Restaurant Review: JG Domestic

At his latest restaurant, Jose Garces flings open his pantry from sea to shining sea.

 

Only, there’s just not enough of it to lose yourself in, and this is one way JG Domestic undershoots its potential. JG’s servers say the words “family-style” like they get paid by the hyphen, but that’s a misnomer — as is calling a single rib chop a “rack” on the menu. Portion size isn’t a problem with the snacks and most of the supporting items; the potted duck packs enough spreadable confit under layers of foie gras mousse and orange gelée to send four tongues to fat heaven. And my mushrooms were a fair cluster, with enough polenta to soak up the accompanying brandy cream. But $25 for maybe four ounces of striped bass perched in a two-tone puddle of runny pork sauce and pureed salsify? Even cut from a 15-pound deepwater specimen whose texture was halfway to halibut, it was most memorable for how much it left to be desired.  

Conceptual inconsistencies also dogged my meals here (as did painfully slow dinner pacing, though lunch-hour service is brisk). JG covers a wide swath of American foodways, and they don’t always cohere. On one hand, you’ve got a mock-lowbrow house-made Slim Jim, and a wood-oven flatbread topped with legitimately lowbrow (and unpleasant) cheddar grease. On the other, a fussy $14 spinach salad — red-veined leaves from the Lake Erie littoral, garnished with Pacific Northwest huckleberries and Iowa’s La Quercia prosciutto, arranged in a fastidious, single-file stack the height of a matchbook — that could be titled The Unbearable Preciousness of Haute Eating. Occasionally, the clash surfaced in a single dish, like a smoked chestnut and spaghetti squash soufflé — doused with an overbearing butter-maple syrup emulsion.

Syrupy sweetness works better at dessert, where butterscotch is blended with bourbon to make a blockbuster dipping sauce for flawless beignets. And poached pears astride a whipped mound of marjoram sabayon show that the pastry kitchen can dial up the seasons with inspired inventiveness.

The restaurant as a whole hit that mark a few times in each of my dinners, which is no small feat. But I hope the kitchen finds a way to craft meals that are more a journey and less a pastiche. If it does, JG Domestic has the potential to be not just another Garces production, but his signature one.

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