James Beard Tasting Menu at J&G DC

The space is beautiful and the food is usually good. When it first opened I loved eating at J&G.  But, it just isn’t that exciting to me these days because it’s simply an amalgamation of what you get at so many other W Hotel restaurants to which Jean-Georges Vongerichten has sold his name (why can’t we have a Spice Market instead Jean?). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there are many more interesting places to try in D.C. these days, so I don’t go that often.  But when Gilt City was offering a five course tasting for two including a bottle of wine for 100 bucks, who could say no?*

The results were mixed.  For the price we paid, it’s difficult to complain about anything, but  I offer some thoughts nonetheless. The first course of Shaved Tuna with Chili Tapioca, Asian Pear and Lime was very good, though the tuna wasn’t super flavorful.  I think poached scallop, or lobster or shrimp would have worked better in the chilled broth that was strongly redolent of coconut and lemongrass. The second course of Crispy Poached Egg, Caviar and Crème Fraiche could have been delicious.  Everything was perfectly executed, but the caviar was mushy and fishy. It was a bad ingredient that was so key to an otherwise perfectly executed dish and it ruined the whole thing. Next came the terror of all terrors: Grilled Black Pepper Octopus, Sweet Onion and Lime.  I’m not sure what professional kitchen would let this dish into their dining room.  It was terrible.  The octopus was over cooked and mealy. There was certainly Szechuan black pepper as the dish advertised; it was all I could taste. The garnish was a pile of raw shaved onions. I’m not really sure what I was supposed to do with them but eating them certainly wasn’t an appetizing option. It’s too bad because a good grilled octopus is a thing of beauty. This is also a good time to mention that the service at J&G is has usually been a bit amateurish in my experience. Waiters talk as though you’re at Per Se, but unlike at the aforementioned establishment, mistakes are made: glasses remain unfilled, nobody asks why you only ate one bite of a certain course, and frankly it’s a little snobby in a “talk down to our customers” sort of way. I know we paid a pretty cheap price, but it was one the restaurant chose to offer.  So seating us in the back of the restaurant (when it wasn’t full) where we had to watch the servers and bussers run by was annoying (especially since the restaurant is composed of large tables so parties of two sit on the same side of a banquette and face out).

Luckily at this point the dinner took a turn for the better. Rack of Lamb Jardinière was a single lamb chop served with spring vegetables. I wish we could have gone from the tuna straight to this and added another chop. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked and served atop some really beautiful garden vegetables with a smear of thyme scented pea puree underneath. We also ordered a side of the delicious mashed potatoes that seem to be a staple in JGV restaurants. If you’re ever at one don’t miss them.  I once read that restaurant mashed potatoes are 40% potato and 60% butter and cream. I can easily believe it of these, so share the goodness. The dinner ended with a Chocolate Stout Sundae with Pretzel Streusel. I wasn’t exited about the description but that ice cream turned out to be fabulously creamy while still maintaining a certain “stouty” complexity.  If I’d paid full fare for this meal I would have been disappointed. Luckily I didn’t and there were a few highlights. Next time though, I will stick with my regular choices of tuna tartare, slowly cooked salmon, or any other Asian inspired fish dish on the menu. That or some lamb.

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* The menu is $68 per person and the Sancerre, Les Chailloux ‘Cuvée Vieilles Vignes’ 2011 that was offered as the white wine choice is listed at $68 per bottle on their wine list. We also added a side and some red wine for the meat course.

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