Late last week I happened to be in Frisco. (For those who haven't heard of it, it's a suburb of Oklahoma City.) While I was there, I decided to try Jasper's--the recently opened sister restaurant to Kent Rathbun's Abacus.
The design of the restaurant is of a piece with that of Abacus--dim, modern, chic, though slightly less formal feeling. The bar is more visible and integrated with the restaurant than that at Abacus. (And, at 6:30, it was doing far brisker business than the restaurant itself.) The partially open kitchen--well-lit, contrasting with the darker dining areas--draws the eye in most seating areas.
If you've been to Abacus over the past few years, you're likely to recognize several faces at Jasper's. Migrating some experienced hands paid off. Service, from start to finish, was exemplary. Greeters, waitstaff, and management were friendly and helpful every step of the way.
A quick glance at the menu told me that some of my perceptions of the concept were wrong. While Jasper's price-point is a tick down from Abacus, it's no mid-range restaurant. Appetizers ranged from $8-10. Entrees from $20-30. The menu, billed as "gourmet backyard cuisine," is low on frills. Steaks comprise almost half of the entrees. (All are certified Angus--no Prime.) The other half is rounded out with a couple of fish, some ribs, and pork tenderloin.
Given the cattle-heavy options and a recommendation from my waiter, I settled on the bone-in ribeye, with a side of aged Gouda mac-and-cheese. With an entree that heavy, I decided to go light on the appetizer, choosing the grilled chicken masa soup. The soup arrived quickly. Centered in a large white bowl was a pile of grilled chicken breast, black beans, corn, and fried tortilla strips (red and white). The soup--a creamy light yellow--was poured tableside. While it seemed slightly too salty, it was a fairly good soup--thick, meaty, sweet, spicy. I would have been somewhat disappointed with it at Abacus. But, taking the portion size and price (i.e., $5) into consideration, it met expectations.
Shortly after completing the soup, the steak arrived--a Flintstonian portion stretched across the entire plate. It was nicely charred, but overbuttered. The mac-and-cheese (also a large portion) arrived in a cast-iron skillet. I started into the steak and met my first disappointment of the night. It was cooked exactly as I had requested (i.e., rare side of medium), yet had very little flavor--closer to Texas Land & Cattle or Outback than Bob's, Del Frisco's, or Morten's. I tried bites from various parts of the steak, hoping to find a flavorful section, but had no luck. Life's too short to eat a mediocre steak, so I pushed it to the side and set into the mac-and-cheese. It, too, came up short. The pasta was overcooked. The sauce lacked character. (I often buy aged Gouda--4 or 5 years--for snacking. It has a rich, sweet, caramel character that was entirely absent from this cheese sauce.) And it was topped with a gritty, salty parmesan (almost certainly not Parmigiano-Reggiano). I pushed it to the side and looked for my waiter so I could get the check.
While I waited, a manager approached, noticed I wasn't eating, and asked if anything was wrong. I'm generally reluctant to talk with management about food on-site, so I said, "It was okay," and asked for my check. He was persistent, though, so I told him I thought the steak was subpar. He took my disappointment seriously and offered to get me another steak. I declined, so he offered to get me something else off the menu. I thanked him and said that wasn't necessary--that I'd just come back in a couple of months, after they've had a chance to work out the kinks attending any new restaurant opening. He gave me his card, refused to let me pay for the meal, and expressed his hope that I'd give them another chance in the future. On the basis of the excellent service (including that manager's attentiveness), I'm inclined to do so.
Jasper's has a lot going for it--great service, sexy decor, Rathbun's remote oversight (and Rick Griggs's over desserts), and an excellent chef de cuisine in Jon Stevens. While I experienced some hiccups in this visit, I doubt they'll prove to be representative of the restaurant over time. I'd be interested to hear the impressions of others who've had the chance to go there. And, when I make it back out there, I'll be sure to post an update.