Restaurant Reviews: Restaurant Jean-Louis
Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich
Photos by John Fortunato
An Epic Dining Experience
Culinary perfection, a sophisticated yet warm décor, and gracious service make for a winning combination at Restaurant Jean-Louis.
Restaurant Jean-Louis is one of a rare breed that manages to convey sophistication with gracious warmth, to feel at once like a special-occasion destination and a restaurant you’d feel comfortable tucking in to week after week.
It is no wonder co-owner and chef Jean-Louis Gerin won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Northeast 2006, nor that diners and critics have heaped piles of accolades higher than the eye can see in an effort to describe the experience of dining at Restaurant Jean-Louis. In 22 years, this restaurant has shown no signs of receding from public favor: mention the name and anyone who knows it is sure to go into a reverie.
Most chefs are at their best preparing dishes of a certain style: there are those who work best with big, robust flavors and others who have more finesse with lighter or more subtle flavors. Similarly, some chefs sing when working with creatures of the sea; others thrive on the deeper flavors of game. Jean-Louis Gerin can do it all, and beautifully.
Seared cod served over crisp, bright green asparagus in a pool of poultry jus emanated the enticing aroma of truffles. Magically, the gentle flavor of cod remained the focal point, buoyed by the silken jus and the seductive perfume. The plumpest Vermont quail we have ever seen were also the most tender and juicy. Just as the muted flavor of the cod shined above a backdrop of stronger flavors, so did the quail: foie gras cream sauce and chanterelles were handled with exquisite temperance.
In sharp contrast, Scottish wood pigeon in a classic blood sauce was enormous, deep, and complex. The wild sauce seemed to battle with the gamey bird for love and power like two characters out of a Grimm Brothers’ tale. Their union is, ultimately, a triumph heralded by a small gathering of sharply tangy cranberries cooked until just before bursting.
Only in comparison to the pigeon could the meaty, very rare venison seem tame. This dish is a baritone crowing his success: the swagger of the tender, blood-red meat is draped in a velvet cloak of a classic grand veneur sauce made with both cognac and wine—and foie gras. It is a rich, full, confident dish. The spark of green Brussels sprouts and sweet cranberry compote, and the creamy white, lusciously smooth celery-root purée play up the machismo of the meat—it’s tender chewiness and rich, red color—like flirtatious belles surrounding a handsome lad.
Not everything we ate was a fairy tale. There were a couple of missteps—easy to overlook elsewhere, but more glaring in the company of all this finery. Five golden sea scallops, moist and tasty on their own, were served with rice topped with an assertive ginger-fruit chutney. We loved the chutney as a condiment, but were somewhat puzzled by the addition on the plate of truffle oil. The bright piquancy of the ginger just didn’t meld with the heady, sensual earthiness of the truffle. And on two visits, a starter of lobster salad offered tough, chewy, warm-water lobster with little flavor on a bed of arugula which, we were told, was dressed in a poppy-seed oil vinaigrette. The dressing was light and the flavor of poppy seed indiscernible. Still, it was the lobster that disappointed. On one visit, the lobster was a first of five courses in a generous, but appropriate, tasting menu. While tasting menus can, at times, overwhelm, this one does not, and it is a wonderful way to experience the broad range of Jean-Louis Gerin’s talents.
If you decide to order á la carte, do indulge in the dessert degustation for two: a creamy, rich chocolate pot de crème that could mend a broken heart; hazelnut crunch that tasted like the marriage of Nutella royalty with a Cadbury flake bar (how soon can we have it again?); an apple tart, barely thicker than the tines of the fork, that was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, juicy and flaky, rich and light; a warm, fudgey brownie topped with chocolate ice cream; and three little scoops of sorbet—tart passion fruit, dark complex cassis, and sweet frilly banana.
If only our pockets and waistlines could bear it, we would dine at Restaurant Jean-Louis each week, and each week we would let that chic room envelop us, that perfect service tend to us, and the exquisite food nurture our senses.
61 Lewis St, Greenwich, CT
Hours: Lunch, Mon to Fri 12-2 pm;
dinner, Mon to Sat 6-9 pm; (Sat seatings at 6:16 and 8:40).
Appetizers: $17-$29; entrées: $38-$40; desserts: $11.50; grand five-course tasting menu: $69 per person
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good