The paper-thin mushrooms and herbal broth hug the steamed sea bass tightly on the plate. Cut through the belly of the supple filet and the taper of flavors erupt. It feels like it could be a Jean-Georges Vongerichten classic—simple yet substantial—but it’s a brand-new offering.
As is everything—and I do mean everything—at the complete refresh of the Upper East Side staple that bares the famed chef’s childhood nickname.
Set in a now blond-washed town house still fronted by an intriguing clandestine doorway, and advertised by only a diminutive sign perched in a corner, JoJo began in 1991 as Vongerichten’s debut restaurant as chef and co-owner. The Frenchman founded the business at the start of the Clinton era, and ushered it through two more presidencies and decades of changing attitudes about food and dining in general before closing a year ago for an overhaul. “JoJo was my first restaurant and holds a special place in my heart,” Vongerichten says.
Open the door now and you’ll find the tones throughout are largely alabastrine—pale shades with only mere touches of chocolate brown in the banquettes and an occasional dark wood accent wall. Turn your eye toward the servers and you’ll see they’ve been blanched as well: In fetching cream shirts, taupe aprons and pale pants they flit up and down the stairs in the intimate restaurant, which includes a small four-seat bar, 35-seat main dining room and cozy room downstairs, as well as 27-table loft seating upstairs with three prime tables overlooking 64th Street.
There are only 20 items on the menu, a list as carefully curated as the decor. A seafood-forward appetizer menu emphasizes prime ingredients and some Asian touches. A star starter will (and should) catch your eye: the peekytoe crab dumplings bathed in a Meyer lemon-celeriac infusion is well-complemented by a touch of ginger. A tender Madai carpaccio is also balanced when touched with lemon granite horseradish. Turning the menu over, dyed-in-the-wool regulars will find Daily JoJo Classics are updated weekly to cater to those who liked things just the way they were. “We feature daily specials including classics dishes from when we opened in 1991, such as our warm shrimp salad, and potato and goat cheese terrine,” Vongerichten says. On the day we dined, the celebrated chef’s beloved tuna tartare with Gaufrette potato and chive oil was listed. The time-honored specialty—tenderly chunked and formed into ovals that are easily obliterated by piling the fish onto the crisps in heaps—was as satisfying as you remember.
Desserts are designed to both delight (pavlova topped with passion fruit seeds) or simply satisfy your inner child (pear and dry sour cherry crumble).
Ultimately, Vongerichten isn’t out to reinvent the iconic French bistro experience by adding a thread of Asian influences. Instead, he’s refined it for a new decade of diners who want something delicious while trying to navigate the Trump era.
160 E. 64th St., New York, NY
Appetizers, $12-$21; entrees, $25-$42; desserts, $14
Sun., 5:30-10pm; Mon.-Thur., 5:30-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11pm