Saturday, December 13, 2008

NYC's east side gem is JOJO and Jean-Georges is at his roots

I have never been a big fan of superstar chef Jean-Georges, but lately I have been impressed by the places where he sets a theme and keeps his hands off. JOJO has been at 160 E 64th Street on Manhattan's East Side for years and has been bringing in the crowds nonstop. I discovered last night why.

This cozy small downstairs and upstairs brownstone just seconds from the haute couture shopping (which in this awful economy was a booming madhouse yesterday!) had a full house by 6pm. I booked 530pm so I could catch a crosstown bus and make a Lincoln Center concert at 8pm (and it went quite smoothly).

There is gold leaf molding, heavy drapes to keep the cold out (and nice double doors too), small intimate, if crowded, dining rooms and I would say about 5 two-tops and 2 four-tops in each room, making for not a huge turnover. Wines are offered up at 2.5 oz. tastes or 5 oz. glasses and I started with a POUILLY FUISSE 2006 from JJ VINCENT that had huge mineral tastes but went wonderfully well with my SHRIMP DUSTED IN ORANGE POWDER. This was really a huge Salad of ARUGULA with ARTICHOKE HEARTS and 4 tasty dusted shrimp. A pepper mill made it perfect and while the warm baguettes that arrived earlier were now dry and flaky, I thought that the bread did need some work unless you eat it right away.

This unpretentious but warm spot reminded me of my younger years in the late 60's and early 70's in NY, when my parents sometimes asked me to join them to dine (often before or after theater) at A LA FOURCHETTE on the West Side or MARIO's Villa D'este or Villa Borghese on the East Side; how I miss those wonderful times. Obviously JOJO attracts a regular crowd as so many of the folks around me were welcomed by so many of the staff on a first name basis and even with, "oh my, you have ordered something different tonight!"

My entree was a superb Peppercorn crusted VENISON MEDALLIONS with reconstituted PEARS (really confit), POMEGRANATE Seeds, Fingerling Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage. Sauces here are not the stars, the meat and food itself is, which is why I say it is so traditional and clearly not newfangled cookery. A glass of COTES DUE RGHONE 2006 LA FRAMBOISERIE was the perfect foil to the meat and all its ingredients.

Dessert was again truly traditional and simple and called RASPBERRY CRISP with Raspberry Cream, but was a Napoleon style concoction of piles of raspberries with some delicious fruity cream and wafers layered all on coulis; a gem of a fruit dessert and not too heavy at all.

Chatting with manager Jamie Unwin, we were able to reminisce about our dear late friend Jean-Louis Palladin, whose first (and sadly failed) NY restaurant he opened so many years ago. The memories, the food and the real French tradition made JOJO a true gem and treat.