"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bringing Jean Georges home

       The sweet and sour jus served with the snapper at Jean Georges bewitched me. I couldn't get it out of my head. Aside from butter, I couldn't put my finger on the ingredients I was tasting. I only knew the rich combination of flavors was intoxicating. Of course, upon reading the recipe the secret ingredient was obvious-- mushrooms!

     I was mainly interested in recreating the sauce, so I decided to concentrate on that, leaving the nut and seed crusting for next time. The trick was browning the butter slowly. Next time, I'll clarify the butter and keep a closer eye on it so it doesn't go quite so brown.

This is a totally different type of cooking from what I'm used to, giving you less freedom to multitask and requiring more careful attention to each step. It is an useful exercise in timing and discipline. I used sherry vinegar in place of the Banyuls vinegar. For the summer vegetables which swim in the buttery sauce, I used the last few cherry tomatoes from my garden, along with baby red potatoes and yellow pearl onions for some variety of color. (The mushrooms that were strained out of the sauce made an awesome addition to my scrambled eggs the next morning.)

I wasn't thrilled with the red snapper at Wegman's that day, so I chose some much nicer looking haddock fillets which were a couple dollars less per pound, which I pan fried simply and served over top.

The flavor was as I remembered it. Patrick and I enjoyed it outside (while we can!), watching another one of Seneca Lake's legendary sunsets. We paired it with a bottle of Lamoreaux Landing's 2007 Reserve Chardonnay, a beautiful complement. Butter all around!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lunch at Jean Georges

When my farmer and I went to gawk at the big city last week, I had to get in some of Manhattan's  special brand of fancy eatin' . This is not a decision I took lightly. Pat teased me as I read dozens of menus, discussion boards and reviews online. After debating with my NY restaurant guru friend, Robert, I decided that we couldn't go wrong with the prix fixe lunch at Jean Georges.  Robert made a reservation for Wednesday at 12:15, and we were ready to go.

I got increasingly excited as the day approached, so of course we arrived downtown extra early. It didn't hurt that the train nearest to the flat where we were staying was the  A, which goes express from 125th to 59th street. The weather cooperated beautifully the first couple days of our trip, but Wednesday was more of a day to stay inside. After a brisk, touristy walk along the bottom of Central Park (dodging all the offers of carriage rides), we ducked into the Time Warner Center. There I introduced Pat to Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma; it was a day full of firsts for him. We still had about 20 minutes to kill, so we sat down at the bar at Cafe Bouchon and enjoyed a glass of prosecco overlooking Columbus Circle.

Finally at noon we walked over to Trump Tower. After checking in with the hostess, we were taken to a lovely table in the center of the room, which was filled with natural light because of the ceiling to floor windows. The staff made us feel welcome from the moment we arrived. The decor was neutral, whites and greys set off by dark wood and merlot-colored flowers arranged simply on the tables. Robert arrived shortly after we did, and we each ordered a glass of sparkling wine from Napa, Domaine Carneros. The wine list was an impressive volume bound in leather. Our bubbly was a nice golden sparkler with brassy fruit flavors to sip on whilst taking in the room and contemplating the menu.

The server talked us through the menu, highlighting some of the most popular dishes along with his favorites, assuring us that it was nearly impossible to go wrong. After much discussion and agonizing, we ordered our lunches and a bottle of sparkling wine to share (Albert Boxler, Alsace).  This turned out to be a perfect choice, a virtually clear sparkling Riesling that was crisp and clean on the palate and really allowed each dish to shine.

The chef welcomed us with a trio of amuse bouche, which gave a brilliant idea of what  we had in store. What a lovely custom! It was a delightful contrast of flavors, textures and temperatures: sashimi of madai, a sweet corn fritter with chipotle cream sauce and tiny glass of  gazpacho which had been strained until it was colorless.

We were given the choice of hard french rolls or slices of whole grain bread, as the cutlery was readied for the first course. Robert and I had both chosen the Foie Gras Brulee with slow baked strawberries and balsamic vinegar. 

Just like the classic dessert, there was a hard caramelized crust to crack. Underneath there was a beautifully light-textured foie and the baked strawberries on a base of brioche. The sweet, jammy flavor of the berries was the dominant one for me, and it played nicely with the richness of the foie gras.

Pat's choice was Sea Trout Sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon, dill and horseradish. The horseradish grated over top drew you in with its pungent aroma. It was an insprired combination of fresh, sharp and bright flavors, colors and aromas: a pale yellow lemon foam in the bottom of the bowl, against the orange of the sea trout, topped with the trout eggs, all set off by the vibrant green of the dill pesto.

Here's Robert's second course: Young Garlic Soup with thyme. It was served with sautéed frog legs on the side which he was invited to dip into the soup, which was smooth with a mild garlic flavor. They even brought him a finger bowl, complete with rose petals, after this dish. 

     Goat Cheese Gnocchi topped with caramelized baby artichoke and parsley was my next course. The "gnocchi" were lumps of pure goat cheese which were almost too rich. This wasn't quite balanced out by the tanginess of the cheese or the accompaniments. Perhaps we could have borrowed some of the sweetness from the previous dish!
Next, Patrick enjoyed Red Snapper Crusted with nuts and seeds with sweet and sour jus. He loved the crunch of the crust, and I was just fascinated by the perfect balance between sweet and sour in the sauce. Pat says he's never eaten at a restaurant like this, but he sure did a great job of ordering.

Robert's last course was Parmesan Crusted Confit Legs of chicken, Potato Puree and Lemon Butter, Jean Georges' version of comfort food. The parmesan flavor was a a great, salty addition that stuck in my mind.

When they brought my Roasted Sweetbreads and Fragrant Pickled Peach with wild arugula & pink peppercorn, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew the meal was drawing to an end. The dish lifted my spirits, however, as I constructed the perfect bite with a bit of sweetbread, a chunk of pickled peach and a leaf of arugula.
The care that had gone into selecting each ingredient was obvious, and this dish achieved a balance of flavors which my earlier choices missed.

The lightly pickled peaches struck me as quite creative, and you know what will be going on in my kitchen next year when peach season rolls around. Their fruity acidity cut through the natural richness of the sweetbread, while the arugula contributed a lively pepperiness. Even though I generally prefer sweetbreads grilled and crunchier, this was a dish I really savored.

But wait! Of course, at this point we were brought the dessert menu. How could be resist? At Jean Georges, you chose a flavor theme for dessert and you a brought a plate of sweet treats based on that theme.

I chose Summer, accompanied by a glass of effervesant Moscato d'Asti. A delightful pairing with my almond and peach confection, plum-shiso sorbet and fresh blueberry soda. It must have been the shiso gave the sorbet a nice savory edge.

Patrick's Cherry dessert, paired with a 20 year Fonseca Port, featured a cherry tart and cherry coupe with chocolate and ice cream. (It must have been good because he devoured it before I got much of a taste.) 

Robert had the same port with his Chocolate tasting plate. On the right in the photo above is the famous molten chocolate cake(!), with vanilla bean ice cream center, and on the left a fanciful concoction of chocolate noodles in a peppermint soup.

The meal was rounded out with adorable mini peanut butter and jelly macarons and chocolates in assorted flavors. (My favorite was the bergamot.) This was a charming offering, and I wish I had taken a photo.

The splurge was completley worth it, even a good value for NYC. Each dish was thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented. The service was attentive and gracious throughout. I appreciated the fact that they made our wine last throughout the meal. It was an utterly enchanting experience that I love reliving in my mind.