Jean-Georges: "I CAIN'T QUIT YEW!!!"
There are over 17,000 restaurants in New York city, and among them are only 4 (or 5, depending how you look at it) little ribbon-bonneted golden children, elite 4-star beauties, most with French accents, all with perfect A+ report cards from the critics. So, when the Times’ star-doling emissary, Count Bruni, turns his squinty monocle toward one of them, with the threat of knocking them out of their patent leather booties and into the bristling gutter with the 3-star riffraff (“But I don’t WANT to play with them! They don’t have table cloths! And they play music! FROM I-PODS!”) or even—heaven forbid, the shit-eating 2-stars, well, the world takes notice.
Either the Count this week knew his reconsideration of Jean Georges would capture a bigger audience than usual, or else his old reporter’s instinct was throbbing like a barometrically sensitive arthritis. Because this was more than one review of one restaurant. It was a question raised about all megachefs with entrepreneurial empires like Jean-Georges Vongerichten: Are they capable of maintaining their kitchens?
The phenomenon of the megachef’s overreach is sort of like, you know, how someone is really famous for his or her tennis skills, say, and then next thing you know, after a couple of perfume advertisements, late nights at Cain, and the allure of a 3-by-3-inch velveteen mole, he or she couldn’t sell “backhand” in a game of charades.
A primary example of this being Anna “I resist-waxed my midriff and rolled in white paint” Kornikova and Enrigay “This hat is mad straight, bra” Iglesias.
While they do not boast helipad-like moles, Vongerichten’s profitable restaurants in Vegas, the Bahamas, and Shanghai among other places have lured him away from the kitchen at his flagship, Jean-Georges, just as Frank says “Thomas Keller peddles haute tuna sandwiches under a Samsung sign in the Time Warner Center” and “Mario Batali travels the country to hawk cookware and hang with Nascar drivers.” Makes them sounds like dirtbag grifters, dunnit?
Frank holds his experience, this year, at Jean Georges, as the litmus test for everyone: “if the restaurant Jean Georges holds up, there's hope for all the others.” There’s hope for what others? Other chefs? Other flagship restaurants? Chefs with TV deals and product deals, or just multiple-restaurant chefs? Or…does “all the others” mean…EVERYONE IN THE WORLD?
OH NO! If Frank doesn’t like Jean Georges… THE KITTEN GETS BLENDED!
Frank sets up the review with an interrogative monologue reminiscent of an episode of Sex in the City (can’t you see Frank in a silk nightie, smoking a parliament and scrolling this across his laptop screen?):
"Was Mr. Vongerichten trading exacting standards for easy money? Was fame getting the best of him, and leaving the worst for us? Can an artist morph into an industry and hold on to the magic that made it all happen?"
Cut to interior, Martini Bar:
Samantha: So I had my pinky up some guy's ass last night and he morphed into an industry!
Charlotte [beginning to shear a lamb]: Samantha, that's foul!
Miranda: Anybody know the Steeler's score?
Carrie: This would make a GREAT topic for my COLUMN! [takes clothes off]
Before launching into a rhapsodic analysis of JGV’s cuisine, Frank’s got to open some old wounds, reminding us of Vongerichten’s V Steakhouse, a “patently foolish miscreant.” Miscreant meaning, of course, according to the dictionary "an evildoer, villain, infidel or heretic."
"Sooo, what does zat mean? Are yeu inferring zat yeu did not like ze restaurangh?"
And now, for the review. If you follow Bruni, you will recall his review of Perry Street (I certainly do) last fall. He had a sort of theory about JGV’s food—he called it “time release gastronomy” and he described every bite as a fugue of flavors. Example: “The sweetness of the fruit set the stage for, then ceded it to, the sourness and gentle heat of other players, which arrived as a second wave, a delayed epiphany.”
And nothing but NOTHING makes him wax romantic like this time-release business. Hence, the Jean-Georges review is a doozie.
And P.S., if this hyper-romantic image that accompanied the article isn’t the Dining Times equivalent of a musk-oil massage on a bear skin rug, what is?
Let the nooniness begin:
“Mr. Vongerichten loves this sort of dance, in which one effect often defers so quickly to another that it seems like a memory almost as soon as it's experienced. He isn't seeking a seamless blend; he wants each sensation to have its say without overstating its case — to frame, tame and joust with the other players.”
At one point he describes “a bevy of herbs and spices, including mint, tarragon, basil and Thai chili, each of which registered a fleeting, teasing impression. The proportions were precise. The results were dazzling.”
Most of this review reads like a romance novel.
“The proportions were precise…the results were dazzling…”
EIWWW. I mean, am I wrong? Don’t you get the impression that Frank lay down blindfolded on a white linen tarp whilst Jean Georges tickled him with springs of herbs?
And it was a physically engaging meal— Frank repeatedly had to shift tactics and focus in order to fully appreciate his courses. It’s a dominant-sumbissive thing, where Frank is submissive and JGV’s food is the leather-clad ‘matrix…
Frank is the coy doe, and the cuisine is the firm yet demanding hound.
“An initial bite of caramelized sweetbreads with a chestnut glaze and shavings of black truffle was slightly cloying. But a subsequent bite, with more truffle, was exquisite. From then on I took greater care with each forkful, determined to make it count.”
Have you ever?? A critic saying to his meal, Garth-style, “I’m not worthy! I’ll try harder!”
“Eating is seldom this absorbing, this bracing.”
But NOTHING is quite as bracing as Frank's girdle.
“The dining room's big windows, Central Park glimpses and unobtrusive palette of beiges and grays give it an airiness that other fancy restaurants don't have.”
For people who really enjoy a palette in gray and beige...
remember, you're never too young to check in to a hospice!
Frank concludes, “Those qualities”—the ability to make him a coy mistress—“may be missing elsewhere in the Vongerichten empire, but they're still here.”
Cue Shania Twain’s “Still the One,” and turn the shower to cold, this is getting gross.