Restaurant Review (Big Apple Edition): Nougatine at Jean Georges

>> Friday, February 05, 2010

In celebration of my 1000th post, I tried to arrange a perfect day for myself but things are not that easily achieved. Somehow I've missed the tour of Wicked The Musical when it stopped by Philadelphia and I've wanted to see it for years, so I thought I'd go to New York City and see it. I've tried to do this the week before but it's hard to wake up early enough to get there in time for the matinee and I couldn't stay for the night show because they would make me miss the bus that comes back to Philly. So Wednesday I got up in time and went.

Of course I've researched to know the exact time the show is playing and I aimed for the ticket lottery that they have; For about $27.00 you get to seat on the front row, which in some case is not desirable because you'll have to strain your neck to see what's happening on the stage and at some point the angle forbid you to see what's happening at the back of the stage but for that price, to be able to seat right up front is superb. I've done that with Avenue Q seating dead center and it was wonderful. I thought there won't be much people out since it snowed the night before but there were still about 70 people showing up. The theater doesn't seem to be thrilled to have the lottery, they had us waiting outside in the cold for half an hour and held us with contempt for standing too close to the door. Alas, I didn't win the lottery and wasn't gonna fork out $120 for nice seats or $250 for guarantee good seats.

Lately, I've been very tempted to get a new generation of iPod touch that is rumored to come out this month, so I started comparing everything I buy to the expected price and figured I much rather have the device. And I can always go back to New York and try my luck again. Along with this misadventure, I wasn't able to find something specific at Toys 'R' Us, nor a book that the boyfriend was looking for at Kinokuniya, nor a comic book that the owner of a comic book store had promised to order for me for half a year and still telling me that he will put his order in, now. I guess a perfect day might not be arrangeable, it's all happenstance, a happy coincidence that can only be felt through introspective self-realization. Oh well.

Well, the day was not without merits. I found out that it was restaurant week for this past two weeks and research nice restaurants around Broadway. I was planning to have lunch at the Russian Tea Room because it sounded so classic, famous and exclusive but got excited about Jean Georges. Mr. Vongerichten is famous for his French-Asian cuisine, a few years ago I saw some Asian sauces that he was selling under his brand Vong and I quite took offense by the brand name. I got addicted to the restaurant review website Yelp and Jean Georges got pretty good reviews, especially for lunch and it was with good reasons.

People said that the Russian Tea Room's decor was gaudy, but how do you categorize a restaurant that is situated inside a 70s style golden Trump tower? Call me a bitchy queen but I'm a little repulse by most things with a Trump stamp. There's three doors to the Trump International Hotel & Towers and they lead to three different part of the building that doesn't link to each other. Aside from the location, the insides look clean and modern with pearl shaded walls and wood tones. The restaurant itself is also compartmentalized into 3 different dining area: main hall itself is Jean Georges, a separate room called the Terrace and the bar area called Nougatine.

The staff is professional and friendly. Since I'm by myself, I opted to seat at the bar. For a Michelin 3-star restaurant, the staff was professional and courteous enough. Jean Georges usually offer a prix fixe menu of $29 for a three course meal and during Restaurant week, it is $5 cheaper which in hindsight, the Chinese in me should have gone to another place for a bigger, rarer bargain. But in itself a $29 lunch at Jean Georges is really a jaw-dropping, mouth-salivating deal. Diners can choose any two plates in a near-20 items menu and with a choice between creme brulee or a warm chocolate cake.

This is the Shrimp Salad with avocado and tomato and a champagne vinegar dressing. The white strips on top might have been white trumpets, the shrimps are enveloped in a with a delicate and rich rose colored cream with hints of truffle that balanced the acidity of the vinegar dressing so well. They should mass produce this cream and serve it as soup or sell it by the gallon in a milk jug.

This is my demurred option. I contemplated ordering the "fried chicken" and a beef tenderloin but thought it'd be tacky if I go for two entrees without a slight hint of course separation, though each dish seems to be very portion controlled; patrons of expensive restaurants never gain weight which in fact is the true origins of the South Beach Diet. Pan roasted cod with warm cranberry beans and leek vinaigrette. Don't ask me what is the difference between a vinegar dressing and a vinaigrette, I'm suspicious that it might be set arbitrarily. But the piece of cod was cooked quite perfectly, there was crispiness on top that involves flour and the rest of the fish was roasted just to the point of doneness and not a second over. The cranberry beans tasted like edamame and the leek vinaigrette was pleasant but since there's not much fat to balance it out, it made the dish a bit on the sour side.

My dessert was a chocolate cake with a liquidy center, vanilla bean ice cream with a smidgen of chocolate cookie crumbs and a mint chocolate bark. I believe both creme brulee and a chocolate lava cake is overdone. So it's the least exciting course of the meal. It tastes nice but on the meh side, but one can't really complain with a $24 dollar 3-star restaurant meal.

Of course, I eyed two single patron seating at the bar on either side of me ordering the same thing; Tuna tartare, slow-cooked salmon and creme brulee and I wonder if that was their best offering, but let me assure you that no regrets were had. Also the exotic flavor matched soda was quite good too, I had a lemon-ginger one that taste like a ginger beer that is less sweet with refreshing hint of lemon zest. Highly recommendable.

After my meal, I went around town and collected 7 different desserts to bring home and share it with the boyfriend. So the day of leisure turns out to be a culinary exploration which is fun unto itself. After hours of walking around town a friend called and asked to do dinner back in Philly and I had just as much fun chatting along cheap Chinese food. The day didn't turn out that bad at all.

Expect a New York dessert post soon...

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