Saturday, March 26, 2011

NEW WEBSITE!

I have a new website! Until I figure out how to redirect people automatically...just click here now!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

22 Meals Later: Petit-Fours & Future Courses


I never doubted that good food, real food had always found me as a child. I ate what I wanted and reaped the benefits of having two parents who cared most about food and education, possibly in that order. Through my child and then teenage years, my family nurtured my love for food until I became so self-obsessed with the idea that suddenly I was the crazy food person. This is how I came dressed when I landed at LaGuardia Airport in NYC, and as I shared on this blog, I was searching for an upgrade, a makeover, a new scale of good better and best. Well, I got that new scale.

People told me I wouldn't like it here. The pace was too fast. The energy was too intense. The city was too big. Those people clearly didn't know me as well as they thought. For one, the restaurants are so diverse and the culinary spirit so forward that I could spend 5 years here and still not taste everything this city has to offer. About the pace, intensity and size, I've always worked best as the underdog, when the person next to me is better at whatever we're doing. My fear of failure has always driven my success. When in a large field of contestants I didn't want to be that guy on the bottom. Ok, and then I reached a point where anything less than 1st was the bottom but that's another issue. But the greater that fear, the harder I have ground my teeth and fought against the current. This city, I can feel and see, can easily kick my ass. And I love that.

What NYC has that few other cities do is a rich depth easily accessible by a few stops on the subway. You can eat where Martha Stewart eats or you can walk into a shady noodle shop in Chinatown. Both are good. Hungry during a stroll around broadway? Check out that man over on the corner who could turn heroin addicts into chicken over rice addicts. Every major culinary country has its own territory and a slew of outdoor food markets and parks elimate borders to create the very best kind of cultural anarchy. The only thing this city doesn't have are talking robots and cheap housing.

And that brings me to my next point. Now having tasted what I don't have but have always wanted, for every day I spend away from NYC, I now feel as if I'm wasting my time and missing out on something far better and more exciting. If I want to live in NYC, what am I going to do that will allow me both to live in NYC and then eat, and hopefully, well? While standing in line for the $6 chicken, my friend Henry told me that he was preparing me for the future since there is no money in journalism.

He has a point which had me thinking about what exactly I can do. I have an eye for design, can take good pictures, can write decently most of the time, know my way around a computer, am overly organized, enjoy problem solving and have an insatiable appetite for something tastier and different. What is it that I want to do? At some point I want someone to pay me too much money to eat at restaurants so I can praise the chef who doesn't get the applause he or she deserves and, on the other end, crush that restaurant drunk on its own ego, too out of it to see that its overpriced food and stupid baby carrot garnishes aren't even fit for shantytowns in Hooverville. Somewhere in between the hammer will come down on that restaurant on the corner ruining society with it's soggy mozzarella sticks and offensive waiters. I guess you could say I want what South Park's Eric Cartmen wanted: for someone to "respect my authoritaaay."

This is how I feel about NYC, what I can do, what I want to do and how uncertain I am of how I'm going to do it. But in the same way good food has always come my way, the "how" has always neatly presented itself to me at the right moment. I haven't committed any felonies lately so I can only hope that blessed fortune keeps flowing. In the meantime, I'm just going to continue doing what I love: thinking about food, writing about food, and wanting to know more about it. Now I will do so fully aware that I'm competing with the food capital of America, a course I'm not sure I'm ready to order but one I'll try to eat anyway.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 7: When the Dress is Prettier than the Person

By reputation, Daniel is Daniel Boulud's flash-ship restaurant, which holds three Michelin Stars (one of five in NYC) and four NYT stars (one of seven). A French prodigy born near Lyon, Boulud's experience in the kitchen is vast and accomplished to say the least. (picture courtesy of NY Eatery)

One of Martha Stewart's favorite restaurants is Daniel, and that fact alone should unleash a flood of ideas on what kind of place this is. As Martha would have it, Daniel is a place where servers wait to pull out your chair after you've gone to the bathroom, where every woman's purse gets its own stool and where butter dishes are replaced so quickly and quietly you'd think a ninja was responsible for it. For every seat, there's a server, and plates are put down in perfect synchronization. Thus Daniel is a broadway show with the most beautiful of sets and costume design. What, though, of the show's plot and characters?

