The Jacobson

The Jacobson, the Crossroad’s newest hip restaurant, shares space with Lulu’s Noodle shop. Both occupy the old A.D. Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company building. It’s a very cool space with glazed cement block walls, a mix of high and low tables, secluded boothes and plenty of bar counter seating. Some of the cocktails come in flasks to the table, sitting in an ice bucket so diners can pour their own or share.

The menu is large, and diners can choose to go light with flatbreads and salads, or heavier with entrees, both day and night.

On my first visit I indulged in a rich and decadent Banh Mi with sliced pork belly, cilantro and carrots, and a spicy mayo. I loved every bite, but it’s definitely not an every day kind of sandwich. If it were sliced pork loin or pulled pork shoulder I could pretend it wasn’t too bad for me, but pork belly is by definition fatty.

The Ahi tuna salad may be a standard on many a menu these days, but this is a good one, with good quality rare tuna and a very pleasant miso vinaigrette dressing up the greens.

On another go around we started with a wild mushroom and ricotta flatbread. The flatbread was crisp, with plentiful toppings, but the dough could have benefited from perhaps a bit more salt (which I hardly ever recommend!).

I really enjoyed the unusual Crossroads salad. The crisp romaine is  tossed with bacon, corn, tomatoes, avocado and a creamy oregano dressing, and a soft poached egg sits on top.  Eggs on salads are big right now, with good reason. The oozing yolk mixes with the dressing to add complexity to the salad.

The J has Happy Hour every day. It would be fun to hit the patio on a beautiful autumn day and throw back a few. There’s a full bar with beer on tap outside, and a water and fire element on the patio. It can be noisy with all of the construction going down in the Crossroads, but that’s the price of progress, and that stops in the early evening.

Desserts are definitely worth ordering. If you’re into Dutch Babies (looks like a cross between a huge pancake and Yorkshire pudding), I saw a few of them  pass by and they looked like the real deal. Servers seem to be partial to the Fig Newton, an unusual twist on my childhood fig newton sandwich: squares of bread pudding serve as the sandwich to the fig perserve filling and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. In a cute riff on cookies and milk, the dessert comes with a shot of Shatto banana milk. Adorable lookng, but since I’m not a bread pudding lover, I don’t think I’d get it again. The Brown Sugar cake on the other hand, with peanut butter ice cream and caramel sauce was a winner.

Chef John Smith has some impressive credentials, having worked with some of the great chefs in Chicago, New York and Paris. Based on his resume, I’m looking forward to trying out the dinner menu, which is more extensive and emphasizes fish, chicken and meat entrees.

It’s fun to go to the Crossroads these days. The ability to experience high quality fare from independent restaurateurs seems to be increasing at an exciting pace.

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Casa Chimayo in Santa Fe

We were told by some friends of ours to try Casa Chimayo on our next trip to Santa Fe. It was new since our last visit in 2010, and though we have quite a long list of favorites, this sounded like our kind of place. It’s family owned and operated, the recipes come from the owner’s mother who grew up in Mexico, it’s very casual and the price is right. 

The mole was incredible; rich, thick and redolent of chocolate and spices. The lunch menu features plantain enchiladas with mole, but the kitchen was very accommodating and made it with chicken instead. And there was plenty of sauce to enjoy with the flavorful rice.

The cheese enchiladas were made with blue corn tortillas, which I always appreciate, and we ordered them Christmas style so we could try both the red and green chile sauces. I didn’t care for the red chile sauce, it was too thin and light colored, more like a spicy hot sauce. I prefer the thick red chile sauce of La Choza or Tecolote, but the green chile sauce packed a bunch and had substantial chunks of green chiles in it.

We also had  a nice green chile stew, though my favorite is the one at Tesuque Village Market, because it’s chile based, not broth based and hence thicker.

 From 12-2 pm and 5-7 pm, a Happy Hour is offered, featuring $5 plates of food, and are almost as substantial as what you’d get at lunch or dinner. It may be the best deal in town!

