If you go back far enough in his bio, you’ll find that Jean-Georges Vongerichten was one of Michelin-rated Louis Outhier’s “flying squadron of chefs,” kitchen wizards of high energy and big talent who opened restaurants in places like Bangkok, Hong Kong, London and New York. Jeans-Georges (we love the hyphenated French first name, since the Alsatian German last name has way too many letters) is still a bit of a “flying chef.” It’s just that he flies for himself now, and Houston is finally on his flight path.
Logically, it took a purposefully chic new hotel like Hotel Icon to attract the type of purposefully chic food that Jean-Georges perfected in his New York outlets like JoJo’s and Vong. French Nouvelle meets Asian Modern meets New American. If any or all of that sounds like it means small portions, Jean-Georges reportedly saw Houston coming. Somewhere in the planning stages, the menu grew less precious, and the portions learned the typical Texas definition of “super-size.”
The end result: Jean-Georges’ adventure in the Bayou City is true to our food traditions while also remaining true to his. After all, with roots in Alsace, his native food sense is about as hearty as you can get – a little more sausage and goose fat anyone? And he is smart enough to find in his childhood memories an appreciation of the traditional “comfort foods” we all seem to crave these days. Besides, for all his culinary bells and whistles, Jean-Georges shocked New York years ago by introducing a menu featuring one-word dishes like Salmon, Chicken and Lamb. Not surprisingly, he titled his first cookbook “Simple Cuisine.”
Jean-Georges and his chefs invest a few more words in their menu at Bank, named, of course, after their space’s former use. The feeling in the restaurant, little more than a space carved out within the toweringly marbled hotel lobby, is all stability and timelessness – the way we wanted our banks to feel before we started driving through them. Though the Whiskey Bar keeps pumping somewhere above your head, dinner at Bank can be quiet and romantic – or quiet and businesslike, if you prefer. The place used to be a bank, after all.
Of the appetizers, we spring every time for the ribbons of tuna with avocado, spicy radish and ginger marinade – a highly developed form of sushi. If we need more, we look no further than the foie gras brulee with pistachio and pickled dried cherries. For a salad, go with the roasted quail and cress. If you feel like soup (and maybe even if you don’t), don’t miss the very Thai chicken and coconut milk with galangal and shiitakes.
Many dishes promise to be seasonal at Bank, meaning things may lighten up a bit as the weather warms. But we like hearty food so much we just might request more air conditioning and forge ahead with dishes like the slow-baked salmon with truffle mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts, the veal chop spiked with sage with kumquat chutney and Madeira jus or the grilled filet mignon with Gruyere spinach crepe and beef broth.
This being the Lone Star State, desserts are contractually required to be substantial. You can’t get much simpler or much better than the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. But we’ve developed a near-constant craving for the banana hazelnut cake with caramel ice cream and praline crunch. Welcome to Texas, Jean-Georges. We’re mighty glad you finally flew in for a spell.H
220 Main St.