MARKET by Jean-Georges in Vancouver (Fall Harvest Tasting Menu by Montgomery Lau) – Part 3/3

Restaurant: MARKET by Jean-Georges – Part 3/3
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: 3.54 (based on Fall Harvest Tasting Menu)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • 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
  • Twitter: @MARKETjg_Van

**Recommendations: French Toast, Sweet Pea Soup, Steelhead Sashimi with Crispy Rice, Warm Chocolate Cake, Fall Harvest Tasting Menu

Market Jean Georges Bourbon Dinner (1)The name needs no introduction, but you almost need to give it one.

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.

Monty_and_David.1Say hello to the new faces of MARKET by Jean-Georges. (David Auer and Montgomery Lau)

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:

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (2)This was the seasonal Fall Harvest Cocktail – Howitzer Gun Punch with cranberries and lemon, and the man behind it was literally the man behind it.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (1)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.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (4)Amuse Bouche – Sweet Potato Macarons

  • 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.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (5)Complimentary Bread and Butter

  • 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.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (11)Codorníu Brut Rose Cava, Penedes, Spain, NV

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (6)Tuna Tartare flavoured with Bonito, Crispy Tapioca – 3/6 (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.

LaFrenz-Viognier-btlLa Frenz Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, 2011

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (7)Dungeness “Black Pepper” Crab Fritters, Asian Pear & Endive – 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • 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.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (8)

  • 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.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (12)Domaine Serene ‘Yamhill Curvee’ Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2008

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (10)Pan Seared Sea Bream with Corn, Chanterelles & Silky Carrot4/6 (Very good)

  • For me, this was the closest dish to Jean-Georges style and I think Chef Monty did a great job executing it.
  • I simply get excited seeing crispy fish skin served with the fish, something under appreciated in Western cuisine in Vancouver.
  • I was also excited to see Sea Bream, also called Dorade in French, which is a Mediterranean fish.
  • I am supportive of local cuisine and ingredients (but I have my issues with it too – see here).
  • Salmon, halibut, sablefish, and ling cod dominate Vancouver menu options for fish, so the change was refreshing.
  • MARKET offers sustainable seafood, so this was sustainable, but not local. They are found in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.
  • The fish skin was crisp, but it shrunk a bit and the execution wasn’t as polished, but still very good to eat.
  • Sea Bream is a mild tasting fish, although stronger than halibut.
  • It should be tender, flaky and buttery, but the flesh was a bit mushy.
  • The broth was aromatic, tangy from citrus, sweet from silky carrot puree and smoky sweet from charred corn.
  • It wasn’t spicy, but I felt heat and it was from a fennel chili tea which was infused in the broth.
  • The delicate broth was finished with lemon which brought it to life.
  • The broth was better enjoyed mixed with the carrot puree and it was almost a stew like dish similar to bouillabaisse, but without the fish stock and saffron.
  • The corn, chanterelles and carrot celebrated fall ingredients more than the previous dish, but corn is coming to the tail end.
  • I liked the olive oil and vegetable based broth rather than a heavy French butter based broth, especially with the choice of fish.
  • I love butter based sauces and dishes, but Jean-Georges is more known for his lighter interpretation of French cuisine.
  • The last time I had Sea Bream was at Canlis in Follow Me Foodie to 2 Days in Seattle – see Dorade, graham cracker, figs, and eggplant.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (14)Bodegas Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Spain, 2007

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (13)Grilled Lamb Chops, Mushroom Bolognese & Pecorino 3/6 (Good)

  • Lamb tends to be a feature on the Tasting Menus here.
  • It has always been tender and good, but with this menu it seemed less inspired. Mind you the main entree is usually less creative at most restaurants.
  • It was the safest course and it was the only Italian style dish in the Fall Harvest Tasting Menu.
  • The French-cut lamb rib chop was medium rare and executed effortlessly.
  • It was topped with a savoury and tangy shiitake mushroom and tomato bolognese and freshly grated pecorino cheese.
  • The mushroom bolognese tasted quite heavy with tomato paste, but it wasn’t bad, just more ordinary.
  • The lamb was not heavily seasoned, so the bolognese and pecorino were the seasoning.
  • I guess the shiitake was the Asian inspiration, but the flavours were more American-Italian.
  • I know it is apples and oranges, but I would have appreciate these ingredients more in a pasta with lamb ragout sauce.
  • The broccolini seemed simply sautéed in butter and chili oil (again, his quirk for spice), but the heat was mild and not spicy.
  • The side I found unimaginative, and root vegetables would have suited the Fall theme better.

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (16)Antica Distrilleria Russo ‘Nocino’ Walnut Liqueur Italy

Market Jean-Georges Fall Harvest (15)Spice Rum Toast, Apples, Raisins & Brown Butter Ice Cream 4/6 (Very good)

  • The dessert embraced the “Fall Harvest Tasting Menu” theme the most. This screamed fall.
  • Due to the nature of the event, the toast was not served hot, so there was no temperature contrast desired in a hot and cold dessert.
  • The spice rum brown butter French toast was I think their toasted brioche, which is also featured at brunch but topped with apples and bacon. Try it!
  • The French toast was was fluffy, soft and semi-crisp, but the watery foam made it a bit soggy.
  • The spice rum and brown butter foam lost its structure and the fat in the butter might have broke down.
  • The execution was a bit rough although the flavour was there and it did not taste like air.
  • Watery tasteless foams tend to be why people hate foams (see 10 Food Trends I Want to See Die in 2013), and a properly done foam is rare.
  • I have no problems with well executed foams, but they need to serve a purpose or it seems gimmicky, and I’m not sure this one had a purpose.
  • On top of the French toast was sauteed apples in salted butter and maple, and I loved the sweet and savoury play.
  • The sweet cinnamon raisin puree was a nice accent and it was strong with cinnamon, but not overpowering.
  • The brown butter ice cream was not as dense, rich, creamy or as chewy as I prefer, but it could be because it was served under ideal temperature.
  • The ice cream could have been saltier and it was almost like a malted ice cream.
  • It would be nicer presented as a quenelle rather than a scoop and it sat on a bed of candied crunchy praline with a baked apple chip on top.
  • I am super particular with ice cream though (see here) and this was still good, but it could be better.
  • The dessert was not too sweet and I actually thought it was very good, despite the techniques and presentation which needed polishing.
  • I’ve made Brown Buttered Toast Ice Cream before and I love sweet and savoury, hot and cold desserts and ice cream, so this dessert was easy to enjoy.

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