Given their natural woodsy flavor, I’m not sure why you would batter and fry oyster mushrooms like some otherwise bland, everyday bar food. But unpredictable experiments seem to be part of the aesthetic of chef John Smith’s kitchen at the Jacobson, which joined the Crossroads Arts District dining scene a couple of months ago with a stylish sort of swagger.
The Jacobson takes its name from an earlier commercial occupant of the now-converted warehouse space. It shares its low-lying concrete-block building with Lulu’s Thai Noodles. And like its neighbor’s color-splashed interior, the operators, including managing partner Michael Werner, a Michigan transplant and restaurant concept developer, have made a comfortable, good-looking space all its own.
Industrial-chic pendant lights hang over the bar, columns are sheathed in tiny tiles, and booths provide quasi-private oases — some more sheltered than others — from the bar-area buzz. A patio seems pleasant enough. Other than downing a quick lunchtime sandwich there, I haven’t seen the patio in action, though it’s sandwiched by cars, construction projects and parking lots, all of which can get in the way of pleasant alfresco dining.
Did I say parking lots?
This is an issue for those who like easy access to their dining destinations. The Jacobson shares some spots with Lulu’s; some are free, others require payment to an honor box. If you stress over parking, you might want to look at the restaurant’s website for a map that shows free parking in the vicinity. You might get lucky on the street but expect to walk at least a block or two. Valet parking was scheduled to begin Nov. 1, Werner told me.
As it turned out, we kind of liked those crispy-fried oyster mushrooms, which also had a sprinkle of sesame seeds and came with two wildly different dips: a spicy sriracha aioli (thumbs up) and a tangy, more sour-than-sweet ponzu. Joining those mushrooms on the appetizer list are novelties such as fried bacon-wrapped oysters (called Angels on Horseback).
Another surprise was Smith’s take on a Vietnamese banh mi. The sandwich featured a stack of moist and impressively tender braised pork belly — the meat was cooked sous vide, the slow, steady process featuring a vacuum pack and water bath, then finished in the pan. A nicely acidic counterweight came from a pickled carrot slaw, and more of that sriracha aioli provided a perky finish.
On another lunch visit I was won over by the Jacobson burger, a luscious sandwich. The thick patty is seared in a bone marrow butter and served with a dollop of short-rib marmalade. The brioche bun had a natural, buttery sweetness, and the whole package defied the notion that a burger is incomplete without a schmear of mustard, or whatever your favorite condiment might be. I savored every bite of the thing the way it came.
My usual companion, She Who Is Not Easily Pleased, was disappointed by the Crossroad salad. The greens seemed like they came from a bag, she complained — a pet peeve of long standing — and a few leaves were brown or wilted. Also, avocado slices were overripe, and as we talked about it, we shared a poignant moment as I learned that her favorite food was avocado. (The bagged-lettuce discussion also erupted at a later dinner, prompted by one appetizer’s telltale, rusty-edged greens.)
Bucatini is the name of a plump strand of pasta, but it also meansthat’ll be $15 for a bowl of spaghetti red
But I liked the dish, with its spicy and savory tomato sauce and snippets of fresh basil. Stuffed meatballs ($3 extra) were dense, crusty-edged spheres of ground beef and pork with a little glob of goat cheese inside.
A server told me the meatballs came three to the order. I asked if I could get only one, then relented. But when the dish arrived, it held only two. Oh well. In the end, the server forgot to charge me for them anyway. (When I later asked Werner about the price of bucatini, he told me that it’ll be going down a bit when a seasonal menu rolls out in a few weeks.)
We started a weeknight dinner with the aforementioned mushroom app and a plate of beef carpaccio, which was dressed with a drizzle of balsamic reduction, lemon zest and bits of asparagus and pickled radish. I’d have either one of them again as a starter.
I wanted our entrees to sing, but overall there were only a few high notes. And though dishes were generally nicely plated, they tended to be overly dark or brown; not much color to enliven the look.
A plate of boneless country ribs, with a spice-and-espresso rub, carried a lot of deep flavor, stemming first from a marinade and then, again, about two days in the sous vide bath. Mustard greens on the side were a little too al dente for my taste.
Given the menu’s graphic clues, the Yard Bird appears to be a signature dish, and it’s a good one. The Cornish game hen, first drenched in buttermilk, is pan-seared and roasted to a soft delight. Stalks of grilled asparagus laid neatly against the fowl provided an exception to the little-color theme.
We also enjoyed, to a point, the grilled scallops — five of them surrounded a medley of pickled tomatoes, cucumbers and onion — and a tuna filet crusted with garlic and herbs. I thought the tuna was cooked just right to medium rare; She Who was less convinced, but ate at least half of it.
My experience with Yorkshire pudding pales in comparison to that of our British-born friend across the table. For dessert, four of us shared the Dutch Baby, a crepelike object that comes in a hot iron skillet with softened banana slices and vanilla. “This is good,” more than one of us said, and it was pronounced authentic.
We also split another creative oddity called a Fig Newton, named for famous cookie that it in no way resembles. The dessert featured stacks of firm bread pudding, a stewed fig filling, a chocolate drizzle and a glass of banana milk for dunking or dripping. Hard not to like it, or the fun, inventive place from where it came.