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Vongerichten scales down with restaurant “Market”

For a man who once commanded titles such as being the “enfant terrible of modern French cooking” and “one of the most celebrated chefs on the planet,” Jean Georges Vongerichten seems to know when to lay off the pretense. After all, the “most important part is pleasing people,” says the chef.

After a string of mostly successful establishments, Vongerichten really does not need another fine-dining Jean-Georges or a swanky ‘JoJo.’ He already has three Michelin stars, and he probably thinks that there is no need for more to collect and flaunt around like those grade-school bookworms who accumulate gold-stars for acing all their spelling quizzes (or like superstar chef Joël Robuchon, who has 25 of them)

So Vongerichten, who clearly does not give a deviled cornichon about accolades at this point, is smart enough to eschew fine dining and hit home with the casual-eatery concept here in Boston at the W Hotel. Simply named “Market,” Vongerichten aptly titles it as what he fully intends it to be: “a combination of food market and the market of art, which changes every month.”

“Market” does not actually feel like a market, but succeeds in drawing restaurateurs by offering them a slice of Vongerichten’s culinary heaven at a fraction of the price.

The restaurant exudes a vibe of prison-like industrial-chic meets one of those bars from “Sex and the City.” Long, sleek lines dominate the airy room with vaulted ceilings, semi-opaque parchment colored window tapestries, Cassina-esque leather chairs, concrete finishes, and hanging tube lamps that resemble mosquito zapper-lights.

A starter of tuna tartare, bright gummy-red, served with a base of luscious, green avocado, fortunately did not leave me –and my dining companions – with a vile taste in our mouths. It was, in fact, quite an unctuous mound of new-American comfort: the wholesomely fresh tuna is topped with perfectly circular shavings of spicy radish, then paired with velvety moat of emulsified yuzu, generous drizzles of siracha chili oil and ginger vinaigrette, which cuts through the richness of the avocado and builds the different components like a layered mille-feulle. A playful yet mysterious dish, the tartare was obviously inspired by Vongerichten’s travels to Thailand in the early 1990’s and his subsequent experimentations with herbs and spices at his restaurant “Vong.”

Slow-cooked salmon evokes a whiff of the sea and is surrounded by a halo of thick, truffle vinaigrette that’s divinely earthy – a cute concept. Unfortunately the execution fell short. Any other cooking technique would have worked, whether it is quick grill/sear for an added texture on the salmon, or perhaps even a sous-vide (vacuum sealed and pressure-cooked). Either way, it resembled a limp piece of an orange-colored soggy meatloaf waiting to find its way to an eager cat (which will swallow the whole darn thing anyway). A bouquet of shaved brussel sprouts on top were more appetizing, mostly due to the touch of citrusy lemon vinaigrette it is cooked with.

Meats fare marginally better. Seared organic chicken breast, cooked to robust perfection, isn’t actually as dry as it sounds. It’s probably like what “Mama” used to make, crusted with parmesan – only less crispy. In this case though, we’d very much prefer if Vongerichten made it in his own way. Maybe steamed? Twice cooked? Smoked? Perhaps comfort food isn’t Vongerichten’s territory. Artichokes on the side, however, are delicately smothered with a touch of lemon basil butter. They’re beautifully cooked.

If the chef ever had the candied-walnuts to charge $14 for a six-inch pizza, it’d be at a place like this. The house specialty of thin-crust black-truffle pizza comes piping hot and, unfortunately, charred to puffy bitterness. Shaved truffles on the pizza were miniscule, and so were the flecks of Fontina cheese sprawled all around. And there was so much frisee on the pizza, it was almost like working your way through “Twilight”/”New Moon” star Robert Pattinson’s tousled hair.

At least the deserts are generously sized. Apple Crisp, served with a scoop of cinnamon ice-cream, is not actually quite that crisp, though. It’s more like an apple crumble, but not actually that crumbly. The first layer is fine, then it starts to get tedious as the apple filling congeals with the ice cream to form something out a proper apple crumble filling – except regurgitated. And it’s so sweet, it should be illegal.

Chocolate mousse is light and mild, laced with “gently whipped cream.” It’s almost worthy of Betty Crocker’s ready-bake instant batter mixtures, though using bittersweet dark chocolate might have been a better alternative, or perhaps if the mousse was suffused with a crisp texture of some sort.

Vongerichten plans to open 50 more establishments within the next five years, adding to 24 semi-successful restaurants that are already under his helm. He’s got quite a way to go.

-Jon Cheng

Photos by Howard Chang

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