The lighting in Daniel is dim, and so pictures are on the lame side (picture of the amuse, which was polite and sunchoke-themed, did not turn out).

hot foie gras, apples

I've gladly embraced the lesson — one that NYC has taught me — that I have so much to learn about food. At many of NYC's best, I have had little idea of what ingredients were at play or what techniques were used. I've had to rely on my senses, my palette alone. As with this first appetizer, foie gras and apples were not the only ingredients but it's all I could see. By now you should be aware of my foie gras fetish and so it shouldn't surprise you that this was high-quality foie gras I'd eat any day. That said, the other ingredients on the plate had little relevance in elevating this dish to new heights, like a beautiful girl who doesn't know how to dress.

florida frog legs and Jerusalem artichoke soup

This was my first time with frog legs and to say that it tasted like chicken would be an insult to every toad on the planet. The meat was softer and lighter than chicken and in every way possible so much better. The soup, however, was astoundingly boring. Of course this was a nice soup that tasted fine, but I wasn't paying $105 for a fine soup. I wanted fireworks and tears and bursts of laughter, and this soup put me to sleep. The one redeeming factor this soup had was the silky, creamy aftertaste that stayed until the entree course.

elysian fields lamb loin, confit cipollini onions, sweet garlic coulis, crispy shoulder craqeulins, parmesan-scallion dressing

There's that smile I was looking for. This was lamb at its finest hour, the meat as tender as Wagyu. Somehow the parmesan-scallion dressing did not complement the lamb but became a part of it. The onions and craqeulins, however, were superfluous sides that did little more than look pretty.

grilled yellowfin tuna, red-wine peppered shallots, parsnip, roasted salsify, marchand de vin butter.

The menu describes a multi-faceted dish, but in actuality the tuna was a one-star experience, which was the perfectly grilled tuna. My memory of the dish is vague, but that's because the seasonings were near non-existant. But presentation wise, it was a pretty dish. Martha would be happy.

duo of vermont quail, bacon-wrapped breast, glazed celery leg confit, potato gnocchi, truffle sauce

A baffling presentation that was more complex than the dish itself. Like the soup the quail was a nice dish, but where was the pop? The sparkle? Nowhere to be seen.

roasted black sea bass, syrah sauce, stuffed leeks, potato confit, caramelized cipollini (comment on this post if you know other names for sea bass)

At a restaurant like Daniel, top-of-the-line ingredients are assumed to be the norm and this sea bass was no different. The fish was so fresh I'd believe it if the server had told me the dish was killed-to-order. But also at a restaurant like Daniel, I want more than that and that's where the syrah sauce went that extra step. First there was the strong yet equally subtle butter before ending on a flash of red wine. A perfect sauce for the perfect fish.

warm guanaja chocolate coulant, liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet

Like me, it's possible you don't understand half of what this dish is, but the menu writing is a veil for a glorified chocolate souffle. The cake itself was beautiful but there was nothing here I couldn't replicate at home, save the gold leaf on top.

honey crisp apple confit, cinnamon sable, sparkling apple cider sorbet - a dense, apple delight

orange and huckleberry vacherin, naval orange compote, meringue creme chantilly - It's a spaceship! This would be a perfect, summer dish because of the strong tart flavor from the raspberry. After a heavy meal, fruit is often the best way to end.

caramelized hazelnut sable, dulche de leche cream, caraibe chocolate mousse, horchata ice cream - again, I have no idea what this description means but I can tell you this is one, dense dessert that's difficult to finish. It's a lot of thick hazelnut mousse.

coconut sphere with vanilla infused pineapple, basil seeds, cherimoya sorbet - my favorite dessert of the night. Between the texture contrasts to the light coconut meringue to the sweet pineapple, the dessert was multi-dimensional.

petit fours: chocolate truffles (basil, cinnamon, raspberry, lemon)

more gifts from the kitchen

So here's the deal. Daniel was a good time of a restaurant. It was great in fact but mostly because the dining room was gorgeous and the service was sharp, attentive and perfectly-timed. The food, though, was disappointing. With the exception of the desserts which demonstrated vast amounts of effort and creativity, the rest was under-seasoned, over-priced and short on spark.

