What do you mean, we should be saving for the baby's shoes? He won't be able to walk for months.

Jean Georges, the three-star restaurant which sits at the base of a gilded Trump building off Columbus Circle, is a constant at the top of the New York must-eat lists. I have no idea how you pronounce Vongterinchen, the surname of the JG in question, who has a string of places across the city, but luckily we didn't have to say it. We just had to go and eat the tea.

It's a small room and we were expecting it to be ragingly formal, but the number of people in there on a Saturday night - some dressed as Germanophile 1970s mobsters - took the edge off. The prix fixe (which is not the pov option, just the alternative to the full-on tasting) is $98 for four courses plus bells and whistles, including a visit from the mournful man who extracts a long marshmallow from a jar and solemnly cuts it with silver scissors.

And the food? It wasn't that exciting, frankly. Highlights were the turbot with Chateau Chalon sauce, which was heady and rich, and Tim's lamb (pictured), which had an utterly delicious sticky, shiny chilli crust. We weren't sold on the idea of the desserts, which are all 'tastings' on various themes, with four mini dishes, but they turned out to be the highlight. We swerved the spice one and the autumn one, and went for 'chocolate' and 'apple'. A chocolate fondant ('FONDONT!') was marvellous and Tim was impressed by a feather-light mini apple tart and a white chocolate and caramel apple dome.

Low points were a noodling combination of halibut with a huge amount of chilli foam, cucumber ribbons and soft creamed potatoes; the potatoes belonged on a French plate and everything else on an Asian one. My lobster with basil and spaetzle, the crazy German short pasta, was... nice. The chocolate plate also held the real aberration of the meal, a minty mouthwash-flavour bowl of green goo, with chocolate vermicelli that looked like little brown worms and were all texture, no flavour.

Until we get back from Per Se on Monday night, we won't know quite where Jean Georges sits. I'm not sure it's three stars worth of delicious, but it certainly beats my plans for next Saturday, when I'll be queueing for the swine flu vaccine at the doc's. You can bet they won't have a man with silver scissors.

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