Thursday, July 01, 2010

in media(s) res at J&G

I was lucky to get to attend a media dinner last night at J&G Steakhouse. Chef Philippe Reininger was debuting his new summer menu, and newly installed GM Steve Uhr (who came from Blue Duck Tavern) served as the gracious host.

Everything we sampled is on the regular menu, but this was of course a special event, so my noting that the service and execution were flawless has to be taken with a grain (or a sizeable pinch?) of salt. Also flawless? The weather on the patio -- thank goodness. And the patio is nice; surprisingly, it's a  quiet corner, probably because driving down 15th can be such a hassle, given that one has to do backflips to skirt the White House.

photo courtesy of fingerprint dc
Anyway, rather than focus too much on the details of an experience that isn't likely to be recreated on an average night -- I mean, how often does one find oneself seated next to Phil Suarez, aka Jean-Georges Vongerichten's business partner? -- I would like to highlight both Chef Reininger and Mr. Uhr.

Fairly often with "star chef" outposts, it's easy to focus on the name on the marquee and ascribe success or failure to that person and his/her participation (or lack thereof) in the restaurant. Sometimes that's warranted, but in this case, there is someone worth noticing in the kitchen. Chef Reininger is soft-spoken and appears to prefer to stay happily ensconced mostly behind the scenes, but his passion and commitment come through in his food. When he visited the table, it soon became apparent that he cares deeply about his craft; he opened up and was visibly more relaxed and gregarious when we engaged him in a conversation about the provenance of the yellow watermelon and the lamb he served. I hadn't had the chance to get to J&G before last night, but I very much want to return and see if, as was my impression last night, he's consistently putting out elegant, classic-with-hints-of-modern-twists food.

For his introduction as J&G's general manager, Mr. Uhr served as host and sommelier last night -- I believe he actually did the wine pairings with the dinner -- and was knowledgeable, gracious, friendly, and so completely on top of everything and in control that it was hard to believe he'd only been there a short time. The patio was fairly full last night, and it was amazing to watch him give the same level of attention to the customers scattered about as to our large party. A strong GM can contribute a lot to making a dining experience cross the line from good to great -- not that chefs and servers and the rest of the staff don't contribute, but a good GM, like a good stage manager, is the one responsible for the show, the one who makes sure the gears and cogs in the clock turn smoothly and with precision. 
Steve Uhr did an impressive job last night, and if this match lasts, it bodes well for J&G to continue to be a dining spot for people who care about service as much as food. 

For the curious, the menu was as follows:

  • Watermelon and Goat Cheese, Cracked White Pepper, Olive Oil with a 2009 Boxwood Cabernet Franc rosé
  • Tuna Tartare, Ginger Dressing, Fresh Radish (this is on the online summer menu as salmon tartare) with a 2008 Viñedos de Ithaca 'Odysseus' Pedro Ximenez
  • Maine Lobster, Basil Butter, Corn and Potatoes with a 2008 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc  
  • Rack of Lamb, Green Chili and Mint, Sweet Pea Puree with a 2006 Duckhorn 'Goldeneye' Pinot Noir  
  • Strawberries, Mint, Lime and Meringue, Sour Cream-Poppy Seed Sorbet with a nonvintage Lucien Albrect Brut Crémant d'Alsace rosé
photo courtesy of fingerprint dc

All our courses were full-size, with the exception of the lobster (half instead of whole) and lamb (two chops instead of three). To that end,although the lobster and the lamb are the most expensive dishes on the menu, I can absolutely recommend the lamb (Australian, if you're wondering), cooked perfectly medium rare with a vibrant green chili and mint panko crust. The chops came out tender and flavorful without any gaminess, and the herbal, piquant crust hit all the right complementary and contrasting notes. The tartare was also lovely, with nice heat from the ginger and radish; I felt the lobster could have benefited from a more even application of the basil butter, and I would have liked more of the pea puree with the lamb, too. The Rochioli sauvignon blanc was one of my favorite pairings of the night, contrasting the butter on the lobster, and the butteriness of the lobster, with a nice acidity and minerality, but the pinot noir was definitely the wine of the evening, earthy (even mushroomy) without being tannic and harsh. I guess I like French rosés better than Virginian ones, though, because the Boxwood really didn't impress me much, and the goat cheese in the salad overwhelmed it.

Jim got to eat lunch at J&G not long after it opened when he was interviewing for summer jobs, and I was distinctly jealous (I'm pretty sure I brown-bagged leftover salad that day). Well, now we're even, so the next step will be to go back on our own dime, and find out if it holds up.

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