How I Gained Six Pounds At Jean-Georges

My brother is outraged that I don’t weigh 1000 lbs. “How much do you weigh?” he asked me the other night when he was over. “160,” I said and he gave me a look that said: “Yeah right.”

“Yeah right,” he said. “There’s no way you weigh 160.”

On to the scale I went and I weighed only slightly more: 162. My brother was not pleased. “Your scale is broken,” he said and walked away to get dressed.

We were on our way to celebrate our parents’ 32nd anniversary at Jean-Georges. This was a long-planned, much looked forward to engagement. Jean-Georges is still pretty new to our family–we’ve only been there twice before. Both times were spectacular and this time would be no exception. The only difference is, I’d never weighed myself before eating there. And as you can see by my weight afterwards, the result is frightening!

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That’s right: I gained six pounds in one meal. SIX POUNDS. What went into my belly? Was it worth it? Why don’t I belong to a gym?

These concerns aren’t very interesting, though, next to the better questions to ask in light of the Del Posto Posto two postos below this: why is Jean-Georges such a fabulous and worthy bearer of the four star crown? What makes a great restaurant great? How can a place with such lofty ambitions please four completely different personalities: my meat and potatoes dad, my glamour-loving mom, my Italian-loving brother and me, the foodie?

The answer, I think, lies not in any one specific thing, but in everything–the entire package. From the moment you walk into Jean-Georges, you feel like royalty. Michael and I arrived by way of the very unglamorous 1 train which dropped us off right beneath the giant metal globe outside Trump’s hotel:

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Once inside, we saw our parents at the hostess stand. A kind woman took our coats. Another woman led us in.

There are two rooms to Jean-Georges: the front room, which is a separate (less expensive) restaurant and the back room which is Jean-Georges proper. The moment you walk in there, you feel a sense of excitement, a sense of entitlement, and a sense of sophisticated splendor. The room is charged with good energy: it’s a giant rectangle, so every table can be seen and no table is a bad one. There are little nooks for loving couples, large round tables in the middle, and several square tables placed next to the tinted glass windows overlooking the Time Warner Center.

I wound up with a seat facing one of these windows and normally that would bother me (I couldn’t see what was going on behind me) but at Jean-Georges, i was so at peace with everything I didn’t mind. Our waitress approached our table and welcomed us warmly. She helped us with the menu, she suggested we all order from the same tasting menu and then brought forward the sommelier to help us with the wine list. This waitress, in fact, wins the award for Best Waitress Ever 2006: our family loved her. I wish I knew her name, so when Jean-Georges reads this (and he’s VERY likely to) (sarcasm!) she can get promoted. As it stands, though, she made our evening wonderful.

Now for the food. You’re all waiting for the food. Don’t kill me, but I didn’t take notes and the menu’s not online. This is all from the top of my head. [We ordered the Spring Menu, which was highly recommended by our waitress.]

First we were presented with an amuse bouche trio: on the right that’s uni, in the middle fennel soup, and on the left–umm–errr–something delicious:

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I was nervous to try the uni because my friend Amy went to Masa with her dad and she said that they had uni there and it was the grossest thing they’ve ever eaten. But this uni was really inoffensive: maybe it’s the way they prepare it? All three tastes were wonderful.

Next up (blurry picture alert!) was toasted brioche sandwiching two lightly-poached egg yolks and topped with caviar. This was so comforting and clever; familiar yet exotic at the same time.

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Oh God, I am so bad at this. Now I have no idea what kind of fish this is, but I know it’s a raw fish presentation and that it was very good. Let the picture speak for itself:

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Raw fish is a great vehicle for bright, refreshing flavors. Notice none of these dishes have been particularly heavy, yet, taken together (and with the ones forthcoming) they clearly add up (see scale at the top of this post!)

Next was one of my favorite dishes of the evening: asparagus topped with morels. It sounds simple, but it was so rich and decadent and gratifying.

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Then there was this fish presentation, presented with garlicky Japanese eggplant:

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Followed by the dazzling, death-defying butter-poached lobster on sliced mango with candied nuts:

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If I could have carried one dish out of the restaurant, to share with everyone I know so they could sample the splendor of Jean-Georges this would’ve been it.

And then, to shock them, I might bring the final entree course:

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That’s filet of beef topped with–get this–RHUBARB FOAM.

I know, I know, you’re shocked, you can’t breathe. Settle down. It sounds outrageous but it works oh so well. It’s brilliant. This proves that cooking is an ART–there’s a real vision behind a dish like this. It doesn’t make sense on an intrinsic level: if you’re on a desert island with cows and rhubarb, you’re not going to ever think to put them together, much less to turn the rhubarb into foam. And yet it seems so right, so…inevitable. And surprising.

Those are two words my friend Kirk and I used to describe the ending of the first episode of this season’s Sopranos. “Inevitable” and “Surprising.” I think these are words that apply to the best of art in any category.

And then dessert…ohh dessert. I wish this for each and every one of you reading this: I hope, at some point in your lives, you get to dine at Jean-Georges and then, at the end of your meal where you’re already swimming in ecstasy, you have the experience of having this placed in front of you:

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This is the classic Jean-Georges dessert presentation: four desserts presented to each individual based on a category he or she chooses. My very boring family all chose chocolate. BORING!

I, of course, chose something more interesting. I took the waitress’s advice and had citrus. And you will see in that picture above, going clockwise from the upper left: kumquat crumble, blood orange sorbet, lemon marscapone cheesecake with (I think) a passionfruit cigar on top and then burnt orange caramel with grapefruit wedges in the spoon.

Phew. No wonder I gained 6 pounds. And I’d do it again, I tell you, I’d do it again.

I’m sure most of you reading this are already sold on the idea that Jean-Georges is a sacred space, a garden of earthly delights unlike any other in the city, the country or the world. And yet, as I said at the top, what makes this place so spectacular is everything–not any one thing. It’s NOT just the food, it’s the attention to detail. Look what the waiters brought my parents without my brother or I asking them to:

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They brought them an extra dessert with “Happy 32nd Anniversary” written beautifully on top. Not just “Happy Anniversary” but “Happy 32nd.” That’s the sort of restaurant this is. This is the restaurant by which all other restaurants should judge themselves–very few will measure up.

Intermittently, throughout the meal, we saw Jean-Georges himself leave the kitchen to look around the room and then return to the cooking. His regard for the room was one of genuine concern: is everything going ok? Do all the tables look happy? Is the lighting correct (we saw the lights dim a little lower.) This is the essence of what good restaurant dining should be: you are the cherished guest and the chef is the doting host—he wants nothing more than for you to be pleased, for you to rave to your friends, for you to come back over and over again. A man as successful as Jean-Georges still knows this and that’s why our allegiance is to him, why I want all my birthdays, my wedding and my funeral at Jean-Georges. At Del Posto we felt like street trash, at Jean-Georges we felt (and ate) like royalty.

Long live the king.

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