Saturday, January 24, 2009

JoJo: Where's Your Mojo?

Here follows my first official NYC Restaurant Week Report. Yes, my friends, I’m happy to announce that the tooth pain is subsiding and I was able to schlep down to Jean-George Vongerichten’s 1-star Michelin-rated JoJo Friday night after work.

Except this isn’t an official NYC Restaurant Week Report.

Why, you ask? Because my best bud Danielle and I are renegades. We took one look at the Restaurant Week menu, compared it to JoJo’s regular menu, did some calculatin’, and realized we could get exactly what we wanted for about $42 per person instead of the standard $35 fixed price.

We went off the grid, so to speak.

But before I get to what we ordered, I’ve got to address some issues we had with JoJo. Frankly, neither one of us was that impressed—with the food, the service, or the ambience. On the pro-side, the prices were extremely reasonable for a Manhattan restaurant. But at what point do relatively low prices signify that you should lower your expectations? I mean, this is Jean-George, and it’s got a Michelin Star. Craft lost its Michelin star (last year, I believe), and Craft could blow JoJo right out of the water with no butter or salt left in its kitchen, or forks and knives on its tables.

To start, when we arrived at the two-story townhouse, we were seated downstairs (before we left, we checked out the second floor and found it to be roomier and more aesthetically pleasing), close to the main entrance. It was a bit cramped (the guy behind me actually had to move because his legs were so long and people kept tripping over them), and it was dark. Not dark-romantic, but dark-I-just-ate-an-orange-rind-by-accident-ew-the bitterness-the-bitterness. Second, I found the service to be a little unattentive to the details that make a restaurant shine. The couple next to us had to point out a wobbly table, our servers were a tad sloppy when setting down our dishes, and I had to track down a waiter to bring sugar for my coffee.

But most importantly, I just found the food disappointing.

The night started promisingly enough. We received some French bread that was nice and crisp on the outside with a warm and soft interior, served with fresh, creamy butter. The butter was real good.

For appetizers, I ordered:

Sweet Potato Crème-Fraiche Ravioli
Parmesan sauce and basil: $12
This dish was fantastic, and if I had had this as an entrée, or perhaps just stopped here and called it a night, JoJo would’ve been alright. This dish had so many layers. Each second on the tongue brought out a different element. The ravioli was not too thick, and a perfect texture. The sweet potato was heavenly. The basil added just that extra freshness to keep the dish from feeling too heavy. There were also a few dashes of something spicy--a little milder than clove--that gave an unexpected kick at the end. Very well done.

Danielle ordered:

Butternut Squash Soup
Oyster mushrooms: $10
I know the picture is atrocious, but I can’t even tell you how hilarious it was when the bowl went down in front of Danielle. In it were minisicule pieces of something--we couldn't tell because the restaurant was so dark. For a moment, both Danielle and I forgot what she had ordered. “Hmmm,” she said, wondering if this was as good as it was gonna get. Then the server whipped out the soup pourer, and splashed butternut squash soup on top of what turned out to be her oyster mushrooms. “Ahhhh,” we said, remembering. Then we silently watched our server dribble soup all over the side of her bowl.

Danielle was happy with the soup, but I thought it was a little salty, and kind of one-note. Nothing special, and definitely no points for presentation.

Next up, came our entrees. I got:

Chicken (hehe – that’s all the menu said)
Roasted with ginger, green olives and coriander, chick pea fries: $19
This sounded interesting. And it was… in an all-over-the-place way. I received two plates, one small plate containing a little chick-pea log cabin that in no way made sense with my chicken dish. It was executed well, and probably would’ve been lovely with some tahini sauce on a hot day. But instead, it came with chicken. Three pieces of chicken drenched in a salty sauce with overly abundant ginger, some green olives (I liked those—not briny at all), and overpowering coriander/cilantro.

A hot mess, really.

Danielle got:

Slowly baked, truffled mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts, truffle vinaigrette: $24
No complaints here. Jean-Georges knows how to bake a salmon. Yawn.

For dessert, there was:
Raspberry Crisp with raspberry creme: $10
and the equally bland
Pear Tart with pear sorbet and creme anglaise: $9
The sorbet in the pear tart was the one stand-out element, but the pastry itself almost tasted re-heated. As for the raspberry crisp, it was raspberry overload, and the almond wafers were completely lost in all the crème.

I’m not saying the food or experience at JoJo was bad. It was fine, just not in any way memorable. I’ve had better meals sans Michelin Star, sans ego, sans train fare and subway ride. But we liked the butter.

160 E 64th St
New York, NY 10021
(212) 223-5656


  1. Eh, sorry to hear it was such a so-so experience. I remember my night there as having been all-round excellent. Seems like I was either lucky or things have gone seriously downhill since!

  2. Hi Youngchae - absolutely no apologies! It's tough painting an accurate portrait of a restaurant in one visit with limited funds. That's why I call them "reports" and basically just give a run-down of what I experience on a given night. Who knows what would happen on another visit? Either way, Danielle and I still had a blast hanging out--and my ravioli really was superb.

  3. The "Pear Tart with pear sorbet and creme anglaise" looks a little like a primate's skull on a plater in the photo, but I'm sure it's good.

  4. ...except it wasn't good, Anonymous.