What does an accomplished 3 Michelin star chef do after opening 9 successful restaurants in the US and just as many around the world? Why, continue expanding of course. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is unstoppable in every way, enlarging his empire beyond French fine dining and casual cafés, and boldly venturing into Asian restaurants and even Japanese soba. For this internationally acclaimed chef and world renowned restaurateur, who began his training with Chef Paul Haeberlin in Alsace (Hubert Keller also trained with him) and subsequently Paul Bocuse and Louis Outhier, global domination comes easy. His namesake restaurant, Jean-Georges, in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan, remains one of New York’s 3 Michelin star restaurants while others nearby like Spice Market and Matsugen offer more casual ethnic fare. Although half of his ventures involve partnerships with hotels, he is very much involved with the other half, taking a direct hands-on approach in the kitchen to prove that he’s not just a celebrity name. Shanghai, London, Paris, Istanbul and even Bora Bora have been graced with the magical touch of Jean-Georges. His next stop? Canada.
Market by Jean-Georges opened in the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Vancouver in January 2009 as his first Canadian and West Coast outpost. Similar to Market in Paris and in the W Hotel in Boston, the menu is a collection of his ‘best hits’ items from his other restaurants, using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. Prices are kept reasonably low to match the casual and relaxed vibe, although it’s apparent that they didn’t skimp on the gorgeous interior. Market in Vancouver has 4 dining areas to match your mood and purpose- a casual café with a fireplace, a heated outdoor terrace with breathtaking city views, a chic bar made of black marble, and a minimalist dining room with 2 private rooms.
The retro-chic dining room with geometric patterned carpets, white leather banquettes and large cylindrical ceiling lights evoked Eames architecture. The private rooms, with floor to ceiling windows that beautifully framed the bustling streetcorner of Thurlow and Alberni, were breathtaking. For a grand dining experience in an alluring restaurant housed in a world class hotel, prix fixe lunch for $29 seemed too good to be true. For a bargain price, this lunch came with 1 first course, 1 entrée and 1 dessert. Choices for the first course included raw items like beef carpaccio pizza with mushroom, parmesan & arugula, and hamachi sashimi with muscat grapes & buttermilk dressing. Also available were soups like clam chowder, salads like roasted beets with goat cheese & crystallized wasabi and appetizer choices like asparagus risotto, smoked salmon pizza and seared scallops with caramelized cauliflower. We enjoyed the most amazing glasses of cherry yuzu soda and jasmine lemonade while we narrowed down our choices.
The tuna tartare with avocado, spicy radish and ginger dressing was a great starter. Tuna and avocado is always a great combination, each playing off of the other’s rich fatty buttery flavors. The tender tartare was pleasantly contrasted by the distinct spiciness of the radishes and the prominent presence of grated ginger. Spicy chile oil was used liberally in this dish, its piquant properties lingering on my tongue for a good stretch while the nuttiness of the underlying sesame oil flavors slowly infused into my taste buds.
Black truffle and fontina cheese pizza immediately caught my eye, but I was quick to initially dismiss it as an option as I couldn’t imagine it truly delivering truffle flavors in a reasonably priced prix fixe lunch menu. Our server encouraged us to get it, in fact insisted, saying that it was the best selling and most popular item at Market. Thank you to our wise server, for I may have missed one of the most incredible truffle pizzas to ever take plate on this earth. The dough, so soft and pillowy, the cheese, a most fitting partner for the earthy flavors of black truffle, and the frisée greens, a delightful augmentation of texture. They didn’t skimp on the truffles, its flavor and essence fully infused into every molecule of this pizza to where it was more powerful than an actual fresh truffle. Its distinct seductive aromas wafted through the air, attracting envious stares from all directions.
‘Like attracts like’ when it comes to good food and discerning palates, and friendships can blossom from the most unexpected culinary moments. The diner sitting at the table next to us presented her spring pea soup with parmesan foam to me for a photo opportunity, and with a click and an ‘Ahh’ an instant connection was formed. This wonderful nurse from Oregon already had me at pea soup, and continued to wow me with her stories from Per Se. She joined us for subsequent meals in Vancouver and we bonded over ostrich at Chambar and chicken feet at Kirin. Such is the joy of eating and sharing- new encounters and lasting friendships.
For the second course, we had choices of fish and meat entrées. Nut & seed crusted red snapper and slowly cooked Arctic char sounded appetizing, but my dining partner chose Pacific Halibut with sautéed spinach and sweet garlic lemon broth. The herb crusted halibut was moist and cooked perfectly, going well with the Asian flavors infused in the chile oil and szechuan peppercorn like flavors within the spinach. Jean-Georges’ long history of working and traveling through Asia can frequently be seen in hints of sauces and garnishes.
Soy glazed short ribs with apple-jalapeño purée, seared BC hanger steak with gingered mushrooms & soy caramel sauce, and the Market burger with Russian dressing & onion rings sounded mighty enticing for this hungry carnivore, but in an odd twist of events, I ordered the grilled tuna burger with miso mayonnaise and shiso instead, simply because I am a sucker for anything shiso. The miso mayo was creamy and salty, adding a deep level of flavor to the juicy tuna patty. The pickles were mild and its signature tartness was subdued so that the whole shiso leaves could play their part. It was a delightful and satisfying burger, strong on sharp flavors but light on the stomach. Their fried potatoes were pretty amazing too.
For dessert I was too full and content to stuff myself even more, and settled for a simple fruit plate that was refreshing and simple. My dining companion got the rhubarb and strawberry crisp with honey ice cream, an adorable bowl of wholesome flavors and thick doughy textures that oozed with just the right sweetness.
The Shangri-La Hotel provides a gorgeous backdrop for this restaurant where the service and ambiance match its sophisticated world class level. The menu honors seasonal and local ingredients by keeping concepts relatively simple, yet remaining solid in its execution, presentation and flavor. With a Jean-Georges ‘best dishes’ amalgamation, the menu at Market is practically fool proof. Another satisfying and delicious meal for me, another restaurant destination crossed off the list for Jean-Georges. He recently opened Market and Spice Market in Doha, Qatar. Where will this culinary tycoon set foot next?
1128 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6E 0A8
T: 1 (604) 689 1120
Random trivia: Did you know that rhubarb was so immensely popular for its wide variety of medicinal uses that in the mid 1600′s it sold for twice the price of opium?