Restaurant: MARKET by Jean-Georges - Part 1/3
Cuisine: West Coast/Pacific Northwest/Seafood/Fusion/Euro-Asian
Last visited: September 25, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1128 W Georgia St (Inside Shangri-La Hotel)
Transit: Vancouver City Ctr Stn Southbound
Phone: (604) 695-1115
Price range: $30-50, $50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5-4 (based on Fall Harvest Tasting Menu)
- Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant
- Fine dining/upscale dining
- AAA Four Diamond Restaurant
- West Coast/Pacific Northwest cuisine
- Euro-Asian inspired cuisine
- Seasonal menus
- Great heated patio
- Stellar wine room/list
- Private rooms
- 100% Ocean Wise Menu
- Neighbourhood menu on patio/bar – 5pm-7pm
- Breakfast: 7am – 1130am
- Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm
- Dinner: 5:30pm – 10:30pm
- Brunch: 11:30am – 3pm
- Bar: 11:30am – 12:30am
- My post for Jean-Georges in New York
- My post for their Summer Love Tasting Menu
- My post for their Bourbon cocktail dinner
- See - MARKET Fall Harvest Tasting Menu (Full post)
- Twitter: @MARKETjg_Van
**Recommendations: French Toast, Sweet Pea Soup, Steelhead Sashimi with Crispy Rice, Warm Chocolate Cake, Fall Harvest Tasting Menu
Jean-Georges is one of the most well-respected chef names and we’re lucky to have his only restaurant in Canada in Vancouver, BC (take that TO!). The city is a risky market for big name restaurants of this caliber and fine dining in general, but MARKET by Jean-Georges is surviving, although not always as busy as one might think.
It is located in the heart of downtown in a prime area, but the second floor location might be intimidating. The dining room and heated outdoor seasonal terrace is one of my favourites in downtown for an upscale restaurant, and if anything, the ambiance is just missing the coastal mountains and ocean views of beautiful BC.
I’ve had the pleasure of dining here on a few occasions as well as at Jean-Georges in New York; and to be honest, that experience set the bar really high for other Jean-Georges restaurants. I can still come back to the one in Vancouver, but it’s just not the same, and fair enough New York is New York and Vancouver is Vancouver. The chef, ambiance, service and food are incomparable even though they are under the Jean-Georges brand.
Usually with restaurants like these, there is a guiding standard to ensure consistency with the brand name, but in this case it’s a bit different. I’ve only dined at two Jean-Georges establishments, so I can’t compare others, but to be reasonable I have to appreciate the restaurant in the appropriate context of where it is located and for the intended clientele.
As I mentioned, Vancouver is not big on fine dining. The city has some excellent fine dining restaurants, but generally it is much more casual; albeit the future of fine dining in North America. Places like MARKET by Jean-Georges is considered a special occasion spot or corporate expensed meal to many, unlike bigger cities were fine dining is a weekend (or even weekday) out. Therefore MARKET by Jean-Georges is catered to a Vancouver crowd, who prefers less formal dining and approachable food, which is a concept for a few of Jean-Georges restaurants worldwide. Keep in mind this is a Jean-Georges in collaboration with Culinary Concepts restaurant rather than a Jean-Georges restaurant.
For me the ambiance is never the issue that makes me hesitate to recommend it, but it is the inconsistency in the menu. I’ve had fantastic meals here, and then some mediocre ones, but nothing ever disappointing or bad. However at restaurants like these a mediocre experience can be considered disappointing since you go in with high expectations.
Sometimes I find it a bit confusing too because of the international options, eclectic influence and yet emphasis on local ingredients. The concept gets lost in translation and it can seem scattered.
They have the tools to make it a top restaurant so it is frustrating why it isn’t. They received the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award in 2007, but it is not as embraced by locals as much as it has the potential to be… well as of yet.
On this occasion I was invited to try their Fall Harvest Tasting Menu and to celebrate the introduction of the new faces to the restaurant. The new Chef de Cuisine is Montgomery Lau who was former Senior Sous Chef at MARKET, and the new restaurant manager is David Auer, former General Manager at La Gavroche.
