Jar

In this City of Angels, it’s getting even harder to dine at an establishment that doesn’t have any connection to the popular showTop Chef. In fact, my last 4 blog entries about LA restaurants were all about chefs who competed on the show (Marcel Vigneron and Stefan Richter who competed on Top Chef, and Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Cimarusti who competed on Top Chef Masters).  It’s pure coincidence really, I didn’t plan it.  It’s just the state that the LA dining scene is in right now.  After all, even Top Chef maestro Tom Colicchio has his foot firmly planted in this city at his Century City restaurant Craft.

I recently had Sunday brunch with some friends at Jar, and it wasn’t because I was intent on continuing my accidental Top Chef tour.  We were looking for a nice brunch place around the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills area, and I remembered reading in the LA Weekly that Jonathan Gold praised Jar for its spectacular brunch. I was excited to try Jar, as I had never dined there before and I had heard of its numerous rave reviews.  I must admit that there was also a small part of me that was excited to try Suzanne Tracht’s food after being mesmerized with her inanimate and calm composure when she fired through the oyster shucking speed challenge during Top Chef Masters.

From the outside, it’s easy to miss this restaurant.  The thin name inscription is almost invisible against the nondescript drab brick building.  Once inside, you’ll be surprised at the stark geometric contrasts of dizzying round lamp discs, Neutra-esque low ceilings and sharp lines, and the modern furniture that is reminiscent of Eames design. The bar counter up front offers a great newspaper selection and makes it an ideal and relaxing place for a solo meal.

Jar is known as a modern chophouse where pot roast and steak are the most popular and loved items.  A place that specializes in hearty comfort food can’t go wrong with Sunday brunch.  Or can it?  We munched on their doughy coffee cake while we perused the menu.  Although I loved the dense texture of the cake, it was overpowered by the abundance of nuts.  The menu stuck pretty close to traditional brunch items like pancakes, scrambles, omelettes and french toast, but also offered more sophisticated versions of classics like lobster benedict and pot roast hash.

One of my friends got the club salad with bacon, avocado, beets, chicken and eggs.  The egg was perfectly soft boiled and the vinaigrette was light and refreshing.  It was a simple but safe and rather boring dish.

Shiitake mushroom and tomato scramble was also a good dish, but for over $13 it really wasn’t anything spectacular.  The accompanying home fries were dry and tasteless, and didn’t have that quintessential ‘cooked in oil with love’ flavor that brunch potatoes should have.

Oven roasted turkey sandwich with bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomatoes with homemade pickles and fries was a logistical nightmare.  The thick meaty slices of turkey were so heavy in this gigantic sandwich, that with every tiring bite all of the vegetables and avocado came spewing out all over the plate. The result was a complete mess that looked like a bomb detonated inside the sandwich.

I ordered the open faced prosciutto sandwich special with pesto, fried eggs, arugula and parmesan cheese.  I loved the savory layers of rich saltiness of the parmesan and prosciutto, which were beautifully complemented by the pesto sauce.  Although the egg was overcooked, overall this was a great sandwich that offered a lot of flavor.  The only downside was the rock hard bread that it was served on.  They had to get me a hearty steak knife to cut through that thing, and my upper arms got quite a workout.

The butterscotch pudding had a great burnt caramel flavor and luscious richness that reminded me of the butterscotch budino at Mozza.  Although it was a great dessert, our tastebuds got fatigued by its overwhelming sweetness after a few bites and we couldn’t finish this off even between the 4 of us.

Grapefruit sorbet brought a nice refreshing end to our somewhat disappointing mediocre brunch.  It tasted just like one of my favorite cocktails, campari grapefruit, and my palate was happily cleansed with this fresh and cheerful dessert.

On my way to the restroom, I passed by the bar and almost didn’t recognize the person sitting alone at the bar.  There she was, Chef Suzanne Tracht, sitting at the end of the bar reading the morning newspaper in shorts and a t-shirt, looking like she just rolled out of bed and was barely awake.  I wanted to tell her to get into the kitchen asap to put a stop to this mediocre food and protect the reputation and prestige that she had built for her restaurant before it was too late.