The food was fussier than it was tasty and begs the question if all ingredients must be molded into obtuse shapes. If Daniel is going to serve food as pretty as an exhibit at the MOMA, there must be substance backing the look, and tonight the stars just didn't match up.

Daniel
(212) 288-0033
Upper East Side
60 E 65th St
New York, NY 10065
www.danielnyc.com/daniel.html

Daniel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 6, Del Posto: Where the Godfather Meets Batali

Courtesy of NY Eatery

Mario Batali is a big, celebrity chef with a restaurant portfolio as lively as his orange-colored hair. His Food Network name is branded across 17 restaurants, not to mention Eately, a giant market on 5th Avenue that would probably overwhelm even the hungriest of Italian grandmothers.

Del Posto is his fancier, more well-known restaurant (second to Babbo) and last year was elevated to four stars in the New York Times thanks to the new critic Sam Sifton. In 2008 Del Posto was downgraded to one Michelin Star from two and this year failed to earn that second star back even in light of the NYT upgrade. But all this back story aside, how does Mario Batali do Italian food?

Del Posto is a formal place, the kind that subconsciously urges you to stand up when a woman approaches the table to sit down. The interior could easily pass for a restaurant in Batman's Gotham City: high-ceilings, steps at every corner, metal railings lining walkways, marble floors, dim yellow lighting to match the scores of candles in the bar area. It's a dark, brown place filled with tall Italian waiters and their slicked-back hair and short, also Italian, busboys wearing the traditional white jacket and white pants, a uniform that reminds me of a small-town doctor.

Amuse Bouche of fried saffron risotto, chicken consomme with egg yolk, and puff pastry with ham pate (I think? Can't remember).

Jean-Georges demonstrated that an amuse bouche should be lively and well-rounded, two qualities this opening act lacked. A greasy risotto ball and a heavy puff pastry did little to wake up the palette. Only the chicken consomme — the clear soup fortified with strong herbs and stock — belonged on the table.

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Robiola Sformato & Truffled Hazelnuts

The first appetizer was one of those delicate moments, a time when flavors and feelings come so seamlessly and quickly that to stop chewing at any moment would ruin the experience. I do not know what was used in this cold appetizer of vegetables except that somewhere in between the squash and a beet, there was smooth, creamy cheese and perhaps genius itself.

Zampone with Lentil Vinaigrette & Salsa Verde

Zampone is spicy sausage wrapped in pig trotters, here paired with a lentils spiked with an acidic salsa verde. The lentils packed more energy than I expected and the spicy sausage less so. Enjoyable and a tad on the heavy side, but not nearly as remarkable as the roasted vegetables.


Yesterday’s 100 Layer Lasagna alla Piastra

Del Posto likes its Italian waiters who take pleasure in spewing a string of Italian words to describe a dish before backtracking with an English translation. Maybe this is why it was at times confusing to know what I was eating. Regardless, this lasagne redefines its sloppy, casserole throw-it-together image with a finely-tuned superior that seems about as labor intensive as a Chinese sweat shop. Fifty (!) paper-thin sheets of lasagna with cheese and sausage hiding in-between — the layers in this dish mean something and with every bite another dimension, another flavor presents itself. In wine terms, this was dish that kept going and going.

Seared Duck Breast, Apician Spices, Savor alla Francescana & Lovage

The seared duck beast is an Italian winter on a plate. Tender duck is oaky and spiced, paired with a pumpkin-apple-pear jelly. The entire plate, though, could have used more of that savory and salty to balance with the sweet.

