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The famous Jean Georges $26 Lunch Promotion

Each time our GFS correspondent Lara visits New York from the Great White North, we always make sure to make reservations at one really great tried and true restaurant. We’ve done Lupa, Five Points, Zero Otto Nove, and Blue Ribbon Sushi. We’ve also tried to get a table at Babbo about a million times and I officially give up on that.

This visit we chose the much-talked-about $26 prix-fixe at Jean Georges. This lunch promotion has been written about everywhere and I’ve overheard more than one subway conversation about it. On her flight to New York, Lara chatted with two men who also had lunch reservations at Jean Georges for what they heard described as “best deal in town!” The Jean Georges team did a good job with the PR. Here’s a condensed version of our lunch experience:

Lara: Hi!
Danielle: It’s so good to see you! We both straightened our hair! What a lovely table overlooking the fall foliage of Central Park, huh? What kind of wine should we get?
Lara: Rhone. It’s $9. I’m going to practice what I preach.
Danielle: Ok, the prix-fixe lets you pick two dishes each and a dessert. Let’s get the tuna tartare with avocado and spicy radishes, fried calamari with citrus-chili dip…
Lara: Beef tenderloin with a miso sauce and parsnip puree, and Coach Farms goat cheese fondue with pears and crystallized pecan salad!

Fast forward to the meal…

Danielle: So, the calamari is OK…but why so much batter? It reminds me of re-hydrated Veggie Booty.
Lara: Yep, and the dip tastes like chipotle mayo. The tuna is OK, but it’s really mashed up, huh?
Danielle: Like baby food.
Lara: Exactly. What’s that taste in the fondue? And why is wrapped in flaky pastry? I think fondue is the wrong word for this.
Danielle: Turmeric?
Lara: Not yellow.
Danielle: Cumin!
Lara: Yes. Cumin. Not a choice I would make. Well, the beef is good, right?
Danielle: Well, it’s an awesome cut of meat. Don’t like the parsnips though.
Lara: You wouldn’t survive in a day in Ireland with that attitude. We Irish like our parsnips.
Danielle: All right. I hate to say it, but I’m a little disappointed!
Lara: Me too! God, we’re horrible people. The UN food summit is going on right now and we’re complaining about our meal at Jean freakin Georges. Wah, wah, wah.
Danielle: We’re going to hell.
Lara: Yeah. Terrible. I bet they have good spicy food in hell though.

This experience threw me off for a few days. For me, it’s usually the amazing hand-made enchilada from a street cart that’s really exciting, but still! Adding insult to injury, I read the New Yorker article about the Michelin inspector who eats at Jean Georges and explains why it continues to deserve the elusive three-star rating granted only to magical mystery kitchens run by unicorns. Was I missing something?

And then it hit me. The much publicized $26 lunch promotion is the gastronomic equivalent to the many high design/low price collaborations that are so popular right now like Anna Sui for Target or Jimmy Choo for H&M. The label may make you feel fabulous and wealthy, but you’re gonna get blisters from that man-made in Micronesia pleather.

Certainly, our meal wasn’t bad, but marketing got in the way and clouded our expectations. There was also some love lacking in that meal. It’s usually the love that makes that street cart enchilada taste so good.

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