…but it was too late for me anyway.  It wasn’t just the passable food that won’t bring me back to Jar for brunch, but it was also the gloomy dark brown hues in the dining room, the cooped up feeling of being inside a room with low ceilings,  and the lack of natural sunlight coming in through the sparse windows that left me feeling depressed on this otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon.  After all, we live in sunny Southern California.  Sunday brunch should be spent al fresco or at least in a more open and bright space where you can hear the birds chirping and the waves crashing.  A month later my friends and I had Sunday brunch at Coast at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Jar

8225 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323.655.6566 phone

Random trivia:  Did you know that the word ‘brunch‘, which is a combination of ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’, was coined by a British man named Guy Beringer in 1895?  Here’s a lovely quote from Mr. Beringer on the concept of brunch:

Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inticing.  It is talk-compelling.  It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Sunday Brunch at Shirley’s

Sunday Brunch on a lazy sunny afternoon with great friends- one of my favorite things to do!  And who’s cooking but my foodie friend Shirley.  Bless her foodie heart; she prepared all weekend for this wonderful birthday brunch, and it was much more than any of us had expected.  For starters, she was serving my favorite cocktail Campari grapefruit.  The best cocktail to cure a hangover!

img_3849

When I entered her apartment, I immediately honed in to that distinct lovely smell of bacon.  She prepared the bacon with brown sugar, and black and cayenne pepper.  Mmmm, sweet and spicy fried bacon.  That really hits the spot for a hangover.

Mmmm .... bacon

Mmmm .... bacon

Chef de Cuisine Shirley was making fresh lemon and ricotta cheese pancakes for us on the griddle.  They were so incredibly delicious and went really well with the bacon.  The tartness of the lemon and even mellowness of the ricotta cheese was heavenly, and I couldn’t stop eating them.  We ate them with fresh whipped cream and succulent juicy berries.

lemon-ricotta

Meanwhile, sous chef Nol was appointed the task of deep frying the spicy chicken.  Mmmm, now we’re talking!  I love the quiet popping and cracking sounds of meat patiently cooking in bubbling oil.  The chicken was very tender, moist and juicy, and the skin was fried to a perfect crisp.

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

A light and tasty avocado and grapefruit salad to balance out the hearty meat dishes…

avocado and grapefruit salad

avocado and grapefruit salad

My favorite dish of the day was the mac and cheese soufflé.  It came fresh out of the oven, warm, airy, soft and cheesy.  She used Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, large shell pasta and canned green chilis.  I loved the light and fluffy texture of the soufflé in this hearty dish.  Oh, she spoils me!

Soufflé of macaroni and cheese

Soufflé of macaroni and cheese

What a wonderful spread.  You can tell she spent a lot of time devising the menu and preparing it down to every detail.  It was a beautiful brunch and everything was just delicious.

brunch plate

brunch plate

As if all of this wonderful home made food wasn’t enough, she continued to amaze and wow us with 2 excellent desserts.  I absolutely loved the crystalline texture and sharp coffee kick of her espresso granita.  She took the frozen mixture out of the freezer and started scraping it into coarse crisp shavings.  It was a delightful palate cleanser before the dessert finale.

espresso-granita

Espresso granita

Espresso granita

The festivities climaxed when she brought out the beautiful chocolate cheesecake.  The colors, the even sheen, the perfectly circular cake.  It was like an art piece in a gallery, almost too perfect to cut and eat.  But of course, we indulged.

Chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake

The cheesecake was very rich, creamy, dark and sweet.  It was a powerful and sexy dessert, just like the chef who made it.

By this time our stomachs were full and we were happily dozing off on the couch in a deep deep food coma.  Sundays should always be like this.  Thank you Shirley!

Random trivia:  Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, the petite Korean American competitive eater previously featured in the random trivia section of my blog, holds the world record for cheesecake.  She ate 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes.  She is still single.