Although my office building shouts midtown, and my job is very much a nine-to-five office type, our location skews slightly more Upper East Side. So, instead of endless cubicle drones crowding the streets all day, there are just as many tourists and shoppers flocking to Bloomingdale’s, patients making their way to all the private doctors’ offices, and nannies ferrying uniformed children to one of the many private schools in the vicinity. If I don’t head to Central Park for my lunchtime walk, I might weave among the blocks of townhouses and Park Avenue apartments, sometimes getting a nod from the doormen but barely ever, a glimpse into life beyond the windows.
Instead of a home, one of the townhouses contains what seems like a secret Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, JoJo. I say secret because when people these days bring up Jean-Georges, it is usually in reference to ABC Kitchen, ABC Cocina, or his namesake restaurant. They are three places I have had excellent meals at despite shades of age and hype. But what’s this JoJo on the garden level of a townhouse in the east 60s? A prix fixe lunch for a friend’s birthday was an excuse to find out about what appears to be the elder statesmen of Jean-Georges’ NYC ventures.
With the exception of very good food, there is very little that connects JoJo with the other places I’ve tried. That’s not to say that Jean-Georges’ other restaurants are similar, but something about JoJo makes it feel like an outlier. Perhaps because it swings so far to the Upper East Side ladies-who-lunch/intimate old person dinner in food, appearance, and atmosphere. There is no theme to the food, no suggestion of Jean-Georges’ strong Asian leanings, and no moment where you look at the plates and glassware and think, I want to buy those. Which is totally fine, and I make no judgment on that. There is a place for restaurants that are good for bringing grandmothers to, that are quiet and intimate for girlfriend catchups, or that just put out consistent plates of food that you can rely on for something like a special work lunch. The dining area feels small, but there is a charm to the townhouse aspect. The service is not as refined as you might expect, but it is friendly and earnest.
Although the menu felt a little dated or uninspired, we had no complaints about the food. My soup was hot and poured tableside. It was a perfectly smooth puree of squash accented by diced squash cubes and mushrooms. Exactly the thing needed to take the chill off a cold day, and it was executed in such a way that reminded you that someone famous has their name attached to the kitchen.
The salmon was cooked to the as-suggested medium rare, and while that vinaigrette was the unfortunate colour of pavement, I didn’t let a drop stay on the plate. With the creamy mashed potatoes underneath the fish, there was a pseudo-gravy-Thanksgiving-dinner hedonism to working that vinaigrette into every bite.
The prix fixe dessert choices were not from the actual dessert menu and were rather boring in description, but they delivered in taste. My apple cake was super moist, and I loved the cinnamon ice cream. I would have been fine without the caramel and pepitas, but I understand their place. My grandmother probably wouldn’t have cared either, but she would have appreciated the effort.