Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: JG Domestic

This is important, so I don't want to wait until later to say it: the front leg of rabbit at JG Domestic is easily one of the top three delicious things I've eaten in the past year. I'm not even entirely sure how it was prepared; it was almost like a confit, but not at all fatty, and it had the most sublimely, delicately crispy crust on the outside of each piece. Sharing a plate with a tiny rack of rabbit, some loin, and nicely braised back legs, it did justice to ol' Thumper.

And respect for ingredients is the organizing theme behind Garces's latest joint. You're hit over the head with it a little bit, from the farmstand-blackboard theme of the walls, to the page behind the menu telling you where seemingly every ingredient comes from, but it's in the well-edited concepts behind the dishes that you can sense the desire to get out of the way and really let the ingredients do the talking.

The wood-heavy, vegetation-surrounded space of JG Domestic is a vast improvement over the "I'm-sitting-in-the-lobby-of-an-office-building" ambience of Rae, the Cira Centre's former first floor restaurant tenant. The front space is welcoming and lively, though on this Valentine's weekend Sunday, we found ourselves seated in the somewhat more secluded and boring back room.

If you've eaten at any of Garces's other restaurants, the menu at JG will be no surprise: there are no explicitly-defined appetizers and mains; just an array of items to choose from, which get coursed out depending on what and how you order. There's also a $65 tasting menu, and on this night, a special passionfruit-themed Iron Chef tasting (based on dishes from Garces's recent televised annihilation of Michael Solomonov). The IC tasting was tempting, but it meant all three of us would have to get it, and there were too many appealing items on the menu to pass up ordering a la carte.

Aside from the rabbit mentioned above, there were a few other standouts. The lobster "cappuccino" was a rich and smooth soup, containing a butternut squash "dumpling" (more like a ravioli), but with a sage-y flavor that was almost reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing. A very simple sauteed black kale dotted with melon-ball-sized spheres of kabocha squash made for a lovely vegetable combination. Anyone who's had the setas at Amada knows that Garces has a way with a mushroom, and the maitakes were no exception: the brandy cream they were topped with really set off their earthy flavor, and the rich corny taste and texture of the polenta they were served with was very satisfying. We also tried the crosnes, which we had never even heard of before; they are a tiny seashell-looking, crunchy tuber, here served with potato dumplings and artichoke.

And the rabbit. Yes, the rabbit ... just dynamite. Elmer Fudd and the Tasmanian Devil were wholly justified in their pursuit of Bugs if he could be made to taste so delicious.

There were a few things that I felt came up a little short. The popcorn topped with cheddar and fresh grated horseradish was a bit greasy, and not in a flavorfully redeeming way like Royal Tavern's truffle and Parmesan popcorn. Though it was hard to resist, the cheese fondue was missing tanginess to offset its creaminess, and the breadsticks that came along with it lacked complexity. Finally, the chicken, roasted and served with cipollini, carrots and a pan gravy, fell a little short in the flavor and crispy-skin departments.

Desserts were very good: the beignets captured the spirit of Cafe du Monde's heavenly fried dough pillows, though with a great deal less powdered sugar to get on your shirt. They came with a very Bourbony dipping sauce that almost begged to be drunk as a shot. The golden crown of the maple soufflé was punctured tableside, allowing for the addition of nocello ice cream and crème anglaise, which all melted together into a concoction that was light, creamy, and not too sweet.

JG Domestic won me over for good when they presented us with some post-dessert treats: "hot chocolate" squares of dark chocolate and marshmallow, which were fine, but then my absolute favorite: pâte de fruit! Blood orange pâte de fruit!

I don't know why, but these sugar-coated morsels brought a dumb smile to my face. Maybe it's the simplicity behind it: taking a delicious flavor from nature, and concentrating it, refining it, recontextualizing it into a magnified expression of itself. From his other restaurants, we know that Garces has the technical chops to pull it off, but now freed from any constraints of cuisine or nationality, there's a new sense of purity that shines through. It's not perfect, but it's definitely on the right track.

JG Domestic on Urbanspoon

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