Lunching at New York’s Columbus Circle: A Movable Feast

Mike DeSimone & Jeff Jenssen

If you can't decide what to eat or just want to have it all, going with a chef's tasting menu can satisfy both your curiosity and your appetite. Although tasting dinners can often stretch on for up to ten courses, lunch tastings tend to be briefer affairs. However, with a bit of creativity—and very little cash, it turns out—a savvy diner can enjoy five fantastic courses in two different stellar New York restaurants for less than $60. Located just across Columbus Circle from each other, Jean Georges and A Voce both offer $29 prix fixe lunches, each consisting of high-style, delicious food prepared by acclaimed chefs who can actually be found in the house.

His namesake restaurant remains the daily base of operations for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the world's foremost culinary practitioners as well as the father of modern Asian-fusion cuisine. And although Missy Robbins's empire is currently limited to Columbus Circle's new A Voce outpost and the Madison Avenue original, the accolades she has earned behind the stove have quickly moved her onto the radar of those whose to-do lists focus on the finest dining experiences New York City has to offer. Settled into stylish white leather chairs at smart wood-topped tables, A Voce's patrons are afforded a treetop view of bustling Columbus Circle and Central Park just beyond. The sleek angularity of Jean Georges is softened by white linens, cream leather banquettes, and the gentle play of afternoon sunlight through the dining room's three plate-glass exposures.

The menu at Jean Georges makes no distinction between appetizers and main plates: One can choose any two dishes, which on a recent visit included foie gras brulee with pineapple-Meyer lemon jam, and grilled beef tenderloin and crunchy mashed potatoes with pear-horseradish puree. Across the way, Chef Robbins's venue offers three courses for the same price. The menu changes frequently and focuses on one region of Italy at a time; the current "Toscana" edition lists appetizers such as pappardelle with rabbit sausage, fennel, and onions, and main courses include red wine-braised wild boar with cannellini beans and cocoa. If your dining partner is willing to share, order different dishes to exponentially increase your investigation of the menu!

The large number of plate options at Jean Georges encourages the pairing of wines by the glass, and the head sommelier, Hristo Zisovski, will cheerfully make recommendations. He suggested the elegant Chateau de Suronde Quarts de Chaumes 2000 from the Loire Valley with the foie gras, and fruit-forward Carl Roy Cabernet Sauvignon East Side Cuvee 2007 from Napa Valley with the beef tenderloin; both pairings were spot on. A Voce's sommelier, Meng Chiang, also gave wonderful advice on glasses of wine to pair with our meal, and he offers a bottle special designed to work with the compact lunch menu. The bottle chosen to accompany the "Toscana" menu is Remole Frescobaldi 2008 from Tuscany, a smooth, jammy blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese.

If your stomach and budget allow for extras, desserts at Jean Georges, at $8 each, are a theme on a plate—choose Spice, Citrus, Chocolate, or Apple. Another worthy addition is A Voce's cassoncini con prosciutto di Parma, heavenly fried dumplings filled with Swiss chard and cheese, wrapped in paper-thin slices of prosciutto.

A Voce opens for lunch at 11:30, Jean Georges at noon; both serve until 2:30, Monday through Saturday. (On a recent visit, diners lingered at Jean Georges until four in the afternoon.) Lunch at Jean Georges is always capped off with complimentary petits fours and chocolate, bringing the course total up to six. Start at one restaurant, walk off a few calories as you head to the other, and continue to enjoy your movable feast. —Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen