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After Dark Roast

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Behind the elaborate wrought-iron sculpture of a sun that fronts the giant window of Jumpin J's Java, there's an exhilarating mishmash of patterns and styles. The burnish of the copper-topped tables reflects the red-painted tin ceiling and deep yellow walls, and the gleaming surfaces of mirrors and gilt lend a rich coziness to this former coffee shop. It looks like a labor of love, all this attention to detail; it's sort of a cross between a restrained Aladdin's den and your best friend's Bohemian chic.

Jumpin J's has been open for coffee for the early risers of Church Hill since 2004, and a long bakery case and a big blackboard detailing all the offerings take up most of one side of the restaurant. At night, the lights are lowered, the laptops attracted by the free wi-fi slink home, and a weekly menu of fine-dining options appears.

Dinner service started in May with Chefs Karen Kourkoulis and Dave Zeoli. Owner Je Depew has endeavored to preserve the coffee-shop offerings while ratcheting up the quality of cuisine offered in the evening.

It's a limited menu, with just four or five choices per course, and each plate comes with a generous zigzag of balsamic reduction. It's wonderful in and of itself, but lends a repetitive sameness to all of the dishes. Thick, syrupy balsamic with the flatbread or salad is good and tangy, but by the time the entrée is placed before you, things like the plain asparagus and the less-assertive cheese ravioli have a tendency to rely on the flavor of a garnish that really, at this point, could use a rest.

Paper-thin crepes, slightly crispy around the edges, surround feta and surprisingly bland wild mushrooms (reconstituted dried porcini perhaps?) with just a hint of fresh tarragon. Fresh figs get lost in a gooey topping of melted brie and salty prosciutto on top of flatbread. But the salads are a much better way to start your meal. They're fresh and understated, with little bursts of additions like orange slices and the aforementioned sweet figs, and with just enough vinaigrette to moisten instead of drown the tender mesclun.

Pillows of delicate cheese ravioli are heaped with narrow, crisp-tender pieces of asparagus, diced roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, and big pieces of fresh basil, and blanketed with plenty of sharp, grated Asiago. The shrimp risotto has perhaps too much of this cheese, but there's a judicious amount of fresh basil, and the shrimp surrounding it are cooked perfectly on the inside with a golden, pan-seared crust on the outside.

The salmon, too, is cooked to a moist perfection, with a sweet, gingery honey and soy glaze. But the creamy wasabi sauce penciled across the side of the plate lacks heat and any detectable wasabi. And the unadorned jasmine rice and nicely cooked (but plain) asparagus are dull bookends for a restaurant entrée costing $19. Pork tenderloin can be dry elsewhere, but the tenderloin here is juicy with a full, round savoryness, and the big mound of salad greens with dried cranberries and sharp goat cheese marries all the flavors with fragrant, caramelized sweet onions.

Desserts may not be made on-site, but the fabulous chocolate truffle cake tastes like an enormous, airy bonbon on a plate. There's also a dreamy, dense layer cake slathered with white icing interspersed with bursts of strawberry preserves and topped with white chocolate flakes. Best is the sorbet bomba, with three intensely fruity sorbets layered in a big round ball and dipped in white chocolate, which, with a tiny cup of hot, thick espresso, jolts the tongue with bliss.

Despite some misgivings, I really like Jumpin J's. I would like it even more if it lost the coffee-shop counter, blackboard and cutesy coffee-shop name. So much about the place -- in particular the wonderful service and nicely varied wine list — shows a real ambition to move beyond its previous incarnation. The imaginative intent is palpable, but the flavors need more intensity, and a periodic side-by-side taste test would help to reduce the repetition of flavors.

The food may not quite live up to the expectations engendered by its décor, but nevertheless, Jumpin J's is a restaurant that bears watching as it evolves and as it (hopefully) grows up. S

Jumpin J's Java and General Store
2306 Jefferson Ave.
344-3500
Monday, 7-11 a.m.
Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.



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