8225 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
At some point, either via email, or perhaps it was a comment left on a previous post, someone called me “delightful.” Rather, he said my writing was “delightful.” It was flattering, but come on, “delightful?” That person must have accidentally added Jack’s magic beans to his chili.
Either that, or perhaps he had been reading through my archives of long, long ago, like back in early 2005, because as I scroll back and read through my more recent history, I find that my writing is nowhere near delightful. It is sarcastic. Snarky. Spiteful. Mean. Biting. Harsh. Four letter words don’t simply pepper my posts as seasoning; they are the main dish. I make fun of everything. I don’t like anything. In fact, it almost seems that I *sigh* hate everything
Somewhere between whispering excitedly about my Kiriko secret and today, something happened to me. What has happened to that sweet, charming Hello Kitty of a food blogger who positively gushed cherubic foodie effluvium and *gasp!*ed at the drop of a souffle, who eeked and shrieked at the slightest susurration of flavor and taste? What has happened to that girl who once....loved food? Loved eating? Loved dining out?!?
I am jaded, y’all. J. Dead. I just want to lock myself in the pantry with a bag of Cheetos and hate everything from overly precious presentations of five permutations of tuna to eating by myself for the first time because all my employed friends are, well, employed. I hate everything. Everything, that is, except my Cheetos.
And it’s been that way, I’ve noticed, for a little while now. I’m not sure if I’ve just been mean and snarky because everything I’ve happened to eat in recent months is so undeliciously deserving of it, or whether I purposely seek out things that I can rant about, or whether they really are all just fine and somehow all I want to muster out of my brain is the negatives. I mean, I’ve already admitted to always seeing the glass half-full of bacteria-laden, chlorinated tap water.
It could almost sound like a snobbishness – that there really just isn’t anything that’s good enough – but that certainly isn’t the case. I admit to being picky and particular, but I’m certainly not a snob in the dictionary sense of the word. It’s like I’ve lost the ability to enjoy. I just don’t enjoy eating as much I used to, and I’m not quite sure why.
I slipped and fell right into The Jar.
And every pause to “take a moment,” to “hold my breath,” every whisper, gasp, shriek, every inexplicable experience that tastes like laughing and crying mixed together, every internal melting of my gastronomic heart came rushing back to me like the memory of that first...Yes. The first.
It was a very nice feeling.
Jar is simple on the outside – just red brick and nothing more than its name in black on the wall. It’s the kind of place that is comfortable enough that it wants you to come in through a side door, not make a big flashy entrance through a door on the main street. But thank God, they’re not so "like that" that they don’t have valet parking.
Inside, Jar is a small, open box of a space. There is a bar and lounge area on one side, and all the way in the back, a small glass encased wine cellar. We had arrived early for our reservation so stepped up to the bar to have a cocktail.
When I shimmied toward the end of the bar where it looked like there might have been a sliver of an opening in the shoulder-to-shoulder Red Rover team at the bar, I knew that Jar was the right place. There, sitting at the end of the bar was *omg!gasp!* Nancy Silverton, enjoying a glass of wine and twinkling away with her posse of presumably chef-ie friends. Nancy wasn’t there working, as she does one night a week for Mozzarella Monday at the bar. She was there on her personal night, just there to enjoy the food. I just about fell over, caught myself staring at her, blushed, then squawked out a drink order to the bartender. I am a wee bit of a chef groupie.
Nancy Silverton was eating at Jar. Boy did my expectations just expand like a sourdough starter on a hot day.
We sat down in a booth in the dining room, which is neither plain nor extravagant, but somewhere just this side of understated, yet stylishly retro, perfection. Like a classic Donna Karan suit, nothing standing out is a good thing. The host handed us the menus and just as he was walking away, a wooden board with bread quietly appeared on the table. The tiny crock of butter was so cute I wanted to slip it into my purse. Don’t worry – I didn’t do it, but it was a serious thought in my mind (which yes, I do realize, says a lot in and of itself).
Jar is exactly my kind of American cuisine. Already then, I am biased toward it before even tasting a single bite of the food because I don’t have to try to like it. I don’t have to understand a notable chef’s somewhat esoteric food philosophy. I don’t have to try to appreciate fancy schmancy over-prettified food that requires a PhD in art, architecture, and engineering. It’s just food. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I love to challenge my tastes and preferences and really stretch my gastronomic limitations, but not all the time. Not even half the time. Not at Jar.
Not with an Iceberg Wedge.
Yes, before I even got through a cursory scan of the entire menu, I spotted The Wedge. Or perhaps it spotted me first. I can’t remember the exact details of the moment, but I do know that The Wedge shrieked out to me with so much excitement that I could barely hear my second favorite, Caesar, or any of the breathy, wispy beckoning of the other salads. I have nothing against arugula. Nothing against endive. Even Iceberg’s cousin, but
ter lettuce, is charming in its own Laura Ashley ruffled way. But Iceberg is so solid and all-American it turns me on like the black and white photomurals at A&F.
