Maybe dinner in the ground floor bar at this bijou outpost of Jewel Bakko is not formal, but a $75 tasting menu means it's not inexpensive either.
Since Jewel Bakko is one of the embarrassing gaps on my dining CV, I had no particular expectations. Just as well.
The cutesy bar (and there are only three or four bar stools, so don't imagine a sushi bar experience) is decked out in pink checkered wallpaper and lined with seriously uncomfortable pink banquettes. The short menu describes some appetizers - mainly cooked preparations of seafood, raw bar choices, and one entree, pig cheeks en cocotte with langoustine. The wine list has a split personality - bottles around $28-$30 on one side, and offerings like La Tache at around $1600 on the other. The assembled experts
chose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oyster Bay, and later moved on to a glass of Ribera del Duero Crianza, Arroyo.
To begin, we sampled: oysters six ways; oysters Rockefeller "deconstructed" ; octopus terrine; Taylor Bay scallops.
Of the six ways with the half shell oysters, I think four worked - a "Russian" sour cream and caviar topping, an "English" version with a tiny triangle of bread (pumpernickel, oddly enough); "Japanese" ponzu style with soy sauce and sake; and classic "American" cocktail sauce. The "French" mignonette was very sharp and vinegary, and a "New Orleans" assault with
some kind of spicy citrus glaze masked the oyster.
The deconstruction of oysters Rockefeller involved serving the critters out of their shells, on a puree of spinach and cress, with a curl of crisp bacon
on top. No rich sauce (although the dish, of course, earned its name from its richness). Pleasant enough. This was one of a number of New Orleans accents on the menu, along with a celery remoulade soup, which we didn't try.
The octopus terrine was a disaster. Similar dishes I have sampled in the past have been offered as thin slices. This was a brick, moulded from the slender tentacles of the beast. Hard to find a word for the texture - neither chewy nor mushy but somehow heavy and hard going. And then a bitter after taste.
Taylor Bay scallops, over which the charming staff enthused, had the flavor of water. And maybe some lemon squeezed on top. An invisible dish.
The pig cheeks came in a hot pot, with two meaty langoustines per serving. The broth was thin, spiked with a hot pepper vinegar. The meat was tender
enough, but a little underseasoned. It made us crave a more traditional braise of cheeks with a rich red wine sauce. And while the shellfish didn't clash with the pork, neither particular enhanced the other.
We finished with a mysterious Rum Baba "Bananas Foster" (N'Awlins again), where neither bananas nor Foster could be detected. A muffin, essentially,
drenched in rum and whipped cream; very edible, but nothing special.
A disappointment, I think, and at just under $100 a head including tip, not a cheap one.