The restaurant must have been a house at one time, and now each room constitutes a different dining area. During nice weather, I recommend the funky patio. It’s delightful and, if you’re lucky, the owner will be out there. We enjoyed talking to him and hearing about the restaurant and the heritage of the recipes.

For a while there was no website, which was endearing. But I’m glad they succumbed to 21 Century social media; word of mouth only takes you so far these days, and I want Casa Chimayo to be around for my next visit to Santa Fe.

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Gram & Dun

Gram &Dun is the latest restaurant under the Bread and Butter Concepts flag, an independent and local group that also owns BRGR and Urban Table in Corinth. The owners decided to jump the state line and open on the Plaza, where it’s getting a ton of buzz. Evidently, I’m not the only one delighted that there is now another non-chain worth going to  in addition to seasoned veterans like the Classic Cup, Starker’s and Blanc Burger. 

Housed in the old Baja 600 and Parkway 600 space, you’d have to look hard to see the vestiges of those restaurants. The re-do is striking and the neutral colors the designers chose are very effective. The overall effect is a soothing one, though the place has been anything but calm each time I’ve been there.

At a preview event right before the restaurant opened, I sampled a number of appetizers, including shrimp fries, bison meatballs, shishito peppers and not-so-standard potato chips with three ketchups (guacamole, vanilla bean, blood orange-habañero), the last being the only one of the bunch I would consider ordering. Rather than being thin chips, they were a thick cut round, with a dollop of sauce on top. I wasn’t wild about any of the ketchups,  but it’s a visually appealing appetizer and a worthwhile concept.

On another occasion I tried the French Onion Dumplings, and they were quite good, bursting with slurps of traditional soup by the same name.

I had heard great things about the Brussel sprout salad, but I think the main appeal is that the sprouts are not roasted, but rather raw and shredded. They are tossed with Manchego cheese, celery, cranberries, walnuts, arugula, and a rather bland lemon vinaigrette. Similar to a slaw, the texture is pleasing, but the dish would benefit from stronger flavors.

The salad with ahi tuna didn’t need more oomph, just less dressing.The salad comes vertically, with the tuna layered precariously between lettuce and crisp won ton strips. Had it not been drenched with the chili vinaigrette or totally lacking in vegetables besides watercress, it would have been a triumph. I’d probably order it again, but with the dressing on the side. The Flat Iron Steak salad with oyster mushrooms, roasted red peppers, golden raisins, watercress, spinach and chimichurri vinaigrette was not overdressed and had more going on.

My husband tried the Roasted Mushroom Trio, a sandwich on sourdough that pairs mushrooms with radicchio, watercress, balsamic, pecorino and truffle aioli. It tasted as good as it sounds, but the bread to filling ratio was off. I’d rather have more “stuff” and less bread. The house salad that accompanied it was dressed with a tart sangria vinaigrette, along with cherries, bleu cheese and pistachios.

Shrimp and grits has expanded well beyond the South, and it’s become a hit on every menu in town that it graces. Webster House has a masterful rendition, as does Gram & Dun. The shrimp here were coated with blackened (Cajun) seasonings, the grits were creamy (but not as addictive as they are at Webster House and Chaz) and the jalapeno avocado gravy took the dish beyond the traditional. On my first visit, though the shrimp were cooked perfectly, they were too salty. The next time I went to the restaurant my companion couldn’t resist ordering them despite my admonition and fortunately, the kitchen didn’t use such a heavy hand. She practically licked the bowl. (Unfortunately, that was the one dish that I have no pictures of…I must have been too focused on eating the dish rather than photographing it.)

Chicken and waffles used to be served only at soul food restaurants, but the last couple of years this combination has gone mainstream.

While I’ve never understood the appeal of eating two fried/starchy items together or why the two foods would even be paired together, after eating the CFC & Waffles at Gram & Dun, I get it. The corn flake fried chicken was crisp and devoid of grease, and the waffles got an upgrade from the addition of cheese and herbs. But what won the day was the vinegary hot pepper sauce for dipping.  Just as the maple syrup was a natural for the waffles, so too was the hot pepper sauce for the chicken. For a town that loves its barbecue to distraction, we might all have to consider that chicken and hot pepper sauce is also worthy of love.  It’s really just an upscale version of hot wings, but oh so much better.

