“Would you like to wait for your guests at the table?” the unusually tall hostess at Jean-George Vongerichten’s restaurant asks as I step into the warm, Adam Tihany designed space from the freezing cold.
Yes, very much indeed!
In today’s Manhattan dinning scene, most hostesses are taught to be guest-centric and polite, yet early arrivals are too often curtly sent to the bar. Okay, it is a five-thirty reservation and the table was obviously open. Still it felt good to be led through the more informal dining room, with its hand-laid mosaic floor of white marble, into the dining room with its minimalist style, soothing taupe, high ceilings, and windows that looked out to the park.
As I live nearby, I’m in the more casual dining room more often than the formal dining room, mostly because they serve a late lunch (the formal dining room is dinner only) and it’s fun to see the celebrities who always seem to be at the bar. Service is good in this room, yet nothing quite like that of the formal room, which is why I’ve chosen this particular space for entertaining guests this particular evening.
This review is more focused on this restaurant as a top choice for entertaining than a review of its (typically excellent) cuisine. In Manhattan, one expects great food. Unfair perhaps, but true. It’s a given at this price point. Yet when the service, the cuisine, and the ambiance all come together, well, this is a place you want to remember when it comes time to entertaining clients or guests. These days, a party of four can expect to pay over $1,000 for dinner (wine and service included) so you want everything to be great.
At the large table with its comfortable sofa seat on one side and chairs on the other, I enjoy the opportunity to relax and observe the scene before my three guests arrive. I choose Jean-George for the excellent service I remembered from a past visit, flawless cuisine, and the opportunity to experience a three-course, prix fixe menu ($98) or seven course tasting menu ($148), which I rarely do when I’m out alone with a friend.
Even at that early hour, the dinning room is nearly full, a mix of what looks to be dating couples and large parties of families celebrating the end-of-the-year holidays. Looking around, I make mental notes about where I’d like to be seated if I came here with a date – one of the recessed tables in the back, perhaps, where we could observe our fellow diners and whisper gossipy secrets without being observed in turn? Or maybe the comfortable-looking sofas that bookend the dining room, where we would also have a good view of the crowd, but they would also have a good view of us.
As soon as my guests arrive, service begins in earnest. A sommelier quickly takes my wine request and promptly brings the bottle along with our request for mineral water. Our waiter, wearing an elegantly tailored suit as is increasingly the custom in top-end restaurants, explains the menu and takes our order.
So far, so good.
My starter of Bluefin Tuna Ribbons with avocado, spicy radish, dill, and horseradish is delicious but far more generous than expected. I can only manage a few bites, as I wonder how I’ll be able to manage the two courses to follow. Red snapper with Lilly bulb radish salad, white sesame, and lavender, tasted day-boat fresh followed, while the main course of poached lobster with saffron tapioca, Gewurztraminer foam ($10 supplement), is succulent richness personified. The Wine Spectator award-winning list offers everything from 1966 Chateau Petrus ($6500) to a decent selection of well-respected reds and whites for $120 and up.
Dessert is special here, and this is yet another reason why I like it for guests (all of whom seem to feel dessert is the best part of the meal). The lavish dessert presentation begins with large plates of attractively arranged dessert “entrees” (the best way to describe their size and attention to detail) chosen by individual guests, and continues on with exotic surprises (tiny house made marshmallow squares, quality chocolates, tiny meringue cookies) arriving at the table at regular intervals.
Kudos to Jean George, his Chef de Cuisine Mark Lapico, and the General Manager for creating such a seamless and delicious way to spend an evening.