I wanted to report on a recent epic meal I had at Jewel Bako. Jack Lamb was an extraordinarily engaging and generous host to our party, and indeed to all of his patrons on the evening in question. Also, this was my first time there, so I have to also mention that the restaurant itself is beautifully done.
DRINKS (short): We sat at a table and ordered omakase with matching drinks chosen by Jack. I am a sake neophyte so I was happy to put myself in his hands. He started us off with an "artisanal" sake called 'Pride of the Village' I believe. The names got progressively more unusual and the tastes more ethereal from there. He also served us an interesting citrusy German white wine in a cordial glass and two big red wines to go with the sushi.
FOOD (longer): I'm in a much better position to report on what we ate.
1. tuna marinated in sake with baby ginger -- this was marinated for a LONG time and the meat almost had a cooked consistency. The baby ginger was in strands, like saffron. Interesting and good, but not great.
2. watercress, radicchio, radish sprout, asian pear, and soba noodle salad with pignoli and lemon-and-rice-vinegar dressing -- excellent and well-balanced with the microgreens really adding a nice fresh kick to it.
3. tuna tartare with avacado puree and caviar -- served with a little spoon, and I could have eaten a whole bowl full. This easily won the Japanese-Emperor-baby-food award of the night. Extraordinarily beautiful presentation and very very delicious.
4. sashimi -- three different cuts of yellowtail, Tasmanian King salmon, toro (with the grain, c.f. below), Japanese sardines (others got a nice-looking shrimp but I was on the no-shellfish plan). I think I am forgetting a few others here. Sardines wrapped around some julienned cucumber were very nice. Salmon was excellent. I must confess the taste differences among the three yellowtail pieces is lost to me now.
5. bonito tuna w/ red onion, ponzu vinegar jelly and sprouts (radish and some others) -- These jelly dishes are an unappetizing-looking mess on the plate. A thin layer of gel I can deal with, but this was chunks -- a bit much. As far as taste, of course it was interesting and good and we lapped it up, but presentation-wise it was not up to the other exquisite servings.
6. clear soup with minced-yellowtail-and-scallion fish balls (aka "Japanese matzoh balls") -- brilliant and delicious. Clean soup taste and delicate fish. This might be the future of gefilte fish, I hope....
7. three kinds of Japanese mushrooms cooked in foil pouch -- our other hot dish, and you know the "tastes like steak" cliche. Well they sure were meaty/umami-rich. This and the German white wine was a truly inspired pairing.
8. sushi -- Tasmanian King salmon, toro (smooth, and wonderful, but evidently most Japanese prefer with the grain), fat cod, mackerel tartare (hidden under a shiso leaf because so many people "Don't Like Mackerel"), broiled unagi, fluke, wild line-caught striped bass, zushi mackerel, Japanese sardine (others got giant clam), hamachi -- a great variety. The zushi is old-Kyoto-style pressed-in-a-box-with-rice fish, not caught that morning, a la the modern sushi ideal. I think it developed a wonderfully complex flavor. Markerel tartare was also excellent -- as rich and meaty as a Japanese version of Swedish meatballs. Geez, it was all good! Rice was delicious too.
9. dessert(s) -- coconut and lychee sorbet w/ Japanese "churro"; little mini peanut and rice flour sugar cookie; Japanese liquor-soaked plum; Japanese plum vodka (I'm not even sure exactly what that means, I think the aforementioned plums were in this stuff?); green tea w/ toasted barley; and not to be outdone by Alain Ducasse, a "spicy tuna sushi lollipop" for the lady in our party.
This four-hour extravaganza was among the best combinations of delicious food and all-around excellent service that I have ever experienced. I believe the omakase (food only) was $70, although we may have had something extra thrown in on the house; I am not sure.
In any case, I would recommend going to Jewel Bako at your earliest opportunity prepared with adequate cash, time, and an open mind and mouth.