121 W. 10th St, 212-255-3333
Price Range: $80-120
In 2002, Simpson Wong of Café Asean opened Jefferson: a high-concept, minimalist, fusion hot spot with ambitious prices. Now, two appearances on Sex and the City, and one heart attack later, this incongruous boîte on West 10th has reopened as Jefferson Grill with smaller, more affordable, healthier dishes, but the same creative spirit
The menu begins with signature “scented” skewers. We tasted the Duck ($2.25) and Chicken ($1.75) skewers. The bite-sized morsels of tender meat were done just right — and were completely forgettable. The rest of the menu consists of appetizer-sized plates, designed for sharing. If they intend people to share, they should stagger the plates coming out of the kitchen; by the time I tasted the fourth dish, it was cold.
What came out of the kitchen after the skewers was a culinary joyride. Kung Pao Chicken and Scallops ($9) was explosive — better than in any Chinese restaurant, for the same price, and loaded with newly legal Sichuan peppercorns. Quail with Jersey Peach ($8.95) had an almost sous vide rareness, melding with the peach’s soft flesh and the spicy crunch of grill romaine. Cod ($12), with a crust of pistachio and cardamom blended with a tamarind cream sauce, was Pan-Indian fit for a Raj. Confit of Duck ($9.75), finishing out a perfect set of entrees, was bathed in a classic French brown sauce, whose sweet richness was cut by the delicate Japanese sting of sansho powder.
Desserts were equally ambitious, but less impressive. Balls of balsamic ice cream and Ovaltine ice cream balanced their flavors intriguingly, but the texture was icy. Chocolate Mousse Cake ($8) was a heavenly terrine encased in ganache, aided by jasmine-stewed raspberries that I liked so much, I’m trying to replicate them at home. But the chocolate mousse seemed to use a substandard chocolate, or perhaps not enough, and was overpowered by our pungent entrees.
I liked Jefferson Grill. The clean-lined, wood-and-glass space was an oasis. The meal was one I’ll not soon forget: refined international flavors bravely combined is a difficult task indeed. And best of all, our bill, after tax, tip, and a bottle of wine was just over $100. You can’t beat that.
As I walked home, I grew hungry, though I’d just eaten a large meal. Then, something dawned on me: there are no starches on the menu. The Kung Pao didn’t even come with rice. Perhaps after his heart attack, Mr Simpson decided to make his unique fare for the Atkins set. That’s so 2002.