I got the BEST birthday present.
No, it wasn’t a pony.
It wasn’t a diamond necklace.
It wasn’t a shopping date with Andy Cohen.
Okay…maybe I got the SECOND best birthday present.
I was gifted dinner at Jean Georges.
From the moment I walked in, it was special. You are sitting in plush seats, looking out the window at the Starbucks across the street and the people hailing cabs, but they can’t see you. It’s like being in a limo. The dining room is small and pretty modern – it doesn’t scream “3 Michelin star.”
Then the service begins.
Our server was impeccable – always there when we wanted him, NEVER there when we didn’t. He didn’t’ try to upsell us on pricier menus or wine pairings. He was well-informed but not a know it all – charming but not overly friendly. He and his team made sure our water glasses were never empty, dishes never sat too long, and conversations were never interrupted. I literally can’t say enough about him. He single handedly made the meal worthwhile.
Well, him and the food.
Because every Michelin meal should begin with an amuse bouche. Of course, not all of them are an amuse bouche like this. A corn fritter that is so light and airy that it seems like a corn-scented cloud punctuated with sweet, juicy kernels. It’s served on a swath of tangy sour cream that provides a counterpart to that sweet, vibrant corn. The raspberry gazpacho is the ideal mixture of sweet and spicy, with nary a seed nor solid left in the bright broth. And the salmon, cured in a sticky-sweet syrup, is so soft, so mild, and so clean that it barely tastes like fish – somewhere between a marshmallow and a piece of filet mignon. These amuse bouches set the right tone for the night to follow – inventive, pure, and intense flavors and textures.
The best sea urchin I have ever had. Better than 15 East. This is the uni for which I have waited. Creamy, firm, and buttery. It has just the slightest hint of saltwater and absolutely no sliminess or odd dark parts. Some uni is fluffy – this is dense. It’s decadent and almost meaty. Its inherent richness is cut by the liberal sprinkling of acidic yuzu and the miniscule jalapeno slice is slightly pickled by the yuzu. It is a touch of heat but nothing distracting. The thick, tangy sourdough bread provides yet another layer of flavor and texture to counteract the rich sea urchin. This was my favorite bite of the night and, perhaps, even the year. Steamed turbot with potato leek puree and clams with green chile
A perfect piece of fish. Beautifully filleted with no unsightly bloodlines or pin bones. Perfectly poaches to that it is entirely cooked but not for a moment too long. Firm but not overly bouncy and tender enough to cut with a spoon. The puree is mild and none too buttery – it doesn’t take away from the delicate, clean flavor of the fish with too much onion or cream flavor. The chervil atop adds a light, barely sweet note to the broth, which is filled with sweet, briny clams and enough chili flavor to make me sit up and take notice. This is more than just a little spicy…it really delivers in the heat department. I loved it. The most apt way I can describe this dish is “true.” Nothing competed, everything complimented, and every taste is crystal clear.
Expertly cooked to a juicy medium, where there is no blood or tough meat, but there is a rosiness throughout. It’s juicy and lightly gamy and grassy – you can tell this ain’t beef or chicken. It’s coated in a wonderfully spicy, fragrant rub that is reminiscent of peppercorn and coriander. I love how bright and in-your-face the flavors are. So often, fancy French restaurants in the US shy away from really POW flavors. Not so, here! The nasturtium vinaigrette isn’t at all too floral and the peas are a sweet, juicy counterpart. They gave me an extremely generous portion – I had to take half of it home. In keeping with the excellent service, they actually offered to wrap it up for me, without making me feel like a beggar at the feast.
The dessert. Unique and varied and wonderful. Creamy, vanilla scented tofu pudding? Torched, sticky, marshmallow-y meringue surrounding positively ethereal apricot sorbet? And – my favorite – the peach and lavender tart on PERFECTLY flaky crust with the sweetest, corniest corn ice cream on the planet? Jean Georges comes through on desserts in a big way.
I didn’t even cover the homemade chocolates or the sorbets served in thimble sized tuiles.
This meal is a fairy tale in the middle of midtown. It’s 3 servers per table, chocolates to take home, and a meal that is, conservatively speaking, a million times better in taste than it is in description. It is the epitome of fine dining, where the customer is made to feel like the king of the castle. It is as if I was doing them the favor, when the opposite was clearly true.
It is only improved upon by excellent company.
And the uni…that helped too.