Sfera di Caprino with Celery & Fig Agrodolce & Celery Sorbetto

Boy does this dish work on the most unexpected of levels. Celery sorbet? Yes. Absolutely yes. It's an icy cleanser that hits right before the sweetness from the figs balances with creaminess from the cheese. A buttery crunch from the crumbs around the cheese. This is dessert with inspiration and precision as its parents.

Spezzata di Castagne Warm Plum Macedonia, Crushed Chestnuts & Yogurt Gelato
I'm a bit hazy on this one, but I do remember loving the wintery plums and the buttery cake.

Del Posto was an interesting experience, one that was intentionally the way it consistently was. The servers, for one, were a serious bunch who never smiled but never frowned. They presented themselves not as a group intent on creating the best experience but one that aspired to be purgatory in nature, facilitators between the customers and the kitchen (we're assuming the kitchen is not hell). As for Del Posto's cuisine, it's creative, fine-dining Italian that brings with it as much tradition and warmth as a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

Del Posto
(212) 497-8090
Chelsea
85 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011
www.delposto.com

Del Posto on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 5 - Tasty Ramen, Sour Service



Once again we found ourselves eating more Asian food. Ippudo's interior is cramped, dark, loud and full of servers who shout Japanese at haphazard moments. The place is famous for their pork buns and bowls of ramen, foods which David Chang has laid claim to in NYC. Ippudo though is still extremely popular and very busy. Question of the Night: How do the two compare?


One bite in, I knew Chang's pork buns were far superior to Ippudo's. Chang is king of all things pork and his juicy, fatty pork belly was an experience in itself. Ippudo's pork belly was a tougher, cheaper bite that didn't have nearly enough umami. Where Chang uses a cucumber to undercut the meat, Ippudo uses iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise. Don't get me wrong, Ippudo has some delicious pork buns but between the two Ippudo comes in a very distant fourth.


What of the ramen? Ippudo takes the prize in this category with its miso-inspired broth and slurpy noodles. Chang's broth relied too much on pork for depth (which never came). Ippudo's is just so appropriate for a winter night. The soft-boiled egg might have been my favorite part of the entire bowl. But as far as the best soup broth on this culinaring trip, Lam Zhou's beats everybody.

Now I would to take this moment to wail about Ippudo's inept service. When the first half of our party arrived and gave the hostess our name, she told us the wait would probably be 30 to 45 minutes and to tell her when our entire party is here because she might be able to seat us earlier. When the rest of the party arrived, we told her. Response: The wait is going to be 45 minutes to 1 hour now because your party wasn't inside the room so I just pushed you down on the list. It didn't help that her tone was a condescending and accusing one.

Service Fail #2: I understand that splitting checks can be difficult, but let's not get hostile over the process. When we tried to split the check 5 ways, our server, whose English throughout the entire was sounding like Japanese, explained that she could only (...Japanese... Japanese...) split check (...Japanese...Japanese...) 3 ways (...Japanese... Japanese...) accept 4 credit cards.

Maybe it was the language barrier but between the three economics majors at the table, they couldn't figure out what she meant. 3 ways? 4 cards? She repeated herself several times. Eyes looked to the ceiling. I drank some tea just to calm down. Eventually we figured it — and by figure it out I mean oh-damnit-just-put-everything-on-one-card-I-just-want-to-go-home — but while we were discussing how to balance the check, servers and managers came by our table to see if we were ready to pay. They were pushy and on edge for our payment as if Godzilla were knocking on the door demanding our table and a bowl of ramen too. Please, Ippudo staff, drink some tea.

As we walked out the entire staff, as they had when we first walked in, shouted something in Japanese and threw us a few smiles and bows. The charm this had in the beginning had worn off by the end. Just get me home.

