In a nutshell: For fine food, a pristine setting, and noteworthy service, this 3-star Michelin establishment on the Upper West Side is the place to impress your date or parents.
I was scrolling through a list of Michelin-starred restaurants and happened to discover the renowned Jean-Georges. I had heard about some of his other dining establishments before, including ABC Kitchen and Perry St, but had never considered dining at his namesake restaurant. A little more research shed light on a surprisingly affordable lunch offering in comparison to the more extensive (and expensive) tasting menus.
Located at lobby level of the Trump International Hotel and Tower on the southwest corner of Central Park, the 70-seat restaurant is accessed by walking through Nougatine, another casual dining/bar/lounge in Jean-Georges’ vast empire. Check in at the front desk prior to entering Nougatine and the host or hostess will lead the way.
The interior is stunning, designed by architect and restaurateur Adam Tihany. Snow white tablecloths and fresh bouquets of flowers in clear vases reside at each table. Light streams in through the spotless floor-to-ceiling windows, setting the scene for an ethereal ambiance.
The way to go is with the “Tastes of Winter” tasting selection (or whichever season it is, as the menu changes on a quarterly basis–I happened to go during the end of winter, right before they switched over to a springtime sampling). For $38, select two dishes: one from the first two sections (divided into cold and hot appetizers), one from the third section (the entrees). However, your meal will be so much more than two dishes, as you’ll soon see…
What kind of meal begins without bread? Servers carrying heaping trays of different bread varieties circle around, using tongs to place your choice of dough on your bread plate. A log of creamy yellow butter and a salt cellar filled with flakes of pure white sea salt round out the accoutrements.
The ciabatta was a personal favorite, its still-warm plush interior acting as an excellent vehicle for a pat of soft butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Once bread was distributed, a trio of amuse-bouche arrived at the table. To the left, a pecan-crusted beet crowned a small mound of ricotta cheese on pumpernickel toast. The nuttiness complemented the ricotta’s creaminess and the beet’s pertness, all in one bite barely larger than a quarter coin. To the right, fluke sashimi paired well with tangerine ice crumbs. I was surprised by how much citrusy flavor was packed into the ice (the sorbet version of Dippin’ Dots?), flavoring the fish it surrounded. In the middle, a shot of butternut squash soup was completed with a frothy parmesan foam. Warm and comforting, the luxuriously silky broth was a welcome sip on the blustery day.
Plump, pink, perfectly-cooked shrimp took an Asian diversion with slices of water chestnuts, saffron, silken kabocha, and chipotle. The broth was poured into the bowl table-side and was simply divine, a savory concoction with earthiness from the winter squash and just enough kick to make it extraordinary. If only there was a spoon to ladle the rest up.
Similar to the shrimp’s kabocha-chipotle broth, celeriac-Meyer lemon tea was also poured on top of the crab dumplings at the table. Light and delicate with an Asian flair, the dumplings had a good bit of sweet crab meat inside them.
The long rectangle of pork was served in the middle of a perfect circle of rutabaga “pudding” and topped generously with smoked bacon marmalade. Oddly enough, it seemed like pork had been pulled apart into bite-sized chunks before being molded back into a rectangle once more. Tender, certainly, but I don’t see how this is any better than eating multiple pieces of pork that are simply deboned. Didn’t knock my socks off as the flavors seemed muted, but tasty nonetheless (especially the crispy skin).
The tender steak filet was served alongside an acorn squash confit and accompanied by a thick mole with sherry vinegar. While I couldn’t discern a difference between regular beef and Wagyu beef, it was easy to tell this was high-quality meat. The squash was particularly tender, cut right through with a mere slice by a fork. The mole was an interesting addition to the plate, but I’m not sure that it added much as it confused my taste buds in terms of what they were expecting.
Now for the best time of all: dessert! We first had a little surprise at the table as we celebrated my companion’s birthday. The chocolate gift box they brought was truly decadent. It was so pretty with perfect chocolate curls and shimmering gold leaf; we could barely bring ourselves to tarnish the pristine chocolate coat, but were happy we did so when we encountered a tantalizingly rich chocolate mousse within. I also greatly admired the personal touch in icing the occasion and recipient’s name on a thin slab of white chocolate.
We didn’t order dessert from the menu, but no matter: the complimentary dessert service they provide to guests is a feast for the senses.
First, a server rolls a cart over to your table with a jar of marshmallows. No Jet-Puffed ones here, however: these are freshly-made and come in long rectangular prisms that the server will proceed to cut into manageable cubes table-side with the help of tongs and scissors.
In addition to the homemade marshmallows, another server brings out an extensive selection of treats, all for you to sample. During the time we went, we had the opportunity to dive into clementine pate de fruits, grapefruit and rose mini-macarons, soft pistachio nougats, white chocolate and lavender feuilletine, and some truffles (dark chocolate ganache, caramel, vanilla passion fruit, and hazelnut banana rum praline). This was an excellent opportunity to try various flavors and textures in sweets in one sitting–phenomenal.
Service is impeccable, from the captain to the server bringing dishes to the waiter cutting marshmallows: quite formal, but incredibly attentive. At least eight individuals, if not more, waited on us throughout our meal and ensured we had the best experience possible.
I am also just a bit obsessed with the tableware used for every dish, from the the clean lines and organic shapes to the cream-colored surfaces acting as the perfect backdrop to the stars of the show (a.k.a. the food).
The beginning amuse-bouche and ending dessert sampler were the highlights of the lunch, services (complimentary, no less!) not often found in restaurants today. The appetizers were also particularly delicious.
All in all, a meal that makes you feel like royalty for a couple hours.
1 Central Park W
New York, NY