Thursday 20 June 2019
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J & G at the Phoenician6000 East Camelback RoadScottsdale, AZ

I had been looking forward to trying Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s foray into the Phoenix dining scene for a couple of reasons. His eponymous flagship restaurant Jean-Georges in Manhattan is one of our favorite restaurants in NYC, and also I was happy to learn that the menu at this high-profile restaurant featured local produce and Arizona wine.

J&G Steakhouse is the new restaurant that has replaced much-acclaimed Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. We had enjoyed one last dinner at Mary Elaine’s its final week, and it was interesting to see the changes. J&G is clean and modern with lots of glass, but made inviting with organic textures, warm wood finishes, and cozy dark colors. Walking in, one immediately notices the lounge area with a sleek bar dotted with amber glass pendant lights, and comfortable groups of low-profile seating, allowing the focus to be on the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and spectacular view of the valley.

Settling in at the bar on one visit, I was pleased to see a local AZ wine – Keeling Schaefer’s “Two Reds” Grenache – offered by the glass. With its balanced flavors of black pepper and cherry, it paired well with an order of fried calamari. This appetizer rose above the masses with a crispy batter lightened with rice flour encasing tender rings of calamari, sprinkled with basil salt, and accompanied by a creamy lemon dipping sauce. A hallmark of this modern steakhouse are comfortable, familiar dishes prepared with a sophisticated flair, as was also true of the salmon tartar with a hint of heat from mustard oil and crunchy bursts of salt from sprinkles of fleur de sel, served with garlic-brushed grilled bread. The choice of appetizers at steakhouses can often be limiting, but J&G Steakhouse is an exception. Other highlights on subsequent visits were the sweet corn ravioli, served in a shallow bowl of emerald-green basil butter with halved sweet cherry tomatoes and garnished with pickled onions. Here in Arizona, the chef somehow manages to bring the taste of summer to a meal in mid-January by showcasing fresh local produce. This is a Jean-Georges classic I’ve enjoyed before, and sure to be a signature dish at J&G too. The foie gras terrine, served in a mini Staub cocotte with apple-jalapeño compote, was rich and luscious slathered on slices of toasted bread. A favorite was the sweet and sour pork belly. Meltingly-tender, each piece was topped with a gingery shallot confit sweetened with honey and brightened with vinegar that balanced the richness of the slow-cooked pork. For seafood lovers, J&G also has a raw bar with seafood plateaus offering lobster, oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, and seasonal stone crab claws or king crab legs. An oyster platter on one visit was excellent. I tried each of the oysters offered – two East Coast varieties (Malpeque and Blue Point) and three West Coast (Hama Hama, Kumomoto, and Totten Inlet). All were pristine and briny, accompanied by lemon wedges and red wine mignonette.

The well-made salads take advantage of local Arizona produce, such as the J&G chopped salad, which changes daily according to the local ingredients available. One night it was a fresh and flavorful combination of chopped vegetables that included cucumber, radishes, brussels sprouts, teardrop tomatoes, corn, and shiitake mushrooms tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. Another favorite was the tomato salad – a stack of juicy ripe heirloom tomato slices (grown locally in a greenhouse by a farmer in Mesa) sitting on a pool of tangy Russian dressing topped with a spiced fried onion ring garnish. The classic ‘wedge’ was an excellent rendition – a thick, cross-wise slice of crisp iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, blue cheese dressing and slices of smoky bacon, a presentation that offers more bacon and creamy blue cheese in every bite.

In addition to prime-grade filets, ribeyes, NY strip, and porterhouse steaks, you’ll find veal, pork, chicken, lamb, and a seafood menu with items such as roasted striped bass, grilled yellowfin tuna, or 1-1/2 lb. steamed lobster with Tabasco butter. On one visit, the splurge-worthy sautéed Dover sole grenobloise was expertly prepared and boned tableside, served with the classic browned butter, lemon, and caper sauce and garnished with buttery croutons. I was happy to see a white burgundy offered by the glass, and my Dover sole paired nicely with a Puligny-Montrachet. For the rest of the party, a bottle of Arizona’s Pillsbury Diva – primarily syrah with mourvèdre and petite sirah – was an excellent selection to pair with the entire meal, which included a tender filet mignon, beefy 18-oz bone-in ribeye steak, and juicy milk-fed veal porterhouse, with a choice of J&G’s seven steak sauces. When we couldn’t decide, our waiter kindly offered to let us try all of them, with our personal favorites being the classic Béarnaise, Black Pepper Condiment, and Soy Miso Mustard. Side dishes are just as varied, with 12 options, including four types of potatoes. The rich and decadent potato gratin with creamy, nutty Comté cheese was wonderful, and we also liked the not-too-rich creamed spinach and crispy seasoned fried onions. The delicious desserts, including a moist carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream, tropical fresh fruit salad with white pepper ice cream, rich warm chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and an apple tarte Tatin with classic sweet caramelized apples and flaky crust served with cinnamon-butterscotch ice cream, were a decadent way to finish a superb meal.

While J&G can stand on the merits of the food alone, there are other reasons why it lived up to my expectations. Service on all our visits was excellent, friendly and professional, with a nice attention to detail. The well-crafted cocktail list features classic drinks such as Pimm’s Cup, Sazerac, and Pisco Sour, and I was happy to learn that they consulted with Employees Only, a bar in New York well-known for its mixology. One of my favorites here is now the “Yellow Jacket”, consisting of Partida reposado tequila, yellow Chartreuse, Regan’s orange bitters, St. Germaine elderflower cordial, and Prosecco, which went surprisingly well with oysters. Another cocktail I would highly recommend is the “New Yorker”, Rittenhouse rye, lemon juice, Benedictine, a splash of club soda, and topped with Keeling Schaefer’s Two Reds. Reminiscent of a sophisticated sangria, this would be the perfect beverage to order on the terrace, enjoying the view as the sun sets. Another pleasant surprise was how reasonable the prices are for an upscale steakhouse in a luxury resort. An 8-oz prime filet is $28 and one of my favorite items is the recession-friendly steak frites with tender prime hanger steak and fries for $18. J&G also offers one of the best burgers in town ($16). On our most recent visit for a casual dinner, two of us cozied up to the bar and shared a platter of oysters and the J&G Burger. Ordered with aged cheddar, it was excellent – juicy, meaty, served with fresh tomato, lettuce, and homemade crisp cucumber pickles with a side of hot crispy french fries. On that occasion, we finished up with a creamy yet light and fluffy cheesecake with cherry compote and sour cherry sorbet.

With such a varied menu, this is a steakhouse that offers something for everyone – perhaps a 28-oz prime ribeye for the steak and potatoes fan, fish entrees and raw bar for the seafood lovers, and nice options for both familiar comfort food or more sophisticated appetizers and side dishes. With its panoramic view, J&G is the perfect place to take out-of-town guests, celebrate a special occasion, or enjoy a romantic sunset dinner al fresco. And with its upscale yet comfortable atmosphere, it’s also a nice spot to enjoy a more casual meal with friends, order a burger at the bar, or sit on the terrace and enjoy a platter of oysters and a glass of wine. As a new steakhouse in the Phoenix area, J&G succeeds in standing out.

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