Ippudo
(212) 388-0088
East Village
65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
www.ippudo.com/ny/

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 5 - Portion Sizes Everyone Can Agree With


If only I could consume a Michelin star every day. Well not really, but the break from cafeteria food has been thrilling. Today was lunch at Avoce, a modern Italian restaurant in the Time Warner Center. The three course $29 prix fixe was a big draw.


I usually don't mention the bread at restaurants but Avoce's was something special. The crust had the crunch of a cracker, and the inside had the fluff of a marshmallow. This was one of those breadbaskets where you consider sacrificing dessert for just another piece of bread.

stracciatella: creamy pugliese, mozzarella, roasted artichokes, lemon thyme, arugula - $14

This was an unimpressive cheese appetizer which started off creamy and smooth but quickly took a nosedive to a grittier, rougher finish. The artichokes did little to remedy anything.

beets, pistachio, sweet garlic, thyme, orange

Simple, pure beets. I enjoy beets but only when they don't taste like a pile of dirt. The finish here was clean in part because of the sweet garlic and orange. On any summer day this is an essential dish.

baccala: house made salt cod, curry sauce

Cod can be fishy, but these fritters were buttery and light and looked to the curry sauce to bring that punch every starter should have.


chicken livers, stone ground polenta, spring onions, lemon

If you can't tell from the picture, the kitchen served up a giant portion of chicken livers and polenta. I expected something maybe half this size. Between the creamy polenta, bright, lemon-y onions and solid chicken livers, the plate lacked nothing as far as texture or flavor contrast goes. Now this is modern Italian.


branzino: mediterranean sea bass, blood orange, artichoke - $29

The combination of seabass and blood oranges had excellent potential but was sadly nothing more than what the menu said it was. There was seabass here and then blood orange there. While cooked to the appropriate temperature, the fish was under seasoned, a problem the oranges could have fixed. How about a sauce? A marinade? Something other than just the juice from an orange.

duck legs, cippolini onions

By far the best entree of the meal. Crackling skin and moist duck underneath. Beautifully done and a lot of it to enjoy as well.

handmade whole grain pasta, hen of the wood mushrooms

When I think of whole grain pasta, I imagine pasta from the DUC that reminds me of improperly cooked polenta. Chef Robbins at Avoce has a reputation for pasta and this dish showcases that skill. There's a slight nuttiness from the thick strands of whole grain pasta, a strong, if not overly so, banana flavor from the olive oil, and a heavily salted chicken stock. The mushrooms play more supporting roles here.


apple fritter - a surprisingly light crust with apple right around the corner.


tiramisu - perhaps one of the best I've had. Delicate mascarpone cheese is front and center, and a perfect ratio of ladyfingers to alcohol plays in the background.


chocolate torte, walnut, cinnamon ice cream: pure walnuts undercut the sweetness of this chocolate decadence

I originally had said that lunch at Jean-Georges was the best deal in the city. I still stand by that claim but lunch at Avoce is a reminder that Jean-Georges is not alone in offering wonderful experiences at a reasonable cost. At Avoce the portion sizes are overly generous and the service is gracious and inviting. While some dishes lacked balance or creativity, the experience as a whole was one I hope to repeat again.

A Voce Columbus
(212) 823-2523
Midtown West
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019
www.avocerestaurant.com

A Voce Columbus on Urbanspoon

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 4 - A Cart Worthy of a Michelin

hot chocolate from La Maison de Chocolat - $8

The best way to handle the NYC cold is with a cup of hot chocolate. Rich, deep and warm. La Maison is also a relaxing store to sit in.

After the four-course experience at Jean-Georges, it's funny how a street vendor was the next planned meal of the day. There are several Halal Carts but the one on 53rd and 6th is the most famous and the busiest. We were a block away from the cart when we first saw the line of people waiting for a giant $6 plate of chicken and rice.

it takes three people to man the cart: one cooks, the other two serve and collect money.

It's amazing how people will stand the blistering NYC cold for a plate of chicken (and lamb, if you want) over rice. Are they just crazy? No, they're crazy about the food, and I can see why. Put it this way: if this dish were crack, I'd gladly be a crack addict.


