Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world. His ‘Vong’ restaurants have proved popular with the diners of New York and Hong Kong. But his true powerhouse is the dining room on the ground floor of the Trump International Hotel, at the corner of Central Park in New York. This is the place called by his Christian names, and this is the place where you will find the gentleman from Alsace in the kitchen. I know he was there, because he came out to say ‘hello’ when I was drinking my coffee at the end of lunch.
The restaurant proper at Jean Georges is quite a small room, but it is flooded with light. The sunshine pours through the floor-to-ceiling windows and is reflected this way and that by the white mosaic floor. The good quality Spiegelau glasses sparkle in the brightness. In this stylish space, designed by the ubiquitous Adam Tihany, visual interest is provided by a bronze of a ‘deconstructed’ violin. Tablecloths are white, chairs are brown and the waistcoats of the waiters are dark grey. Jazz burbles from hidden loudspeakers. Not a lover of modernity myself, I yet felt very much at ease in this modern, classy environment. Certainly, it sharpened my appetite and my expectations.
A civilized system prevails at mid-day. Two plates from the menu are $24, and each additional plate is $12 – with the puddings priced at $8 each. Mr Vongerichten has worked with the great Paul Bocuse in Lyon. But he has also worked in the Far East. Yet of the 18 first and main courses on the menu, only one (soy-glazed veal cheeks) was unappealing to your Eastern-cuisine-averse correspondent. All the others sounded very tempting indeed, and, had I not had an aeroplane to catch, I might readily have ordered a 17 course, plus dessert, luncheon. Instead, I contented myself with four courses and two puddings.
I say ‘contented’, and that is the right word. For chefs de cuisine Michael Lewis and Mark Lapico sent to my table food which caused me a considerable measure of contentment, not least because of its careful, painterly presentation on the fine white crockery. First, green asparagus with morels and asparagus jus – the slight bitterness of the asparagus well balanced by the richness of the creamy mushrooms. Then the pretty white, gold and brown of sea scallops, topped with caramelized cauliflower and caressed with a caper-raisin emulsion. Next, the undoubted star of this particular show, a brilliant plate of foie gras – the liver crisp without and gloriously pink and yielding within – partnered to perfection by kumquat marmalade and pink peppercorn. In conception, execution and presentation, this dish was utterly superb. With a glass of sauternes adding its sweet complexity, the flavours and textures of this course made my palate tingle with ecstasy.
After such heights, perhaps inevitably, the roasted spring lamb with cardamom crumbs and fava bean purée tasted rather ordinary, although there was no doubting its tenderness. Still, my enthusiasm revived with the puddings from chef pâtissier Johnny Iuzzini. Again there was the brilliant presentation. I devoured the warm white chocolate cake with mandarin carpaccio and the rhubarb tart with crème fraîche and mustard seed with enormous enthusiasm and with enormous pleasure.
A restaurant of this quality should have an impressive wine list. And it does. Indeed, sommelier Ryan Buttner presides over a massive cellar of somewhat startling magnificence. Where else can one find a bottle of 1870 Lafite (yes, that is ‘18’) for $18,700? Each bottle, I should warn those of you about to rush off, is sold ‘as is’. Otherwise, the following gems caught my eye: 1945 Latour ($5,775), 1996 Robert Weil riesling eiswein, Kiedrich Grafenberg ($425, half), 2001 Screaming Eagle ($1,980) and a magnum of 1986 Pétrus ($4,155). My own two bottles – both straightforward and both pleasing – were from Burgundy, the white from the Côte de Beaune and the red from the Côte de Nuits (Saint-Aubin 1er Cru, Les Murgers des Dents de Chien, 2002 - $80 and Cambolle-Musigny, Ghislaine Barthod, 2001 - $100).
I rushed off to JFK, full of the joys of great food and good wine. I wished I could have stayed longer. Perhaps next time. For, be assured, Jean Georges is the sort of restaurant to which I long to return.
Trump International Hotel, 1 Central Park West (between 60 th and 61 st Streets), New York, NY 10023, U.S.A.
Telephone +1 212 299 3900
Fax +1 212 299 3914
Closed: Saturday lunch, Sunday