Monday, June 22, 2009

Vong: Thanks for being in my life

In my experience, when you are fortunate enough to eat a five Offset Spatula meal, you know what you're getting into. At least, you have a suspicion on the way in that this could be the Big One, or at least one of them. But sometimes you have a dining experience that completely blindsides you, that you didn't see coming. This past weekend, AV and I experienced just that: a sleeper five OS restaurant.

It was Saturday night, and I'd spent all day at the Billy's Tribeca opening. I was exhausted, to say the least. Both AV and I wanted an early night, so we decided to make dinner our "entertainment" for the night. I browsed around Opentable and finally settled upon Vong, one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants. I've never been to any of his places, which is a surprising and relatively shameful admission for an NYC foodie to make, and while I've wanted to go to Spice Market and Jojo for a while, I chose Vong because a) its menu looked decent, and b) there was a reservation available. So we traipsed across the city in the drizzle to our final destination.

The dining room itself is beautiful. Everything is vaguely Asian-ish, sleek, and chic. The tables are somewhat low to the ground, and the chairs deposit you in a semi-reclining position. Our no-nonsense waiter took our drink orders (tap water, thank you) and our food orders. Nothing special so far but no deductions either.

And then the first punch: our appetizer arrived. We had chosen to share the vegetable and avocado summer rolls, which usually come with raw tuna but are also available in a veggie version. One bite of the roll with its accompanying ginger dipping sauce left us both reeling. The rolls had all different textures-- the chewy rice paper, the crunchy asparagus and carrot, the smooth shiitake mushrooms, and the creamy avocado. The sauce had approximately 1,000 different flavors, all of which combined for an incredible pop. After we each downed our three bites, we contemplated ordering about 40 more orders, stuffing them in my purse, and running for the hills (after paying, of course). I could live happily on those summer rolls for weeks if not months at a time.

Unassumingly superlative

But we weren't done. A tiny dish of papadums landed on the table, which we dipped in the peanutty sauce. A perfect interlude between courses. Strike two.

Simple and perfect

And then the third punch: our entrees. AV had selected the crispy salt-and-pepper calamari with the sriracha dipping sauce. One bite and he declared, "This is pretty much perfection." Not relying on the batter and oil for flavor, the calamari was high quality, seasoned, and enhanced by the spicy sauce. Excellent.

Seasoned and tasty

My choice was the green papaya and apple salad. This was one of the most incredible things I've ever eaten. There was green papaya, shredded apple, cashews, fried green beans, cranberries, tiny tomatoes, shredded lettuce... everything was just so incredibly flavorful and texturally accurate, if that makes sense, that I nearly swooned. The combination of the summer rolls and this papaya salad was pretty close to the perfect meal.

Definitely top 10 of all time

It was clear by this point that we had a five OS contender on our hands. But you can't really earn five spats without dessert, so we pressed on to the final punch. I chose caramelized pineapple with vanilla and coconut sorbet. AV had said he didn't really want to share it, but once it arrived he changed his mind. The pineapple was syrupy-sweet and perfumed with vanilla. The berries were showered with tiny bits of mango, which I love. The coconut sorbet was cool and delicious, and the bonus macaroon cookies were a total delight. Overall: very impressive, not to mention beautiful.

Fruity and sweet... the best combo

It looked as though Vong's fate was sealed, but just as we were about to ask for the check, our waiter brought over two tiny complimentary mignardises: mint ice cream lollipops encased in chocolate. One bite brought a cool, if a teensy bit icy (I'm nitpicking here) finale.

The cherry on top

It would be an understatement to say that Vong took us by complete surprsise. We were woefully unprepared for a five OS night-- which, in truth, made the experience all the more delightful. That night, I ate some of the best food I've ever had, in a cool and chic dining space, and at a relatively reasonable price. I can't recommend Vong more highly, and I also can't wait to try J-G's other restaurants. Who knows what other surprises they have in store?

200 E. 54th Street

1 comment:

Gar said...

Glad you had a nice meal, but I've also heard mixed reviews on Vong.

Btw, do you know any good restaurants with vegetarian/seafood friendly pri-fix lunch menu (under $24)? Maybe even something from the extended RW? Thanks.