Surrounded by the flashing lights of NYC and quickly losing feeling in my hands because of the hold, I found some absurd pleasure in the tastiest, warmest plate of simplicity ever. The moment felt so New York, so real. Halfway through, what must have been, 5 pounds of chicken + lamb and rice, I knew I had reached my limit. Ok, maybe just one more bite. Maybe just another one. Usually when I push down more food than I care to, it's out of respect for the person who cooked it for me (e.g. my grandmothers). This was different. My body needed one more bite. It craved another one.

A comparison between the $50 lunch at Jean-Georges at the $6 dinner on the street is inevitable and absolutely necessary. Some might take this opportunity to rail on the ridiculousness of fine dining before shoving all of upperclass society into a box labeled pretentious and greedy, but that seems unfair and overreaching. Rather, I think it showcases this city's depth and proves that happiness can be found on all levels, not just on the ones with foie gras.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Culinaring Through NYC: Day 4 - Jean-Georges: A Living Room Worth Eating In (Lunch)



Sitting on a train whisking its way through Manhattan towards Columbus Circle where three Michelin stars were waiting for me for lunch, I wasn't nervous. My heart rate was controlled. Even now I cannot explain why I felt nothing as I approached a destination I had been salivating over for the past three years. In high school I wasted countless hours combing through the menus at Jean-Georges, Per Se, Daniel — the very best of NYC fine dining. And three Michelin stars? All this should have been enough to send me into some kind of coma (the good kind).


The inside of Jean-Georges is undeniably beautiful, modern and comfortable, maybe even cozy, all at the same time. I've been to far stuffier, starchier restaurants that deserve negative Michelin stars. As light poured into the dining room through the floor to ceiling windows looking out into Central Park, a server wearing a coat and tie handed us a menu. The show had begun.

amuse bouche: sunchoke soup with black truffle dot (left), beet with homemade ricotto (middle) and salmon over potato cake (right).

At last an amuse bouche done right. A creamy, smooth sunchoke soup akin to potato, an earthy beet paired with airy ricotta, and warmed salmon over a crunchy potato cake — together the entire plate evoked a range of flavors appropriate for the dishes that followed. This was an amuse bouche that was more than a free sample from the chef, but one that woke up palettes.

foie gras brulee, meyer-lemon gelee

This was the moment when I forgot where I was, when my heart started fluttering, and when I started grinning madly. As a general disclaimer I have a sadistic fetish for anything foie gras and here was a combination new to me. A wheel of foie gras topped with sugar and then blow-torched for a caramelized crust (like a creme brulee). The crunch was an added layer to play on the gelee which was like a bright, slightly sweet palette cleanser paving the way for the foie gras. Fabulous, I say. Absolutely fabulous.

yellowfin tuna ribbons, avocado, spicy radish, ginger marinade

While enjoyable, this starter didn't come near the foie gras as far as complexity goes. The tuna was fresh, but the ginger marinade was overpowering and common. With a "marinade" so distinct, it's easy to see how the avocado gets buried under the commotion.


coach farms goat cheese gnocchi, caramelized baby artichokes, lemon and olive oil

Gnocchi is a challenging pasta to make. It's often too chewy or too soft or too starchy or too dense. Jean-Georges took the clever approach of serving a gnocchi unconventionally shaped like a tube. Rich, yes, but both the presentation and execution here was precise and without flaw. And instead of using a heavy red sauce or a distinct brown-butter sage sauce, lemon and olive oil acted like simple flip-flops on a dish usually wearing loafers or, in worst case scenarios, giant clown shoes.

wild mushroom risotto, parmesan

Disclaimer #2: I also have a fetish for risotto. How, I wondered, was Jean-Georges going to deliver this classic dish. While slightly over salted, the risotto made use of bitter greens on top to undercut the richness of the cream, butter and starch. A clever idea. As far as technicality goes, the risotto's consistency was exceptional. Creamy, gentle with no sign of anything remotely gelatinous.

