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Manhattan Lost One of Its Best Upscale Lunch Deals During the Pandemic

The affordable daytime offerings at Jean-Georges remain on hiatus, while dinner prices creep further into the $200 range

The Jean-Georges dining room, with plush cream chairs set at tables with white tablecloths
The dining room at Jean-Georges.
Francesco Tonelli/Jean-Georges

Another one of the city’s most expensive and celebrated fine dining establishments is getting even pricier as it hits the pause button on a menu option that was unusually affordable for a venue of this caliber. Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel and Tower — renowned for its ruby-like tuna ribbons with chile oil, its stunning natural light, and a photo of a bemused Mitt Romney dining with then President-elect Donald Trump — no longer serves its bargain lunch prix-fixe. In fact, the two Michelin-starred venue has not relaunched lunch service since it reopened for indoor dining over well over a year ago.

“We just want to be safe and smart about our decisions — lunch isn’t currently open for the moment at Jean-Georges but it’s a possibility in the near future,” Jean-Georges Vongerichten said in an emailed statement. The chef boasts an upscale empire of over 40 chic establishments around the globe, including the vegetable-forward ABC Kitchen and seafood-centric Fulton in New York.

The daytime menu, which commanded an almost improbable $28 for two courses in the mid-aughts (diners could add on extra plates for a fee), eventually rose to $68 in the fall of 2019 for a four-course affair. It was a shockingly accessible counterpoint to dinner, which started at $230 that same year for the regular menu; vegetarian options were cheaper. For curious gourmands like myself, the Jean-Georges lunch was, for a time, a chance to indulge in the pleasures of modern fine dining fare without spending a significant portion of one’s paycheck on a single meal. It was a place to enjoy a unique breed of haute cuisine blending French with Japanese and sometimes Southeast Asian or other global influences. One could sample lobster tartine with lemongrass, caviar with Meyer lemon gelee, and homemade marshmallows that servers snipped into cubes tableside.

The starting price at Jean-Georges for an omnivorous meal at dinner is now $258, with a longer tasting running $318 before tax and tip; those prices are roughly in line with similar offerings at fellow French stalwarts Daniel on the Upper East Side and Le Bernardin in the Theater District. Jean-Georges long offered a shorter prix-fixe during dinner, but dropped that option before the pandemic. A vegetable menu is $188.

Thomas Keller’s Per Se, just a stone’s throw away at Columbus Circle, and Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park are not currently offering their lunch service either, but the daytime menus at those venues were generally much more expensive than at Jean-Georges. If anything, the current absence of lunch there reflects how certain strains of fine dining are becoming more and more out of reach for everyday patrons looking to splurge. Indeed, a large swath of the city’s most expensive restaurants have been hiking their prices recently — or dropping their cheaper entry-level menus — amid surging food price inflation, labor costs, and demand from well-heeled patrons eager to return to their favorite dining rooms.

Still, even if a larger percentage of everyday diners are opting for more casual forms of ambitious gastronomy these days, this corner of Central Park feels just a bit less fun, magical, and welcoming without Jean-Georges’s whimsical lunchtime extravagance — and a lot more expensive. Lunch at Jean-Georges was a fun throwback to the heady, pre-Recessionary aughts.

Nougatine next door, which serves a more casual menu by chef Vongerichten, remains open for both breakfast and lunch. And both Le Bernardin and Sushi Ginza Onodera offer lunch menus in the low $100 range.