The Notebook Dilemma at Jar

By Tsz on September 5, 2009

My experience with Jar can be best liken to Allie’s relationship with Lon from The Notebook. For those who haven’t watch or read the quintessential romance, the story is about a young woman’s struggle to choose between her heart vs. her head. Set in the 50s, when it was unheard of for a woman to support herself, a good marriage is the ultimate goal. Fortunately (and unfortunately), Allie found herself with two suitors: Noah, her first love, an all-in-all exciting, rousing man but of the blue collar elk; and Lon, the perfect man (ie. rich) albeit rather bland.

I wanted to love Jar, I really do. You see, on paper, Jar couldn’t be any more perfect. Situated in a cozy, dark wooded interior, Jar serves up aptly grilled steaks with solid sides and appetizers. If that wasn’t enough, the service was stellar as well—professional, yet friendly. See? Perfect.

Yet, with perfection also comes boredom. Throughout my meal, while every dish was expertly prepared textbook-style, nothing in particular really shone. To explain, here was my meal in detail:

Our server first started my dining companion and I with libations. He chose a vintage red whereas I opted for a classic Sidecar. A concoction of Cointreau, cognac and lemon juice, it was bracing yet comforting at the same time.

Shortly after came the lobster tomato bisque. Exclaimed by the server as one of Jar’s signature dishes and prepared sans cream nor butter, it’s a briny brew of tomatoes and seafood. Though the lobster wasn’t evident except for the one lonely nugget floating in the middle of the bowl, it was nevertheless a good soup better named as tomato bisque with seafood essence (or something to that extent).

That was one of the few healthful parts of dinner as the following two dishes were deep fried: fried Ipswich clams and crab-stuffed squash blossoms. The clam strips were overpowered by the batter so the dish became an exercise in eating crispy batter. The blossoms fared much better as the zucchini flowers were much more substantial and so held its own to the tempera coating. The mild crab filling and tangy yuzu dipping sauce were nice touches as well.

For the main show, we each ordered their 14 oz. rib-eye. Since each steak comes with two sauces, we each ordered a different combo to cover all our bases: Bearnaise & Lobster Bearnaise and the Tamarind & Green Peppercorn. Now, their steaks were broiled impeccably, but where was the seasoning? I could detect pepper, but my steak was definitely not salted, which is a pity as properly seasoned food is a fundamental of cooking.

With no salt shaker in sight, I quickly reached for the pitchers of sauce. The first was the Bearnaise, an emulsified lemon butter sauce, didn’t help the cause. It added to the unctuousness of the steak and not much else. The Lobster Bearnaise was the same except with the added bonus of seafood essence. The Tamarind was better since it wasn’t butter, but its sweet, cloying taste also didn’t do much for the under salted meat. Fortunately, the Green Peppercorn fit the bill. It had the most sodium out of all sauces and the pepper helped cut through the fattiness of the meat.

To balance the steak, I ordered sauteed pea shoots. It was nicely prepared with big slivers of garlic.

For the big finale—the desserts—my friend had their chocolate paradise and I settled on their peach cobbler. Nothing much to say except I couldn’t find any faults with them.

So you see, the meal (with the exception of the steak) was quite enjoyable, but completely forgettable. Usually, there’s always a dish from every restaurant that blows me away and makes me think and crave about long after my visit, which in turns brings me back time after time again. However for Jar, there wasn’t any spark. The squash blossoms was very good, but I can find better ones elsewhere with a much cheaper price tag. The same can also be said for all their dishes.

Every restaurant has its function—if you are looking for a solid meal with no surprises, this is the perfect restaurant. It is the restaurant version of Lon: a place to take your parents to and a place you know will always treat you well. But ultimately, it’s one dimensional and lacks excitement. For me, I would rather choose the Noah variety: a restaurant that may not be as well polished, but is able to create a meal that surprises, delights and essentially make me plan the next trip back before the dessert even comes out.

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