butternut squash soup, black trumpet mushrooms

At any other restaurant I would throw a tantrum in the dining room at the sight of butternut squash soup. Let's be real here. Ever since last year, I feel like butternut squash has become the prostitute of winter menus. It's everywhere. But how about from now on only Jean Georges is allowed to serve his light, clean version of a dish usually so thick, heavy and sweet it's a three-course meal in one. This, here, is butternut squash done elegantly.

baked salmon, black truffle crumb crust, crispy parsnip

The salmon was a tender medium-rare, but besides that it was a forgettable dish. This was plain salmon presented and served as plain salmon that could have gone much, much further. A disappointing dip in the meal.

parmesan crusted confit leg of chicken, salsify, basil and lemon butter

I never order chicken at nice restaurants but if lunch at Jean-Georges were a normal thing for me, I'd order this one. A crispy exterior, thinly cut, moist and brooding with basil, chicken parmesan never tasted so fancy.

caramelized strip loin, roasted brussel sprouts, pecans and avocado, maître d'hôtel butter

I didn't try any of the butter, but from what I could tell, this was a thick steak for a man with an appetite, as all steaks usually are. Seasoning and so on aren't really the point, and this was a steak that is on the menu because something has to feed the crazy carnivores, not because it's exceptional or characteristic of a restaurant with three michelin stars.

veal sweetbreads (thymus gland) w. grilled pear, licorice.

Talk about large sweetbreads. The earthy, gaminess of the sweetbreads paired well with the sweet pear and bitter licorice. I can't say I've ever had breads as large and juicy as these either. Presentation, though, was colorless and cramped on the small, square plate it was served on, but still I recommend this to anyone who enjoys sweetbreads.

Sadly I don't have a picture of the one entree that will stay in my mind for some time. The broth for the red snapper crusted with "nuts and seeds" was impossibly light, buttery and direct.

caramel: salted caramel tart, hazelnut streusel, creme fraiche, caramelized expresso ice cream, chewy caramel powder.

I'm almost done. Hang in there. For dessert, the "caramel" was the ugly child in a family of beautiful siblings (e.g the chocolate dessert). The sorbet tasted of grass and the spiral on top the cake was unnecessarily phallic in shape. As for flavor, the cake was airy but that alone isn't enough for a Michelin powerhouse to serve it.

chocolate: chocolate cake, vanilla bean ice cream, caramelized honey ganache, amaranth, seeds, hibiscus streusel

What's admirable about this dessert was how balanced it was. Even the molten chocolate cake didn't end with that sudden sugar spike you always get with cheap chocolate candybars. Because the menu simply called this dish "chocolate," I'll give Jean-Georges leeway to put items on a plate together that don't exactly match. The peanut butter and chocolate (left side) was a dessert of its own.

petit fours: chocolate

petit fours: macaroons

serving handcut marshmallows. lol.

The meal finished with several petit fours. This, of course, two hours later and who knows how many glasses of wine. Service was good, but not three-michelin star quality, which calls for anticipation of needs before needed and, in general, a flawless performance of busboys and servers working in tandem. Twice, plates were given to the wrong people. Jean-Georges does a much better job refilling your wine glass while you're not looking. Too many times did I mistakenly think that I hadn't had any wine yet. Read as much into that as you want.

OK. Was Jean-Georges worth the money spent? Yes. At $29 for two plates ($16 for each additional) and several treats before and after, this is one of NYC's best lunch deals. That being said, lunch was not a three Michelin star experience and probably because it was lunch. Dinner is where the real forks and knives come out (I hope). But certainly this was a wonderful performance featuring carefully constructed dishes executed on levels with the precision that of a surgeon. This all in a dining room so relaxed and chill, it's easy to forget that you're eating in a restaurant, much less one of the top-rated in the New York City.

Jean-Georges
(212) 299-3900
Upper West Side
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023
www.jean-georges.com

Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon