JoJo in New York City, was quiet when I first arrived; the first floor was filling slowly, and smiles danced in the flickering of the muted candlelight and the bar tender was moving quickly to fill deep wine glasses. Upstairs, it was just as still, but there was room for a few more parties ready to indulge. The little stylish menu echoes the mix of modern and elegant décor, which is also reflected in the construction of the plates that eventually arrived at our table. After the appetizers the hum grew louder, and the upper dining room filled with warmth. It was a leisurely meal; slow food service, perhaps because of the increase in volume, allowed for girlie chats and full sips of red wine.
The Peekytoe Crab appetizer was a maze of elements that came together nicely but was up to the diner to assemble. The heavy cumin of the crackers and the fresh crab created a complex system where each brought out the sweetness of the other. The pieces of bright and acidic fruits added another layer of sweetness laced with the tangy fruit notes.
This appetizer was pretty straightforward but expertly executed. Each Calamari ring and tentacle was crisp, battered and crunchy though the octopus remained tender. The littered pickled chili, slices still with a seed or two, added heat and that earthy green pepper feeling. The sauce was made with yuzu, which created a play of sweet and spicy, like the contrasting textures embedded in the appetizer.
Even though this was called sushi, the Crispy Salmon Sushi was nothing like what is typically imagined when hearing the word sushi. There was no seaweed or rolls but it was a refined interpretation, transforming sushi into a different kind of elegant. Sushi grade raw salmon rested on a thin but potent layer of chipotle mayo and a cube of fried rice was the foundation. It was like a savory rice pudding, crisp to counter the texture of the slick salmon. The different temperatures played tug of war, until the spicy may ignited the mouth and united the warm rice and cool salmon. Something about the green sprig that rounded the flavors and produced a clean finish.
The Duck entree presented duck in multiple ways. Not only were there sizable rounds of duck breasts, but thigh meat was chopped coarsely and stuffed into thin crunchy brick pastry. A wet pile of sweet and sour shallots rested in the middle of the plate, underneath the delicious duck dumpling. The tangy shallots brought out the meaty luxury of the duck medallions encircled by a little fat, making each bite perfect. Even though the pastry comprised of duck as well, it launched the diner into another category, with denser and gamier flavors and hearty notes. A dichotomy was set up celebrating the duality of duck, highlighting its decadence and richness.
The Lobster dish was also more than it seemed, but simple at the same time. It felt like a refined, deconstructed clambake, including the sweet corn and fingerling potatoes. The spices even recreated that grilled warmth and a little heat that is reminiscent of the summer tradition. The same spices coated the lobster with salty savory elements and emphasized the seafood’s sweetness.
Butterscotch Pudding proved to be a very heavy and layered dessert, with the pudding at its base, topped by a thin canopy of smooth caramel, with a dollop of crème fraiche, and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. The mix of the intensely sweet butterscotch and caramel and the liberal dusting of the salt, transformed the pudding from a childhood favorite to an adult comfort. Even the monotony of texture was soothing, as each spoonful was different and the salt crystals added unexpected crunch with a burst of refreshing flavor.
A Peach and Black Berry Crumble topped with lemon verbena ice cream, hinted at the peak moments of summer, highlighting the sweet tangy stone fruit and the seedy tart berries. The fruits themselves were not that sweet, just soft in their purest form, but the crumble strudel crunchy embellishments brought that sweet dessert form. Even the ice cream was not terribly sweet, but the custard had floral notes that rounded out the summer season and herbal feelings that ushered the diner into fall.
JoJo felt like a beautiful dining room, hidden behind a secret door in an old home, from the decorated interior to menu. Everything felt comfortable, aged and familiar, but the contemporary twists, the lovely layers of textures and flavors as well as the elevating of classics made the meal and experience truly special. It was definitely worth the wait.