I was thrilled when invited to the “soft opening” of the newly revamped JG, the Tokyo outpost of New York’s celebrated Jean-Georges restaurant. I’d been a fan of French-born chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and his Alsatian-inspired cooking for perhaps 25 years and gladly accepted the summons I received from new General Manager (and old associate) Takenori Nakazato. I reminded myself that a “soft opening” is when the restaurant isn’t officially open and friends and family are invited to dine so that the staff can get up to speed, and was glad to be included. Chef Jean Georges was personally overseeing an omakase six -course feast and I was ready and eager.
The original branch of Jean Georges in Manhattan, which has two Michelin stars, has long been my favorite New York restaurant. Pancakes for breakfast on the terrace overlooking Central Park, sharing a bottle of Sancerre and poached artichokes in the bar on a lazy Saturday afternoon and birthday celebrations in the stylishly sparse, ethereal formal dining space are dear memories. I wondered if the Tokyo chefs would be recreating some of chef Jean Georges’ iconic New York dishes. And I hoped Jean Georges had given them a vision for Asian-inspired new ones.
The New York dining room is spare and open, using the city as its theater. The Roppongi space is all glass and marble with a large, sheer white fabric sculpture by Japan’s leading textile designer Reiko Sudo presiding over the entrance and the comings and goings of Keyakizaka Street with its trendy boutiques as its backdrop.
Nakazato-san welcomed us and quickly proffered a perfectly chilled bottle of champagne.
The main floor is all counter seating offering an intriguing view of the chefs as they prepare a meal.
When the volley of first-course dishes arrived, we knew that the great chef had reached out to Asia to blend his French roots with Asian inspiration.
We began with “sushi”. The crispy salmon sushi had no rice, rather a small piece of pressed bread, steeped in konbu, kelp, and deep fried as a base for a lovely piece of chipotle chilli-infused salmon and topped with Japanese greens. The other piece of sushi was uni (sea urchin) basking on a crostini of black bread, with jalapeno and yuzu sauce. Served alongside the sushi course was a baked Japanese oyster over a bed of kaiso seaweed, augmented by a creamed basil and fresh wasabi sauce.
The following course transported us from Japan to Finland with fresh Finnish black caviar piled atop ribbons of almost runny boiled eggs and a foamed sauce sprinkled with chives. Chef calls it “Warm Egg Mimosa with Caviar and Chives,” and it certainly went well with champagne. Served on the side was a homemade scone with a creamy, flavorful butter.
When the servers showed up with the next course my heart leapt because it is one of my favorite JG signature dishes, Tuna Noodles, Avocado, Radish and Ginger sauce. The noodle part is strips of blue fin chuu-toro tuna piled up like pasta, then laced with avocado and thinly sliced red radishes, and covered with a chilled ginger sauce. I found the ginger sauce more intensely citrus flavored than in New York, but just as delicious.
Crab dumplings swimming in a celeriac and Meyer lemon infusion was up next.
It felt like an extra course to me because we were all becoming quite full. Our champagne was almost fully consumed and it was time for wine. Nakazato-san went off to find excellent wines to offer by the glass. We agreed on an Argentinian Malbec for the next course.
While many Japanese restaurants still do not take kindly to substitutions to set meals, I’m happy to say that JG was pleased to offer me an alternative to the meat course. I’ve never been enthusiastic about beef and many “gourmet” restaurants are frosty when I ask for something else. JG presented me with a dish of grilled sea bass covered with spices, nuts and sesame seeds in a sweet and sour jus. It just so happened that it was another of my favorite dishes from the New York restaurant. Something tastes French about it, possibly the jus. Something seems Asian, perhaps the light cooking of the fish. And it was all superb.
As part of the course meal, JG serves slices of seared wagyu beef with three kinds of glazed carrots from different parts of Japan, as well as beets. Upping the Japanese taste profile there was a miso and mustard emulsion served with the meat.
I thought it time to stretch my legs and visited the facilities on the second floor where there are 16 seats at tables for a la carte dining and food preparation, mainly of desserts. I was amused to discover the decadent voice of the late French crooner Serge Gainsbourg piped into the rest rooms, providing an appropriate background to the meal we were consuming.
Dessert did not disappoint. Everything was a version of chocolate or peanuts; sublime chocolate mousse was covered in a dark chocolate glaze and sat atop a chocolate brownie; a mound of passionfruit was stuffed into a light chocolate covering; peanut butter hid under a covering of frozen fruit glaze; frozen coconut ice cream was splashed with a fruity purple sauce. Conversation stopped as we all fell into a happy, sugar-infused state.
Coffee and tea were offered with a plate of yuzu chocolates, almond marshmallows, small madeleine cakes and red honey jellies. These were so delicious that we decided to have another glass of wine and linger.
JG, which has one Michelin star, serves a dinner omakase experience of 13 courses. That would seem to be twice the amount that we had eaten. I shall return, if only to find out what music might accompany such a feast!
Japonica extra: Be sure to mention japonica.info to Nakazato-san, the general manager and chief sommelier, and ask him to tell you about the extensive Japanese wine list. Nakazato-san comes to JG from Union Square Tokyo and Lawry’s, and you will find not only a truly knowledgeable sommelier, but a new friend.
Address : 6-12-4 Roppongi,
Phone : 03-5412-7115
Website : https://www.jean-georges.com/restaurants/japan/tokyo/jg-tokyo
Lunch : 11:30-15:30
Dinner : 17:00-23:30
Lunch from Y10,000
Dinner from Y20,000