The servers must love the Gram & Dun bar, because they push it hard. With good reason as it turns out. Billed as a faux Snickers bar, if you love peanut butter and marshmallow, this is for you. They come two to an order, so ask for an extra spoon.

The profiteroles are less inspired. The pastry was a bit gummy, and they were way too stingy on the chocolate sauce. It was more a decoration than for enjoying with the ice cream filling, and where’s the fun in that?

Even on chilly nights, groups can be seen huddled by the gorgeous firepits that grace the restaurant’s patio. In warmer weather, seats on the patio will surely be a hot commodity. Right now the restaurant is packed in the evenings, and loud. The bar is unfortunately too small to handle the current crowds, but no one seems to mind waiting for a table, especially since a hostess will text you when your table is ready. How 21st Century is that?

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Julian Restaurant

I was really looking forward to trying Julian. It’s in my neighborhood, in Joe D’s old space, and owned and operated by James Beard award winner Celina Tio, former chef of the American restaurant. Julian--Kansas City

I was listening to a Ruth Reichl podcast recently. She was editor of the now defunct Gourmet magazine and a former New York Times restaurant critic. She correctly pointed out that dozens of observations and judgments are made before taking a bite of food. Does the space feel comfortable? Does it have positive energy? Was the host friendly and welcoming? Is the look of the table pleasing? Did someone come right over to fill water glasses and take a drink order? Is it loud? How is the music? These and other thoughts were running through my mind as I sat down at our table.

Perhaps it was unfair of me to have such high expectations, but considering Tio’s stature in the restaurant community, I was anticipating an outstanding experience and I didn’t have one. Tio has certainly improved the look of the space, with clean lines and neutral colors, but it’s still quite cramped. The back room now adjoins an open kitchen, but that feature increases an already problematic noise level. I did like the clipboard menus and Chilewich striped place mats on the stainless tables. Salmon and Asian Noodles-Julian

After ordering a bottle of wine from the manager (which was served  at least ten degrees too warm), our first encounter from the server was when, without prelude or greeting, she asked if we were ready to order. And so it went. I felt rushed from the beginning, and that feeling intensified when our entrees were delivered before everyone was finished with their salads. Orzo Paella--Julian

We started with homemade pretzels that resembled chewy twisted rolls. These were served with two mustards, though one tasted like barbecue sauce. It was a unique appetizer and we enjoyed the presentation. The butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and egg vinaigrette was novel and tasty.  French fries come with homemade ketchup, but they needed to be left in the fryer a bit longer. There was no bread service and, though that seems to be a more common occurrence these days, I think a fresh roll or chewy bread can enhance a dining experience, especially when there’s a savory sauce begging to be mopped up.

My entree was a winner. The pork shoulder was crisp and tender, and combined with sweet potato puree, I was happy. Pork shoulder--Sweet Potato--Julian (The picture doesn’t do it justice.) The other entrees at the table were less successful. The “paella” was fine but nothing special. Though the menu description indicated that it was not an authentic version, it lacked oomph. The seared salmon with asian noodles would be ideal for those watching their waistline, but it didn’t strike me as representative of Tio’s considerable talents. I do like the offered option of ordering a small or large portion of most entrees.

Other menu items include a hamburger, which I’ve heard is sensational, a pulled pork and slaw sandwich, a B.E.L.T. ( bacon, egg, lettuce and tapenade mayo), lobster shephard’s pie, and mac n’cheese.

Had I not known anything about the chef/owner and walked in with a blank slate, I’m sure my first impression would have been far more positive. In any case, new restaurants always take some time to shake out. I look forward to lunch service and spring meals on the spacious patio. Julian is a welcome addition to the Brookside restaurant scene, but it has a way to go before it reaches its potential. Celina Tio is the consummate pro, and I know she will do what it takes to make her new venture a success.

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