Sunday, January 10, 2010

Market by Jean Georges (W Hotel, Boston)

"Sorry, we are fully committed for tonight", chirped the table reservation agent who took my call, her response sounding rehearsed. Oh well. Guess it was a bit presumptuous to call up one of Boston's newest and hottest dining spots, Market by Jean Georges, at the last minute and expect to get a table for two. On a Saturday night, no less. "However, we do have a bar area which does not require reservations", she added helpfully.

That provided us enough glimmers of hope to jump into a cab (no chance of walking on this frigid winter night) for the short ride to the newly 0pened, ultra-hip W Boston Hotel which housed Jean Georges' latest foray into the Boston dining scene. We walked past the boisterous crowd at the hotel lounge area and found the restaurant. Market wasn't your typical stuffy upscale restaurant by Jean Georges though with the servers reciting each dish's individual ingredients, but the menu was more on the casual side (with a dash of Asian-inspired spice), with classic dishes emphasizing fresh, local ingredients.

Luckily, seats were available at the bar area, which was located at the far end of the restaurant. Diners sitting here have their back turned to the tables, but it didn't feel quite separate, as you could simply turn around to survey the crowd (a bit more mature than the young and attractive types at the lounge). We decided to try the six course Market Menu ($58), to get the full treatment. This pre-selected menu consists basically of three appetizers, two main courses, and dessert served in smaller portions.

(top) Rice cracker crusted tuna, citrus chili emulsion

This dish was a clear winner and our favorite. The crunchy rice crackers topped with spicy chili was truly amazing!

(top) Foie gras brulee atop toasted brioche, pineapple
meyer lemon jam

Quite unique presentation - I've never had foie gras served like this before, on top of brioche and with covered with caramelized sugar. Well, I love foie gras in whatever shape or form. Not sure what the lemon jam was all about though.

(top) Seared shrimp with ginger and basil

(top) Striped bass in sweet and sour broth

Another dish that I loved. The fish and veggies were awesome, yet the tasty broth managed to steal the spotlight. It was good enough to drink, and drink it I did - to the last drop!

(top) Lamb chops with smoked chili glaze,
king oyster mushrooms and broccoli

Sorry, but have to rate this one as a miss. The chili glaze overpowered the lamb, and a whole bag of salt must have spilled on the veggies. The lamb itself was tender and not too gamey, and probably better eaten without the glaze.

(top) Warm chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream

A classic Jean Georges specialty. A bit predictable, sure. Chocolate was just right, not cloyingly sweet, so I managed to eat all of it. (Calories don't count while on vacation).

Overall, it was great to experience dining at Market by Jean Georges on our brief visit to Boston. Although I did notice a couple of the "fully committed" tables stay forlornly unoccupied during the entire three hours my behind was parked on the bar stool. So much for that.

Market by Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Golden Arches Packed Up Their Knives and Left, no Padma needed

I didn't quite know what to make of this cartoon that recently appeared on the front page of the Reykjavik Grapevine, a weekly paper that chronicles all things happening in the capital city of Iceland. A brief backgrounder: In late October 2009, the global fast food chain McDonald's announced that they were closing all three outlets in Iceland due to high operating costs brought about by the worldwide financial crisis. Importing all those buns, beef, and ketchup became too expensive.

Hence, the Reykjavik Grapevine decided to come up with "Three Reasons why Icelanders will miss McDonald's". At first glance, and keeping in mind my brief introduction to Icelandic humor (chronicled here), I burst out laughing and marvelled at the sarcasm of the creators. Freaking brilliant, I thought.

Later on, the more I obsessed about it, doubts crept into my mind. Was it satire, or was there a grain of truth buried somewhere? Imagine your neighborhood McDonald's closing down - would you say, "Oh well, such is life" and move on, or would you be urging your congressman to give them a bailout? Maybe the Icelanders were sad about losing the Golden Arches.

So I went back and forth, back and forth - don't McDonald's burgers contain real beef? Or were they lying all this time and it was really some synthetic stuff like those healthy veggie burgers that I switched to that taste like cardboard? (Counter argument: Maybe Icelanders simply don't like beef. They do eat a lot of seafood). And I conscientiously drop loose change into those collection bins for the Ronald McDonald House, was that a scam too? (Rebuttal: Maybe Icelanders don't like giving to charity and expect their government to take care of everyone's welfare).

Finally I came to "McDonald's employees are happy". Really? Since when? Unless the counter people in Reykjavik had drastically different demeanors from the ones in New York, "happy" isn't the word I'd use to describe them. Unmotivated and unhurried are more like it. No counter argument will convince me otherwise.

So, after all this analysis, I have to go with my initial impression. It is satire. I think. Whatever. Here's a Reuters article (with video) chronicling Icelanders lining up for their last Big Mac.

P.S. That is one mighty scary looking Ronald McDonald who does look like he loves to eat children.

Read about Saegreifinn's lobster soup and mink whale.