NO WAY, JOSÉ: J by José Andrés

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The publicity material for J By José Andrés, which opened recently in a remodeled space in Polanco’s W Hotel, boasts that it offers “new and daring dishes that will surprise all the senses.” What this critic and a discerning companion sampled, on a recent visit, was neither innovative nor intrepid. And the majority of our senses remained decidedly indifferent.

The menu was designed by brand-name chef José Andrés, who, I’ve heard, does know how to cook. This is only a supposition because we left his cheerful dining room unconvinced, no, profoundly disappointed.   The dishes are rooted in Spanish tradition, while touching base in Mexico.  They sound good, but the kitchen just doesn’t deliver. Presentation and plating aim for whimsy but don’t quite hit the mark: Dulce Patria does that sort of thing better. And, worst of all,  pretentious high-heeled chicanery rules.

Crispy/creamy but flat  flavored chickencroquetas were, for some inexplicable reason, served in a glass sneaker. “Maybe we should put it on the floor,” my companion suggested.

Little cones of guacamole didn’t transcend cutesiness – I suspect the chapulines buried within had died of ennui.

A green salad was very over-salted and the poor greens flailed helplessly in a deep pool of dressing.

Chistorra envuelta in patata frita, thin, crisp slices of deep fried potato cloaking forgettable chunks of sausage and pierced by little skewers, were good enough – but so are freshly made potato chips.

The chuletón de vaca vieja, a rib-eye to you and me, was well executed, medium rare as requested and perfectly salted. But they do the same thing as well and cheaper at Rincón Argentino.

What came next, “José’s taco” which turned out to be a slice of jamón ibérico Bellota housing a dollop of “Malossol Rio Frio” caviar was an ill-thought ode to pretention. Two classy brand name elements, both salty, which simply don’t belong together, were, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Baby Jane, thrown into the same cell, door locked, key tossed. Bette and Joan did better. We should have been treated to a puff of Moët & Chandon foam to round out the ostentatious proceedings. It was like eating a Prada shoe filled with a chopped Rolex watch. All this under the heading “José’s Way (the Only Way).” No way, José.

Desserts, on the other hand, were excellent. A flan, lovingly surrounded by a scoop of not-too-sweet olive oil gelato and fluffy crema catalana won our hearts, as did citrus sorbet over slices of pomelo. The heavy air of disappointment began to lift, good nature to return.

The large, breezy dining room, accented with red, recalls a fun, high class cabaret, a latter day Moulin Rouge. It is a nice place to be and to a degree vindicates the maladroit kitchen. Prices are medium high, as is to be expected. But the temple of Iberian gastronomy to which J by José aspires is nowhere to be found. Go for a drink. Or dessert. But grab a taco first.

Best dish: flan and crema catalana

José’s taco. An ode to pretention.

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Food: (1-10) 5
Price: $$$
Ambience: Jolly; It’s a party
J by José Andrés
in the W Hotel
Campos Elíseos 252, Polanco
Open Daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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Listen to my new podcasts on www.talkingabouteverything.com:
Ep. 39:Author Nicholas Gilman on Mexico’s historic center and its revival

Ep. 40: Nicholas Gilman talks with Juan Pablo Ballesteros about Limosneros and ModernMexican Cuisine
Ep. 41: Eating Insects, tacos, Enrique Olvera, saving heirloom corn and Modern Mexican cuisine.
http://www.talkingabouteverything.com/2016/02/talking-tacos-and-edible-insects-with.html?m=1

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About The Author

Nicholas Gilman is a food writer based in Mexico City; he's author of Good Food in Mexico CIty: Food Stalls, Fondas, Fine Dining.