Restaurant: MARKET by Jean-Georges – Part 2/3
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.
On the table:
Meet Ronald. He trained under Jay Jones, one of the city’s top bartenders who left MARKET January this year. A friend in the industry, Jones is now Executive Bartender & Brand Ambassador of The Donnelly Group in Vancouver. It was a loss for MARKET since he had a loyal fan base, but Ronald is holding down the fort. He had big shoes to fill, but the cocktail program here is reliable.
- It was a sweet amuse bouche that would have worked as a petit fours too.
- It was a salty sweet macaron and I loved the presentation and idea. I was amused.
- The macaron was quite heavy though and the filling was a bit dense which weighed down the delicate macaron shells.
- The shells weren’t crisp, but nice and smooth with feet going in the right direction.
- The inside was soft, moist and tender, but with little chew.
- The filling was almost like lotus seed paste meets a lightly spiced (nutmeg, cinnamon) yam and marzipan (?) like puree.
- It was slightly gummy, but still pleasant and noticeably salty to balance the sweet.
- They seemed pretty fresh and macarons are best 2-3 days after being baked, but I can still appreciate a fresh one.
- The ‘pebbles’ were salted and candied crushed hazelnuts, the ‘shrubs’ and ‘leaves’ parsley and herbs, and the ‘twigs’ crispy dehydrated yam skin chips rolled up.
- The garnishes made sense, which I loved, and it was a very creative amuse bouche and one of my highlights from the menu.
- It had personality and it was an unexpected surprise.
It was more modern than what Jean-Georges would normally do, and the update to the original recipe was thanks to new Chef de Cuisine, Monty.
The shells were done by pastry, but the idea was from the savoury department.
- The last time I had macarons as an amuse bouche was at Chez L’Épicier – see Goat Cheese Black Olive Macarons.
- Another savoury macaron I liked was the foie gras and maple macaron at Bosk in Shangri-La in Toronto.
- I always comment on bread and butter because it can say something about a restaurant.
- The house baked bread basket was an improvement.
- They started off hard as rocks when MARKET first opened, but they are getting better with every visit.
- They were served warm and there was a selection of poppy seed buns and baguettes.
- The crust was still a bit tough rather than pleasantly chewy and crisp, but it was still good.
- As a tartare I think everything was supposed to be mixed and enjoyed scooped into the crackers which were the ‘crostini’.
- The tuna and avocado combination has been a bit exhausted, but it always works.
- The tuna was very finely minced into perfect squares and I thought it was hand cut, but it was actually done by machine to ensure consistency.
- I wouldn’t mind the cut a little bigger because I lost the texture of the fish a bit.
- It was topped with thin shavings of avocado wedges and together it was quite creamy.
- The bonito mayo was delicious and it was plated on the side which I liked. I like to taste the flavour of the fish first.
- It had good umami, depth, and savouriness and it brought the dish together.
- The quenelle of yuzu and shallot marmalade was the pink ‘pickled ginger” on the plate.
- In Japanese cuisine the pickled ginger is the palate cleanser, so I wasn’t sure what to do with it here.
- It was on top of the tuna tartare tower so I assumed chef wanted me to eat everything together or use it as a spread (?), so I tried it multiple ways.
- The marmalade was caramelized and sweet, tangy and slightly spicy from ginger, and it was very reminiscent of pickled ginger served with sushi.
- The tapioca crackers I would like more as prawn crackers because the tapioca chips stuck to my teeth uncomfortably.
- They could have worked, but the execution needed polishing because they shouldn’t stick to the teeth as much as they did.
- They were sprinkled with a seasoning salt I would have bought alone.
- The seasoning tasted like MSG, but it wasn’t, it just had the intense umami of MSG.
- It was garnished with purple shiso and nasturtiums.
- The dish tasted better with everything mixed together and it was salty, sweet, and tangy with a bit of heat.
- I would have liked a bit more acidity because it was quite creamy, but it was still good.
- While I could appreciate the Asian inspiration, I didn’t get the Fall Harvest theme in this course of the Fall Harvest Tasting Menu.
- Jean-Georges also has a signature yellowfin tuna ribbon with avocado dish – see here.
- 2.5/6 might seem low and this actually tasted fine and good, but it was the delicacy of the ingredient that got overpowered as to why I couldn’t appreciate it as much.
- It was an Asian inspired crab cake or crab fritter with black bean and black pepper jam underneath.
- Crab and black bean sauce or black pepper sauce is common in Chinese and Asian cuisine, but fritters are not.
- Of course, for a Jean-Georges restaurant it was much more appropriate served this way rather than a whole crab. They can’t be compared.
- It came with 3 crab fritters lightly battered in a choux pastry, which is a light pastry dough.
- I would have preferred a standard breaded or panko crumb to give contrast in texture because the choux pastry didn’t get crisp.
- The fritter was a bit mushy and soft and the texture of takoyaki, which could have been the point, but I’m not sure.
- It seemed like 100% crab and it was flaky and moist, but again I lost the delicate sweetness of the crab meat which was wasted. They tasted fine though and I ate them all.
- Having less black bean pepper jam on the plate would be better to control how much is used for each fritter, or even mixing it with an aioli would make it less aggressive.
- The black bean pepper jam was also thicker than a sauce and more like a paste, so a little went a long way.
- It had some soy sauce and lime juice for acidity, and typically in Chinese cuisine the acid would come from maybe rice wine vinegar.
- The sauce was potent and aggressive for the fritter, but good alone.
- It was reminiscent of XO sauce and the fresh peppercorns were fragrant and well fried in the oil.
- The peppercorns were a bit coarsely ground in the sauce, but it would have been nice with wok fried prawns, whole crab, or beef.
- It had a nice kick and it was flavourful spicy, but the sweetness came from the black pepper jam and not the crab.
- The gingery slaw on top was made with sweet and crisp Asian pears and mildly bitter endive, and it was dressed with a gingery vinaigrette.
- The refreshing and crunchy salad on top was a nice contrast to the ‘heatier’ fried crab fritters and spicy sauce – see my post on the philosophy of Chinese cooking and the “yin and yang” balance.
- It was meant to be eaten all together, but I actually liked each component separately.
- The salad was a nice palate cleanser and digestif for the heavy fritters and bold sauce.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…