I am one of the few people I know who was fortunate enough to have eaten at Lafayette, the restaurant in the Doral Park Hotel (now the Swissotel) where Jean Georges Vongerichten was named executive chef in 1986. And while that might not be a cultural accomplishment on the order of attending the Woodstock Festival (something else I was fortunate enough to do), it is an important culinary milestone to have taken part in. Unhappily, I have no recollection of my meal at Lafayette, and whenever the topic comes up with friends and acquaintances who dined there, I always lose the polite game of one-upmanship that foodies often play when trying to best each other by describing past meals at important restaurants.
I do remember something about my meals at Jo Jo, Jean Georges’ first venture as a restaurant owner, in great detail. From the goat cheese and potato appetizer, to the delicious chickpea fries, to the sublime flourless chocolate cake that is still being copied in hundreds of restaurants, I have fond memories of what was a terrific dining experience in its day. In fact, it was a great time for New York dining as David Bouley’s original restaurant on Duane Street was in its prime, and another fun parlor game that foodies played was debating which restaurant was better, Bouley or Jo Jo. I distinctly remember arguing with Gourmet magazine and L.A. Weekly’s Jonathan Gold about it. At the time I was still active in the music industry, and Jonathan was writing about pop music for the Los Angeles Times. One day my company’s in-house publicist called me into her office and told me that she was on the phone with a writer who also wrote about food, and he was telling her that he thought Jo Jo was the best restaurant in New York. I told her that while I liked Jo Jo very much, I thought Bouley was a better restaurant. The next thing I knew she was handing me the phone, and Gold began arguing with me that Jo Jo was better. Fortunately, we were on different coasts or we might have come to blows!