Some may ask in shocked awe, “Sarah, The Wedge? But, but, but...but why?!?!” Then in snobby snobbishness realization, they turn their heads a little, snicker ever so softly, then look down their enormous, glittering bourgie noses at me. In their most sickeningly sweetly understanding voice, they say “Well, of course you like the Wedge.” Then with a shake of their heads and a roll of their eyes, they hiss, “You poor little Cheeto-eating freak.” To them, The Wedge is nothing more than a pile of plebeian $0.59/lb. fibrous water covered with Kraft blue cheese dressing. Oh, but let them pooh-pooh, for The Wedge to me, is saladacious perfection. I can’t help it if I always have and always will love Iceberg lettuce, no matter how trailer trash cheetos it is.
Rather than simply hacking a head of Iceberg, instantly creating four wedges for four orders, Jar peels back the outer leaves of an entire head all the way down to reveal just a tiny softball-sized heart of Iceberg. Blue cheese dressing fell in a slow, creamy cascade around the gentle curves of the head, every once in a while leaving behind in the folds of the leaves a bit of blue cheese. I admired it.
Then I demolished it.
Though The Wedge can get me hot and bothered, it certainly doesn’t make an entire evening. Jar’s menu is for the most part, an updated American steakhouse menu. I promised myself I wouldn’t look at any reviews before going there so that my choices would only be influenced by myself. I didn’t want to order something on someone else's recommendation, have it be an “off night,” then subconsciously hold some sort of evil grudge against the reviewer for a shoddy recommendation. If any choice turned out to be a bad one, I’d only have myself to blame.
If Jar’s entrees are a showcase of American turf, then the appetizers are all surf – shellfish and crustaceans. However, we went with Braised Pork Belly. It was very different from pork belly I’ve tried before, which had always been a brick fashioned from layer upon layer of near liquid lard barely fastened together with porcine flesh that melts into fatty lava. Jar’s pork belly was a long, thick belt-like strap of pork, pulled into a severe loop and held in place with a dollop of sauce. It was more like a very luxurious bacon with just the slightest hint of chew. I loved it. I also loved the sauce, so much that all manner of charm and etiquette flew out of my body and into the bread that I used as a sponge to soak up the braising liquid. Charming.
Our server Kevin couldn’t stop singing the praises of the Chopped Sirloin, so we ordered it, though I was wary of what “chopped sirloin” really meant. It came to the table and it was exactly as I suspected. “Chopped sirloin” is the $30 pseudonym for a $6 burger. As angrily deceived as I wanted to be, I couldn’t get anything out of my pouty mouth other than soft sounds of contented wonderment. Thank God I had enough sense to not shriek in such a small dining room. Only the bread was a little hard, but it had to be sturdy, otherwise it couldn’t have stood up to the weight of the meat that had been topped with a fried egg. Could it have been any better? Unlikely, unless Tony Bourdain had been there feeding it to me and snarking away about vegetarians.
As a side, we ordered the Sauteed Pea Shoots. I do know now that almost everyone who goes to Jar cannot stop talking about the Japanese Purple Yams, but even if I had known that prior to going, I still woulf have lobbied hard for the pea shoots because I was curious about an American restaurant's treatment of something I have always eaten them prepared in Chinese cuisine. Well, it's all a taste thing, I suppose, because if everyone else can't stop talking about the yams, I can't stop talking about the pea shoots. They were delicious, and not that much different from the simple saute of Chinese cuisine, only with much less garlic.
We ordered the Banana Cream Pie without giving the rest of the dessert menu anything but an obligatory read. Banana Cream Pie is in my Top Five ATF desserts (that’s “all-time favorite” for the uninitiated), and might possibly even be in the Top Three. Kevin mentioned that the Butterscotch Pudding is one of Jar’s signature desserts, but it’s as if I couldn’t hear him above the silly girlie eeks in my head for the banana cream pie. And even if I did hear his words of praise, it wouldn’t have mattered because I am so un-fond of custard desserts like pudding and *gag* flan. I realize that proclaiming a distaste for custard while sneaking loving bites of Banana Cream Pie could seem hypocritical, but it’s not.
The Banana Cream Pie looked impressive. I could hardly make myself wait to manaeuver the candle over so I could take a picture of the individual tart shell filled with bananas and custard, topped with an enormous puff of whipped cream, and drizzled with caramel. I wielded my fork, slipped it through the top of the whipped cream straight down, met with slight resistance from what must have been banana, then...
My fork had hit something like, oh I don’t know, clay? Petrified wood? Sheet metal? I was trying to subtly jab the tines through whatever hard substance it had come up against, but to no avail. I had to pull the plate to the edge of the table and use brute force to get the fork through the bottom crust. It was hard, not as rock, but perhaps something a little more porous. Like limestone. I finally broke through the bottom crust, but it wasn’t without a
good fight. The pie, except for the crust, was good. Bananas were naturally sweet and soft, but not mushy, the custard was dense, the whipped cream light – they were all well-balanced with each other.
Nancy Silverton was chilling with her chef posse at the bar. The Wedge. A thick strap of pork in a braising liquid that I couldn't help but soak up with any porous material within reach. Sauteed pea shoots. The Wedge. The $30 burger that sent me into a contented silence. Did I mention The Wedge? If not for the cursed crust on the pie, I would have declared Jar the Church of the Posion Mind. But even still, it was all al all very delightful.
That's how Sarah got her delightful groove back.
** a year ago today, i actually baked! it was a fresh fig and honey mascarpone tart in a basil and pine nut crust **