Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Diner's Friend New York City Entry #100 Jovia

Jovia is so close to where I live and work that in the months I have been in town I have never stopped in. A chef is without honor on his own block. Perhaps Jovia has seemed too much a neighborhood joint (I have not treated Daniel similarly, although its distance is no greater). However, recently a friend suggested that we break for lunch and we hied off to Josh DeChellis's Italian-accented establishment for their $24.07 lunch prix fixe. If Jovia does not provide the finest meal or even the finest lunch, it surely is the champion prix fixe. A happy occasion for tongue and wallet. Cheap at twice the price.

Jovia's upstairs dining room is light and serious, and as with many restaurants in these days of global warming particularly striking for its floral arrangements, nicely accentuating the browns and creams. One can tell uptown dining from downtown by the space between the tables: Jovia is designed for the private tete-a-tete.

Lunch opened with a perfectly lovely Tortellini en Brodo, served with Duck, Ramazzotti, and Aged Provolone. This soup was majestic because of a spectacular broth, a stock days in the making; it was dense and powerful. The tortellini with duck were perfectly honorable, but it was the consomme that was majestic. I puzzle over the presence of ramazzotti, a popular bitter Italian aperitif. The soup certainly didn't taste of bitter herbs, but perhaps it was an undertone, providing the soup a complexity and power. Or perhaps ramazzotti refers to some esoteric ingredient below the Google radar.

The main course was a well-cooked Sauteed Skate with Paprika Marinated Vegetables. The skate had a lovely breading that seemed to be corn-meal. Together the moist fish and somewhat grainy coating evoked sand and sea. The vegetables were hearty though ordinary, perhaps to be expected in a prix fixe, cooked al dente but without surprise.

The meal concluded with Crispy Fritti Bellissima: Lavender Scented Brioche with Orange Blossom Creme, Chocolate Sauce (not listed on the menu), and a Tangerine Creamsicle Crema Gelato. I found these cream puffs the least compelling of the trio of courses. Part of the problem was technical. Biting into a puff, the cream squirted in a joyous mess. Attempting to dip the pastry in shallow pools of liquid, created more glop. The lavender scent of the brioche was mild, and the chocolate sauce was not dense and dark, but the orange blossom creme was bright and tart. The tangerine creamsicle was, as one might imagine, a somewhat odd - although not entirely unpleasant - conceit.

So often restaurants persuade diners through their prix fixe that their cooking is sallow and pallid. Jovia deserves credit for selecting compelling dishes as loss leaders. Josh DeChellis has acquired a sterling reputation as a rising young chef, first at Sumille and now at Jovia. By demonstrating that meals at Jovia can be frugal and flavorful, he proves himself the diner's friend.

Jovia
135 East 62nd Street (at Lexington Avenue)
Manhattan (Upper East Side)
212-752-6000

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