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Best Meal of the Trip: Jean Georges’s $38 Prix Fixe Lunch

After somewhat disappointing meals at both Per Se [2] and Blue Hill at Stone Barns [3], I was ready to throw in the towel and eat hot wings for the rest of the trip since, clearly, the Fancy Category wasn’t cutting it. Little did I know the winner would be, yes, a fancy restaurant—Jean Georges’s flagship on Columbus Circle [4]—but for its decidedly affordable two-course $38 lunch offered Monday through Saturday (dinner is $98 for three courses).

Another reason I had only moderate hopes for this lunch is that I had long been enjoying the (now $32) prix fixe in the more casual adjacent café, Nougatine, for years. But on my last trip to New York, Nougatine fell drastically short, with lemon chicken that tasted of Pledge and a steamed artichoke that seemed as depressed as I was (pass the aïoli). Around the same time, I had heard that the main dining room had begun serving a prix fixe lunch, so why not give it a whirl now?

I invited Sarah LeTrent [5], Associate Editor at CNN’s food website, Eatocracy [6], to be my dining companion. Eatocracy made my year by profiling a then-8-month-old Let There Be Bite [7] and I promised her that on my next trip to the city I would be thanking her abundantly with food (but what else?).

The bright dining room is friendly but formal. The seriousness of last night’s service lingers as camera-toting food lovers quickly take their seats next to the suited and bejeweled of New York, most of us quietly ecstatic about dining at Jean Georges without having to sell a kidney to pay for it.

First up, an amuse bouche: bell pepper soup, a jalapeno fritter, and shrimp. Good, but not sending any shivers yet.

For our first course, Sarah ordered “kampachi sashimi, sherry vinaigrette, and toasted pecans.”

I opted for “sea trout sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon, dill, and horseradish” [pictured at top]. Holy mother, I could eat this every day for the next month. Generous hunks of salmon-like sea trout, the sea-water burst of its eggs, tart lemon curd, a kick of horseradish, salty fried sea bits, and a sweet smear of dill. The generous size of each portion is one reason this prix fixe stands out. Most restaurants tend to save on cost by minimizing portion sizes and dumbing down the complexity. Not here!

Of course we had trouble deciding on just two courses, so we added one more to share: “Parmesan risotto with mushrooms and herbs.” The woodsy mushrooms were seared to perfection and the lemony overtones had us repeating, “Just one more spoonful.”

Sarah’s second course: “Salt and pepper sweetbreads, sweet chili emulsion, pea shoots.”

My second course: “Sauteed veal scallopine, Flying Pig ham, mushrooms, and lavender.” Is it possible I ordered perfectly? I never do that! I’m a sucker for pounded veal, but this was punched up with a crispy slice of ham, probably more butter than I want to know about, and those woodsy mushrooms again. I was so full I couldn’t finish it, but so reluctant to waste it that I took the rest home and ate it for dinner with some leftover mozzarella, pleased as Punch I had the good sense to ask for a doggie bag at Jean Georges.

We declined dessert, but the petit fours arrived. The house-made marshmallows were spectacular, and I don’t even like marshmallows.

Someone said recently that the mark of a good meal is how much you reminisce about it the next day, and I am still thinking about this one.

Other NYC restaurant reviews from this trip:
Per Se

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Torrisi, ABC Kitchen, Lincoln, Veritas, Café Boulud, the Breslin, Lotus of Siam, New Amsterdam Market [14]

NYC restaurant reviews from May 2010:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It

Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old [15]
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be [16]
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off [17]
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off [18]
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss [19]
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Marea: Do Your Homework [20]
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City [21]
Apiary: Hidden Gem [22]
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew? [23]
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ [24]
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food? [25]