August 22, 2005 | Ask Gael

How far wil Jean-George's empire stretch?

        Hong Kong, Texas, and now the Village. Here’s where the restless globe-hopper lives, and his brand-new Perry Street does “pantry service” in one of Richard Meier’s 21st-century glass towers. There is a calming serenity of cream and beige with a throwaway richness of space between tables for just 60. A tense junior waiter, struggling to master service from behind the vast banquette’s curve, keeps interrupting with “excuse me” and “may I.” Still smarting from the critical battering of his overconceptualized V Steakhouse, Jean-Georges simplifies here with moderne flavorings, such as a smartly savory watermelon gazpacho, and a $40 starter of warm hamachi toting a load of caviar. Less is more in the simplicity of crusted tuna in a citric puddle, and arctic char elegantly posed on a vibrant pool of cherry-tomato juice. Summer beets team surprisingly well with lobster in ginger vinaigrette. But boring roasted cod and a swampy mess of black-pepper crab dumplings need rethinking. And champagne spilled on berry soup destroys it. I count on Jean-Georges’s dessert wizard Johnny Iuzzini to fix that. I’m wild for his pistachio ice cream on poached cherries. It’s shakedown time, and though Gregory Brainin, Vongerichten’s seasoned second, is used to running solo, it’s hardly cool that Jean-Georges is already off to Shanghai.

176 Perry St. at West St. 212 352 1900

Cafe Fiorello