The Best Lunch Deal in NYC

My mother decided to invite me to lunch to celebrate my birthday a few days early as I will be away on the Big Day. Lo and behold, she dragged me to Jean-Georges restaurant for a leisurely (ie 3 hour) lunch. Now I know where I get this love of slow food from…

This was my first time back to JG since they redid the room, and I have to say the place looks great. I liked it before, truth be told, but it was far more formal and a bit cold. Now it’s soft and warm, with beige leather seats and an inviting glow from a flowing chandelier anchored to the ceiling.

We ordered the $28 prix-fixe menu for 2 dishes, still one of the city’s best QPR (Quality-to Price Ratio) lunch deals. Of course, that means I could spend more money on wine… But that’s for later.

The meal started off with some interesting amuses bouche: a rice cracker puff with some tuna tartar, a raw Kumamoto oyster with a briney foam, and a soup of chestnut with a ravioli filled with chestnuts. The tuna was delicious, absolutely delicious on the cracker; the oyster slightly overpowered by the foam, which was far too salty; and the soup absolutely fantastic, just the most ethereal and light essence of chestnuts, with a slightly under-cooked ravioli to mar the quality just so.

My first course was a butternut squash soup with tiny cubes of squash, chives and black trumpet mushrooms (one of my favorite ‘shrooms!). Thick and creamy, this practically oozed butter but wasn’t as heavy as one would think. My pet peeve with butternut squash soup is how absolutely filling it can be if not done properly. This was very, very good, nicely balanced, especially on a dark and dreary fall day. The one fault I could find with it was that every once in a while it was a bit saltier than I wanted it to be. Not by much, but enough to notice. Then again, I’ve begun to notice a salty trend in NY cuisines lately for some reason, and I know I’m not the only one.

Second course was sweetbreads on a licorice stick with a roast pear and some lemon sauce. Very good, but not as good as the ones I had at 11 Madison Park a few weeks ago, which were sublime. These were delicious, don’t get me wrong, and yes I realize I am spoiled sometimes. Beautiful texture, if just so slightly drier than I liked, but I am picky.

Now to the wine. The list is nicely stacked, though with more recent vintages. Some wines are pretty decently priced, though there are of course those I look at and laugh… After chatting with the sommelier (something I think anyone who wants to be assured of a good choice should do at a place like this, no matter how much they think they know), we decided on a 2001 Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits St Georges Clos des Forets St Georges. This comes from Burgundy, my favorite region, and from a vintage that offered nice bright fruit and good acidity, something I love in wine. Then again, when dealing with Burgundy, there is one paramount lesson: always go with the producer, not the vintage.

At first, the wine was rather reticent, showing hints of cherries and forest floor, carried through from the nose to the light-bodied palate that ended with tart tannins. As it sat and I swirled the glass, the wine began to gather strength and depth, even seeming to become darker. Yet despite this added weight, it never lost its elegance, becoming more focused as the elements came together. Cherries, raspberries, sous-bois (forest floor), earth, some mushrooms, all danced on a frame that seemed to vibrate on the palate with an intense nervosite, ending in a medium-length finish. This is beautifully typical Burgundy. And WOW did it go well with my sweetbreads! Talk about enhancing the experience…

Then came the obligatory avalanche of small desserts and guimauve, real marshmellows still quivering on the plate. Yummy!

The only part that was off was our waiter, who while professional was rather cold and impersonal, which we both found off-putting. The sommelier, on the other hand, was warm and friendly, a nice contrast to his comrade.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend 3 hours on a Wednesday afternoon.

Cheers!

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