Chef-Owner Uses Travels to Create New Neighborhood Destination
Since opening in early January, Jack’s Restaurant and Bar has already found a formula for success that eluded Le Pigalle, its predecessor at the location. Chef-owner Herbert Kerschbaumer, whose first forays into the D.C. restaurant scene include the likes of La Nicoise, the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel’s Café Promenade and his own successful Bistro Bernoise in the Palisades neighborhood, returned recently from a two-year hiatus, during which time he traveled to Europe and Brazil picking up ideas for his newest venture.
For Jack’s, Kerschbaumer has developed a bistro-type menu that offers a little bit of everything ranging from typical bar food and sandwiches to elegant appetizers and main plates, which will please any palate. Originally hailing from Switzerland, Kerschbaumer’s eclecticism shouldn’t be surprising. It’s only a pity there is little on the menu to suggest his native Swiss cuisine.
The selections and preparations reflect Kerschbaumer’s recent travels, and he has opted to demonstrate the robust and straightforward dishes that he encountered rather than focusing on excessive subtlety and complexity in his approach. This is not to say that his presentations are routine—far from it. Bar food standards are given a twist. Calamari is only lightly breaded and crisp-fried and served with an unusual, rich remoulade. The crab and spinach dip with pita chips offers less homogenized ingredients and a thinner, lighter sauce that avoids the pastiness the dish sometimes exhibits. The Prince Edward Island mussels are steamed with a delicate pernod sauce, which seems to cancel out any hint of fishiness that these meaty morsels might feature. The bordelaise sauce, served with a very tender filet mignon, is a departure from the more typical version with chunks of vegetables in the preparation.
In each section of the menu there are standouts, and the chef’s signature tomato bisque, thick and rich, is one of them. Jack’s offers several meal-size salads, one of the best of which is the spinach salad. Raw baby leaves, just barely dressed, are paired with gorgonzola, chopped applewood smoked bacon and sliced pears for a palate-pleasing balance of flavors and textures.
Jack’s offers some interesting Asian fusion dishes as well, such as tuna tartar with fresh mango soy sauce, sesame seeds and grilled tuna accompanied by a white wine ginger sauce that reinforces Kerschbaumer‘s comfort with borrowing widely from regional cuisines. The chicken breast stuffed with Pennsylvania goat cheese and fresh basil served with a pommery mustard sauce is a delicious melding of traditional techniques and updated ingredients.
Although pasta options are limited, the ravioli is a good bet. A recent variety was stuffed with mushrooms and served in a mushroom cream sauce, which was particularly appealing. The braised lamb shank sounds good, but the very large shank, served on a bed of overly dense risotto with rosemary glace, is disappointingly mild, suggesting an American source.
Desserts at Jack’s are mostly light and simple. The poached pear with red wine sauce, apple tart and sorbets (which vary daily) are perfect for a bit of sweet after a filling meal. If you are looking for something more unusual, the cream of papaya with cassis is definitely worth a try, and the parfait glace Grand Marnier is an elegant end note for any meal.
Occupying almost a third of the space, the bar at Jack’s is a destination itself. The bar menu offers a respectable wine list emphasizing French varieties, as well as specialty cocktails including a special section based on Jack Daniel’s signature whiskey. A portion of the proceeds from these drinks will be donated to the Whitman-Walker Clinic, so you can almost feel virtuous drinking another Black Jack martini (Jack Daniel’s, sweet vermouth and bitters) or a Lynchburg lemontini (Jack Daniel’s, sweet and sour mix, Triple Sec and a hint of Sprite).
Jack’s is designed to attract a neighborhood crowd, with its casual atmosphere, reasonable prices, eclectic menu and great bar space perfect for meeting friends and having a quick bite. It’s a comfortable space that’s been greatly improved in appearance since its last incarnation, although with its current indoor seating capacity of 74, including 17 bar seats, the tables are rather close together, making it challenging for wait staff to navigate. The space is augmented in seasonable weather by a large outdoor patio, which should be very enjoyable.
Service is consistently friendly and enthusiastic, but unfortunately can also be ill-timed and frustratingly slow, especially when you’re very hungry. A few of the problems are quite common to new establishments, so we can expect that these minor issues will be worked out in due course. All in all, Jack’s is a nice addition to the neighborhood and a good destination for anyone in search of a comfortable meal or late evening snack.
Jack’s Restaurant and Bar in Dupont Circle 1527 17th St., NW (202) 332-6767 www.JacksDC.net
Hours: Mon. and Tue. 5 – 10 p.m., Wed. through Sat.11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m Brunch: Sat. and Sun. until 3 p.m.
Bar: (offering late-night menu) Mon. and Tue. 5 p.m. – 2 a.m., Wed., Thu., Sun. 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m., Fri. and Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Prices: Small plates – 15; larger plates – 21, desserts – 8
About the Author
Rachel Hunt and Stephen Qualiana are the restaurant reviewers for The Washington Diplomat.