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Restaurants & Bars 5

Jar Report - Update on the Usual Suspects (long)

ataway | Oct 27, 200508:00 PM

I had the opportunity to dine at Jar last night. Between the four people in our party, we had the chance to sample most of the usual suspects. I am happy to say that I still think this is a great place to get a meal.

From the lack of activity outside the restaurant we thought we would be the only people there that night, but as we walked through the door, we found a packed house. The room does have a tendency to be loud and the tables they use are larger than normal, which means that you are seated father away from people. Nevertheless it is a fun room with a great atmosphere. Oh and we arrived about 5 minutes late for our reservations and, although it seemed that the hostess had just given away our table, they rearranged a few things and within minutes we were seated.

The group started off with a round of drinks, a compari (hard to mess up), a glass of Burrton Sauvignon Blanc, which I did not taste, Jar’s “perfect manhattan” (which was in a word perfect), and a martini (which my dining partner said was actually better than the ones he makes at home).

From there, we took our time settling into the menu and enjoying their chewy crusty sourdough bread from La Brea Bakery. Knowing we wanted dessert, we decided to skip the appetizers and went straight for the salads.

Because I was going for the “traditional” steakhouse fare I opted for the iceberg wedge salad. I am always a sucker for a good iceberg wedge and often l end up ordering one in spite of something more original. Here, Chef Suzanne Tracht serves a solid version of the traditional salad.

The other people dining with me ordered the excellent red Belgian endive Caesar salad, which I tasted and the salad with butter lettuce, breakfast radishes, parmesan, lemon-garlic vinaigrette. The bitterness of the endive contrasted perfectly with the richness of the Caesar dressing. Wonderful mini croutons, which appeared to be sautéed in olive oil topped off the dish. I was told the butter lettuce salad was very good and very clean. The dressing was a nice rendition of a lemon vinaigrette. The “breakfast” radishes looked to me like baby carrots. There was plenty of shaved parmesan over the top of the salad.

Note: At this point, we ordered a bottle of the 2003 Justin Syrah from Paso Robles. It is another solid vintage from the folks at Justin and held up well with each of the entrees.

I ordered the Rib eye and the rest of the table had the porterhouse, the pot roast, and the coq au vin. Both the rib eye and the porterhouse were ordered rare and cooked to perfection, which seems to be a big feat at a lot of the newer steakhouses around town. I realized after ordering that maybe I should have ordered the rib eye at least medium rare because the marbling in that cut of meat needs a little more time to render. All in all the meat was very flavorful with a solid crust from the broiler. My only comment would be that it might have used a little more salt and pepper before being cooked to give it that extra punch. (When I cook steaks at home, I have a tendency to put a lot of cracked pepper and kosher salt on the meat before cooking.)

I was told the porterhouse was excellent and the person who ordered it couldn’t decide which side (the filet or the strip) was better. In my experience, that typically means it was a great cut of meat. I had a chance to sneak a bit of the pot roast and it was excellent as usual. It came with the traditional carrots and caramelized onions. This dish is only going to taste better as we get into the cooler months.

I had never had the coq au vin at Jar before and was happy to have to chance to try it. The two full legs that came as the serving meant that there is some left over for tonight’s dinner. I love this recipe when it is put together by a person who cares about the ingredients that go into the dish as much as the finished product. When that happens, you feel there is something unequivocally right about it. The chicken, the garlic, the bottle of wine, the long, slow cooking time. From a food writer for the Guardian in London, “Such a recipe wreaks of its history and its place in the life of those who invented it. You can see how the whole thing worked for them, how the dish slotted into the farmer's life, its place in the landscape.”

Now whether or not I was able to capture all of that in one or two bites off of somebody else’s plate, who knows, but my dining partner loved it. The important thing is that in this day and age it is so easy to let classic slow food presentations like this disappear in favor of the newest fad. It is why I always love returning to Jar, because while the fresh and seasonal ingredients show a allegiance to “California” cooking, the braised dishes remind us of the need to take our time and coax the full potential out of food and our time with our friends and family.

Moving along, the sides were excellent as usual. I love their French fries and the purple yams with the crème fraiche were very good. I think the creamed spinach is better at other places, but few renditions taste as fresh.

For dessert, we split orders of the molten chocolate cake, the banana crème pie and a special dessert, a slice of warm pecan pie. The banana crème pie is always good and has been mentioned many times on this board. The molten chocolate cake is an LA standby, and wasn’t really molten that night. It had almost been cooked through (probably the only misfire of our meal). Nevertheless it was still very rich and chocolaty. The pecan pie was the hit of the night. The warm pie matched perfect with the vanilla ice cream and there wasn’t a bit left on the plate. I am guessing they will serve this through the month and if you go, you should try it.

All in all it was a great night with great food and excellent service (we were at our table for almost 2 ½ hours) without being rushed. The meal was perfectly paced and ended with four satisfied diners. The bill, with tax and tip was around $360 ($90 per person).

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