Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lunch at JoJo's (NYC)

So continuing on my weekend trip to New York City...

Since we were going into the city, E. and I figured that we would do lunch at a nicer restaurant. I did some research and looked into a couple restaurants. NYC Restaurant Week was going on, but for some reason, restaurant don't do a Restaurant Week menu on Saturday for lunch. I was a bit miffed by this, but it ended up being fine, since many places have prix fixe brunch/lunch menus.

I ended up making a reservation at JoJo, which is owned by the fairly famous chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. JoJo serves brunch on the weekends from 12pm to 2:30pm, but during the winter they have a special prix fixe "Winter Promotion" menu (different from NYC Restaurant Week) which offers a three-course meal for $26.

After we arrived at the restaurant, the hostess seated us fairly quickly. The restaurant was small and the tables were fairly close together, but I never felt bothered by it. The menu is true to what is posted online, and for each course there were a good number of options available to choose from.

After we ordered, breadsticks were brought to the table along with butter.  On the table was also a small bowl of coarse salt, with a tiny spoon, which I thought was a nice touch.  The breadsticks were warm, with a nice crust and an airy, light interior.  Four were brought to our table before the appetizers arrived.  We never asked for any more, and no more were brought once we finished the "basket."

For our first appetizer, we ordered peekytoe crabmeat with mango and cumin crackers. The dish felt very light and reminiscent of spring. The crab was very fragrant and perfectly balanced in seasoning, with a little bit of spiciness to it. The cracker was lightly scented with cumin and the cubed mango was soft, ripe, and sweet. Together, all the elements of the dish came together to make a perfectly balanced bite that had texture and great flavor.  A solid 8 out of 10.  While we liked it, we couldn't give it a higher score because it felt a bit timid and there wasn't really a wow factor.

Our next appetizer was a butternut squash soup with black trumpet mushrooms. The bowl was brought to the table with cubed butternut squash and sauteed mushrooms. The soup was then poured tableside. It was creamy, full bodied, and well seasoned (although perhaps leaning a bit more on the salty side). I loved the sweetness of the cubed squash and the chewy texture of the mushrooms.  The soup itself though was a little bit overwhelming; I think if it had had just a little bit less salt or perhaps a little bit more balancing sweetness it would have been better.  A 7.5 out of 10.

For our first entree, E. brother ordered organic chicken roasted with ginger, green olives, and coriander. Chick pea fries were served alongside the chicken.  E. and I both thought that the fries were very creative and texturally fun to eat since they were crispy on the outside but somehow had a very nice creaminess on the inside.  (They weren't actually creamy, they just taste that way)  The chicken was surprisingly moist, a little salty, but well seasoned even on the inside.  It was a very solid, good dish, but again, nothing amazing.  A 7 out of 10.

For his entree, E. ordered shrimp with lemon risotto and caramelized fennel. As you would expect of any good restaurant, the shrimp were perfectly cooked. The acid from the lemon balanced the creaminess of the risotto perfectly, so that it was rich and smooth without being heavy. There was also a quiet background, a taste that lingered, of fennel that was pleasant and warm.  A 7.5 or 8 out of 10.  Good, solid, but not stunning.

For my main course, I ordered cod roasted with marinated vegetables in an aromatic tomato sauce.  I was in love with this dish.  Even though E.'s dish was good, once he tasted mine, he told me that he wished he had ordered it as well.  The fish was moist and tender with a crispy skin/exterior.  The marinated vegetables tasted a bit sour, like they had been pickled, which I wasn't particularly fond of, but the tomato sauce was full of character and I liked the mashed pea and potato combination.  I was very pleased overall.  A 9 out of 10.

Because we ordered from the prix fixe menu for the Winter Promotion, they did not offer us their entire dessert menu; instead we had only a choice of two of their dessert.  Online, their dessert menu offers 6 choices.

Does this picture not say all?  Look at it.  That was our first dessert: a warm molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  It was rich, but not overwhelming and not too sweet.  It had just the right amount of chocolate intensity to satisfy a person without making the tastebuds feel gross after two or three spoons.  (You know how that happens when something is just too chocolate.)  The vanilla ice cream was nothing to write home about--honestly it felt a bit timid and meek next to the delicious molten chocolate cake, but it provided a nice balance.  Both E. and I were sad when we finished our chocolate cakes, and I was glad we ordered two, because I think our relationship would have been tested had we been forced to share it; I would not have been happy to hand over my spoon.  Clearly, this was a 9 out of 10.  I would definitely order it again.

Our second dessert was an exotic fruit salad with white chocolate ice cream.  The fruit salad included pineapple, banana, kiwi, and chopped dates all in a soupy passionfruit syrup which was spiced with a hint of cinnamon.  The white chocolate ice cream didn't taste particularly of white chocolate to me, and because I really enjoyed the passionfruit flavor we were already quite full, we pushed aside the ice cream and ignored it.  Because a fruit salad is fairly easy to make, I have to give this a 6.5 out of 10.  Nothing stunning, and the ice cream disappointed us a little.

Service was not fantastic.  Certainly no one was negligent, but there was a mix up with the water that I found somewhat surprising.  At our table of three, two of us had glasses of regular water, while E. ordered sparkling water ($7, overpriced Pellegrino).  When the servers saw the liquid levels in our glasses dip below halfway, they refilled, as per usual.  But they took E.'s sparkling water and poured it into everyone's glasses, thus mixing still water with sparkling water.  Then, later, a server poured still water into E. glass of sparkling water.  This time, when we pointed this out, they were kind out enough to replace E.'s glass with one that was just sparkling water, but I still thought that it was astounding that they would so easily mix things up.  Especially when the sparkling water cost $7.  There should be no mix ups; as a customer paying that much, I expect my sparkling water to be pure.  I did not pay for a glass of half sparkling, half still water.  Other than that, it was fine.  I don't know if I will ever return, because NYC has so many great restaurants, but I certainly wasn't disappointed.  It's just... JoJo was just fine.  That's it.  We ate, we were satisfied, and we left.  It was like having a good day.  In the grand scheme of thing, you have so many good days in your life, one good day stands out no more than any other good day.

160 East 64th Street
New York, New York 10021
Tel. 212.223.5656
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10 (average)

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