In high cuisine, as in high society, cosmetic readjustments are a fact of life. The food at Jo Jo remains generally superior (the famous chicken with green olives, fashionable offal dishes like pork cheeks and lentils), but Jean-Georges's million-dollar renovation has had a curious reverse effect. Newly hung with funereal damask curtains and clinking Victorian chandeliers, the bright, stylish space now looks frumpy and severe, like a perky young matron who suddenly decides to look 100 years old. A more successful dowager face-lift is on display at Lutèce, where André Soltner's little townhouse has been redecorated in an icy, Arctic motif. The menu has been refurbished, too, with newfangled recipes like seared foie gras smudged in marmalade and brackish dark chocolate. One seasoned foie gras hound declared the dish "just this side of perverse" but gave a thumbs-up to a marginally less strange fillet of John Dory in a rémoulade of wasabi, mustard leaf, and daikon, with a pocket of pommes soufflées on the side.
Charlie Palmer has left the kitchen at Aureole, leaving executive chef Gerry Hayden to experiment with feathery dishes like fluke marinated in citrus and Wellfleet oysters topped with little golf balls of cucumber sorbet. The chef transition has been less smooth at Le Cirque 2000, although, as usual, it's hard to notice amid all the circuslike commotion. Who cares if my duck confit was a little dry, or that a $17 crabmeat appetizer, crowned with guacamole and plantains, looked like something off a luxury liner bound for Tobago? Even from the hinterlands of deepest Siberia table No. 49, between the kitchen and the bar there's no better place to view all the characters in the strange New York zoo.
It was a pleasure to drop in at La Caravelle, where elderly "classiques" have been revamped with nouveau curry sauces (on the trio of lamb) and baby Japanese eggplants (on the pan-seared tuna). The restaurant's glimmering green murals are still intact, you can bolt down one of Alberto's vodka Mojitos at the small corner bar, and, for a sentimental fatman like me, there's no greater comfort in the world than watching spoonfuls of velvety pink lobster sauce being ladled over a helping of the kitchen's famous truffled pike quenelles.
|Jo Jo, 160 East 64th Street, 212-223-5656
Lutèce, 249 East 50th Street, 212-752-2225
Aureole, 34 East 61st Street, 212-319-1660
Le Cirque 2000, New York Palace Hotel, 455 Madison Avenue , 212-303-7788
La Caravelle, 33 West 55th Street, 212-586-4252