A couple Friday nights ago, it rained. It was a wet, cold, dark, and dreadfully gloomy night, and anyone with even a lick of sense nested with their coziest blanket in the softest part of their couch, ordered a pepperoni pizza, and watched re-runs of their favorite reality TV shows into the wee hours.
Phil and I had other plans. You see, that weekend marked eight years together, and we weren’t going to let a few icy puddles keep us from celebrating in style.
So we went to Chew, and it was awesome. Before I get into our dinner at Chew, let me just say one thing. At this point you might think I’m incapable of forming a negative opinion, or unwilling to write a bad review about any Jax restaurant. Well I have, and I will. But there have just been so many positive dining experiences since moving here that I’d rather write about them for now and save the negativity for another cold, rainy day. For now, I’m just in too good a mood, so let’s get back to the fun stuff!
So! We went to Chew, and it was AWESOME!
Since we had tickets to see Taj Mahal at the Florida Theatre downtown, we wanted to do dinner somewhere nearby. Chew was the obvious choice. The restaurant has an undoubtedly urban, modern vibe – all clean and slick and minimalist – yet warm colors and organic elements like wallpaper whimsically decorated with images of birch trees and funky light fixtures lend approachability to the space. We felt very welcomed and snug when we stumbled in off the slippery street with our dripping umbrellas. Our waitress took good care of us and we met a number of other friendly and helpful staff throughout the evening who were all knowledgeable about the menu and made inspired recommendations.
We started the evening with an appetizer of plump mussels tucked into a roasted tomato fumet with house-made fresh chorizo and baguette toasts. It was a pleasure to compare this dish with a dish of clams and house-made chorizo I’d enjoyed the week before at a wine dinner at Orsay. Although the two dishes seemed similar on paper, they were very different in execution and each perfectly fit the menu and season in different ways. While Orsay’s version was light and thoughtfully paired with Emilio Moro’s Finca Resalso, I was happy to see that Chew’s interpretation was hearty and substantial, with the warm, subtle spiciness of cumin scenting the tomato sauce – a perfect starting point for a chilly winter evening meal. We scooped up as much of the tomato and chorizo sauce as we could with the baguette toasts, and found ourselves wishing we had more bread to capture every last bit left in the bowl. We also shared a starter of what the menu appealingly titled “Bacon:” tender braised pork belly with smoked leeks and roasted wild mushrooms resting on a soft bed of sage grits and surrounded by a honey gastrique. Do I even need to tell you how delicious this was? I also ordered a bowl of French onion soup for an appetizer. Why not?! The crouton maintained its integrity in the rich, densely-flavored, perfectly-seasoned beef broth. I personally adore any sort of melted cheese but wished the gruyere topping (or was it emmentaler?) had been broiled just a little longer to provide more caramelized brown goodness on the top of the bowl to complement all the caramelized brown goodness inside the bowl. Here, I pushed aside the cheese so you could admire the broth. Mmmmmm. Talk about a winter blues buster. For my main course, I ordered striped bass with roasted artichoke purée, brussels sprouts, and a sage beurre blanc. This dish was one of the best examples I have ever tasted of the chef considering each and every element of the plate, and how the flavors of each component work towards creating a cohesive whole. All together, it really was greater than the sum of its parts, even though each of the parts was impeccably executed. The fish was well-seared and juicy, the tiny Brussels sprouts were extra brown – just like I like! – and the artichoke puree was surprisingly tart and earthy. I made sure to get a bit of everything on each forkful. Phil went on… and on… and ON! JEEZ! I GET IT!... about the seared scallops over lobster risotto, one of the evening’s specials. Apparently it’s not easy to properly sear a scallop, judging from those I’ve recently eaten at other soon-to-be named local restaurants… but Chew accomplished the task effortlessly. And, apparently it’s not easy to make a properly creamy risotto, judging from risottos I’ve recently eaten at other soon-to-be named local restaurants…. but again, Chew absolutely delivered. Throw some lobster in the mix, and what can there possibly be to complain about? We accompanied our mains with a side of braised asparagus. WHOA! Unexpected delicacy! These were extra-fat asparagus, not the wimpy pencil-thin ones, so they really held up to braising in a buttery sauce. We found it absolutely essential to ask for a basket of bread to soak up the extra braising liquid.
We were so happy with our dinner at Chew that we returned for lunch on a windy afternoon the following week. I ordered the banh mi, a Vietnamese-inspired baguette sandwich loaded with nuggets of crispy pork, cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro, and slices of spicy chiles. The pork was moistened with what the menu is calling a chili-lime vinaigrette but I thought I detected notes of ginger and peanut in there, too. While the banh mi is a versatile sandwich that enjoys popularity in many U.S. cities, this was the first time I’d seen it in Jacksonville and I will be ordering it again. It came with a perfectly dressed salad. Phil ordered his old standby, a pastrami and corned beef sandwich. It was piled with Chew’s own pastrami and corned beef, cracked peppercorn aioli, brown mustard and smoked provolone on toasted marbled Jewish rye. Phil rated this among the best of all the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches he’s ever had, mostly because Chew’s version was all about the meat. While the cheese, aioli, and mustard were necessary and tasty additions, they didn’t take away from the high quality of the meat, which was smoky and had just the right amount of fat. This is the kind of sandwich we crave when we are living outside of the States, and it certainly hit the spot. (sorry for the terrible photo)We ordered shoestring potatoes to go along with our sandwiches. Really they were unnecessary, as the sandwiches were more than substantial for lunch and each came with a side salad. And, the full order of fries is enough for four people – if you’re just having lunch for two, you’d probably do well to share a half order. Phil thought the potatoes were seasoned with a heavy hand but I really liked the extra salt and pepper, so I guess it’s just a preference thing. Don’t let a little cold, rain, or wind stop you from lunching or dinnering at Chew. This place is stellar. Chew Restaurant
117 West Adams Street, Jacksonville, FL