I am acquainted with Chef Montgomery (Monty) and I’ve tried his food when he was Sous Chef working under the previous Chef de Cuisine, Wayne Harris. His resume includes Diva at the Met and he has trained under one of my favourite chefs in the city, Hamid Salimian. He was also Salimian’s Executive Sous Chef back at The Apron, which was where I had some of my favourite meals. As much as I tried to set it aside, I had my biases and my hopes were high.
With all due respect to Harris, I was looking forward to the change and a new interpretation of the menu. It is not that Harris was not suited for Jean-Georges (I had good meals from him here), but I’ve been anticipating the day Monty would take on a bigger role.
I have only tried the MARKET menu with Chef de Cuisine Monty on this occasion, so it is still early to judge, but when you’re open for business, you’re open for business. Based on the Fall Harvest Tasting Menu, I found Monty’s palate well suited for Jean-Georges Asian-inspired recipes and dishes. This new but familiar face to MARKET is a positive change in the right direction. This is only the beginning and I anticipate gradual progress towards a stronger menu. Once he gets comfortable with his new position and gains more confidence, I can only imagine a better MARKET.
Since MARKET is under Jean-Georges, all the recipes are technically his, so Monty is a bit limited when it comes to creative control. This is the same with most restaurants under name brands, and it is expected and accepted; after all you are coming for a Jean-Georges experience. Although the menu may not be all Monty, it is his interpretation and feel of the recipe that carries Jean-Georges vision forward.
Two people could follow the same recipe and it would come out tasting different, so a change in any role in the kitchen will make a difference. With any restaurant, consistency is key, and this is something MARKET by Jean-Georges has struggled with in the past.
As for the Fall Harvest Tasting Menu, the five courses intended to showcase fall ingredients and flavours with international and local ingredients. There was a focus on seafood, but at times it went in and out of the theme and the build up wasn’t as smooth as preferred. It progressed nicely in terms of heaviness of the dish, but flavours were all over the map (literally) and they could embrace fall ingredients even more. The amuse bouche and dessert showcased fall best, but the other dishes used the fall ingredients more as garnishes or as secondary components.
Most of the dishes were Asian-inspired or eclectic as Jean-Georges’ cooking typically is, so they tend to be sweet, savoury, salty and tangy all at once. All the components are meant to be eaten together and his style is distinct. He also has a quirk for spice, so often there is spice or at least a very mild heat to many dishes.
The last two courses of the five course tasting menu were not Asian inspired though, so I was lost between the fall theme and Asian theme. Last, but not least there was the fresh and local ingredients theme, which MARKET also celebrates, but the international ingredients didn’t align. Philosophies and concepts aside, it was still good, but perhaps confusing.
Asian-inspired Canadian cuisine is all too familiar in Vancouver and many consider “Asian fusion” a culinary trend from the 90′s. The word “fusion” has negative connotations in the culinary world because it has been so bastardized in the past, but Jean-Georges was doing it long before it was a poplar “culinary trend”. It is who he is and at his level with his experience in French and Asian cuisine, the recipes and execution are trusted.
I enjoyed the overall Fall Harvest Tasting Menu more so than I did each dish individually. Rather than recommending the dishes I liked, I would actually recommend ordering the whole menu because it worked better collectively as a Tasting Menu. I’ve never really felt that way with any Tasting Menu before, but I did with this one.
It was more adventurous and modern than their a la carte menu, and it was special and affordable. For a AAA Four Diamond Jean-Georges restaurant with a sophisticated and elegant ambiance, the Fall Harvest Tasting Menu executed by Chef Monty is an incredible value. It was 5 courses for $68/person and it is available from now until October 15.
MARKET by Jean-Georges is a beautiful restaurant and it has all the tools to be a dining destination for locals and tourists, but it just needs time with the new changes and the future is promising.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…
On the table: