Jean Georges: Nougatine

Possibly the least heralded and most overlooked restaurant in town. The city's haughtiest dining snobs pass it by nightly. How does this happen? Before one can enter the cubist temple to gastronomy that is Jean-Georges, it is necessary to stroll through an engagingly uncluttered space of blonde-wood modernity. - New York Magazine

Jean-GeorgesI had a special reason to make reservations at Jean-Geogres, V's favorite restaurant, for Sunday brunch: I wanted to take her there to celebrate our engagement! Technically, Jean-Georges doesn't serve Sunday brunch, but the "bar area" outside the main dining room, Nougatine, serves food from the same kitchen, and with equally impeccable quality and service.

I had proposed earlier in the day, at Central Park's Belvedere Castle and continued the surprise with our brunch reservations. Of course, we started our meal with a bottle of champagne - the most modest on the wine list - which was still very good (and much much better that whatever I bought for New Years).

We started off with appetizers. Being that it was such a special occasion, I chose foie gras. This was the biggest piece of foie gras I've ever had, and it was different that I expected, being bruleed on top rather than cooked through, meaning it wasn't very soft or warm through the whole piece. Still it was super rich, certainly a bit extravagant, but a great start to the meal. I really could have shared it with several people, but V had her own great appetizer, a squash soup with cremini mushrooms. We were confused when the soup was served, originally thinking it was a very unique take on 'soup' as the bowl came with some chunks of squash and pieces of mushroom, but no liquid. A moment later, the server brought a little pot of the soup and poured it in the bowl. The dish was not overly sweet and it was great for a cool winter lunch.

For our main course, V tried a black bean and avocado dish with cod. It was light and almost tangy with a bit of lime in the sauce. The fish was tender and flaky. I had a grilled pork chop that was a very unique preparation. Poured over the top was a strong rosemary honey sauce, that eaten on its own was just about overpowering, but when eaten with the chunky "papaya mustard" and mini brussel sprouts was a perfect combination. Definitely a well conceived meal and preparation.

Nougatine definitely excels in its level of service, which helped to make this meal worth its high price. Our server was knowledgeable and friendly, and very attentive, refilling our champagne flutes and timing the food service. Really this didn't all come down to just one server either, there is probably a greater than 1:1 ratio of staff to guests at the restaurant. I counted 4 or 5 staff just in the entry area! Plus, beyond the service, the location is great, on the south west corner of Central Park at Columbus Circle. We got a great table at the window, to enjoy the view, that really enhanced this "New York moment." This was certainly a wonderful meal and a great place to celebrate our engagement. My only problem now, is that I have a lot to live up to for Valentines, our birthday, our anniversary...

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