Jean-Georges Vongerichten's JoJo: A Fresh Look

Categories: Revisit, Sietsema

You could walk right past and not notice it.

A few nights ago, as part of a program to visit some of the city's older celebrity-chef restaurants, a friend and I invaded JoJo, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's first full-fledged chef assignment in NYC. Established in 1991, it was the launch pad for what is now a worldwide empire. The place is squirreled away on the bottom two floors of a mossy town house on the Upper East Side, just off Lex on 64th Street. You could easily walk past it and not notice.

Inside in front of the downstairs floor is a bar with two stools, and a cloakroom so small and inadequate that most coats must be carried into some hidden recess near the rear kitchen and bathrooms. In between are two semi-subterranean dining rooms with green and cream vertical wall treatments and those old-fashioned sorts of sconces that have little opaque shades on top. The crowd is mainly in their sixties and older, and early in the evening the place is footfall-quiet -- until guests begin to get tanked, and then all kinds of stories begin to pour out at elevated volume.

Cut to the chase: The food is surprisingly good, mainly in a Mediterranean bistro vein, with entrées in the $30s and $40s [correction: high $20s to high $30s], so that dinner for two with a modest bottle of wine is likely to run you $150, before tip. We selected the cheapest bottle of wine, save one -- a really spectacular pinot blanc with a memorable straw-yellow color and an engaging fullness in the mouth ($39). Most of the action on the list, though, is in the $45-to-$60 range.

The artichoke appetizer
The place feels like an antique bistro flown in from Paris, and indeed many of the diners appear to have been sitting in their seats since the 1960s. One lady wore a hat that was a black fur donut, her bleached hair poking out the top, while another had colored her hair flame-red, her shoulders protected against drafts by a fur stole dyed shades of blue and green. We almost felt like we were in Eloise. But on the other end of the room a guy with a white beard was, as he became inebriated, loudly describing his computer dating experiences to a woman who couldn't get a word in edgewise, and seemed mildly disgusted.

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