I know it must seem like I’m the sort of person who thrives on fancy dinners, dressing up and drinking fine wines late into the night, and while that’s not entirely false, I can’t ignore the fun in mid-week lunches. There’s something decadent and sly about sitting down in cashmere and silk to a four-course mid-day meal, then afterwards sneaking home to change into an oversize sweatshirt, order in a pizza and watch previous seasons of Dexter on On Demand. What makes lunch at Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s eponymous New York City restaurant Jean-Georges even more luxe is the price — for only $29.00, you can get two courses, with each additional course costing $14.50 and dessert setting you back another $8.00.
Basically, it’s the best lunch deal in New York.
I know what you’re thinking: since when is fifty dollars a steal for lunch? Well, if you can tell me anywhere else that we can have a three-Michelin-star, multi-course lunch for less in this town, I’ll buy it for you. If it’s as good as this, I’ll be happy to do so. And if they offer housemade ginger-lemon soda ($6.00) to both warm and refresh our palates, even better.
If we’re really lucky, we’ll start with the sea trout sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon foam, a smear of dill and horseradish shavings, like I did last week. I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed to learn my dish came with foam (on the menu, it is listed as simply lemon), because sometimes I get so bored with it. After all, it seems as though everyone in a chef’s hat is foaming it up these days, but Jean-Georges’s is more of a cream than a froth, and far more substantial in both flavor and texture than your everyday spoonful of miniature bubbles. It went surprisingly well with the smooth sashimi, though I could’ve done with a few less horseradish curls zinging their vapors up my nose. Maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky here, but personal preference is personal preference, no?
My personal preferences, after all, are what led me to order the young garlic soup, which is served with a trio of sautéed frogs’ legs. Dotted with teensy little leaves of thyme, it was absolutely redolent of garlic, though definitely not at all in an overpowering way. I’ve got to say, and maybe this is a bit unsporting to admit, but I sampled Joann’s risotto and eyeballed Keith’s bacon-wrapped shrimp, and, had lunch been a contest, my soup would’ve won for sure. I mean, not much can beat all that is lovely about garlic — its original bite and its transformation into something sweet and buttery and mellow. To top it off, my frogs’ legs were light and crunchy; I was encouraged by our server to dunk the meat into my soup. Afterwards, I was given a much-needed fingerbowl of rose water.
Since I can rarely resist sweetbreads, for my third course I selected the option that served them with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and pumpkin. These were wading in a vinaigrette, and as I lifted each forkful to my mouth I inhaled a not-unpleasant jolt of vinegary zippiness; you would think the vinegar would overwhelm everything else on the plate, but it actually sharpened taste of the bittersweet cherries, the sweet pumpkin, the surprisingly-flavorful pine nut and the meatiness of the sweetbreads. Though my instinct is to wolf down delicious food, I instead managed to savor each bite as much as possible. Still, I was finished with my dish long before either Joann or Keith.
Should you choose to get dessert at Jean-Georges, you’ll notice that its menu isn’t as straightforward as in other restaurants. Rather than listing options like tarte tatin or tea cake, it instead categorizes ingredients or even a concept. Last week, we chose from Market, Harvest, Chocolate or Strawberry; underneath each heading was a description of components we would then receive. I chose Chocolate, and ended up with Jean-Georges’s signature chocolate cake, vanilla bean ice cream and a wintergreen soup with chocolate noodles. I quickly slipped the most creative item on my plate, the wintergreen soup, onto Keith’s, but that was only because I’m no fan of mint. Besides, the normally-boring molten chocolate cake and usually-uninspiring ice cream were both utterly superb, proving once and for all that sometimes simple trumps complex every time.
Jean-Georges is open for lunch Mondays through Saturdays from noon to two-thirty. Reservations, which are a must, can be made at OpenTable or via the phone at 212.299.3900. The menu changes seasonally, and, unfortunately, the price has gone up from last year’s $28.00 for two plates to the current $29.00. Regardless, it’s still a bargain. If dressing for lunch is not for you, a similar deal can be had next door at Nougatine, Vongerichten’s more casual eatery.
1 Central Park West
New York, New York 10023