I know I’ve said it before, but the Crossroads really is the most vital and interesting area in Kansas City for dining. The Jacobson at 2050 Central (entrance on 21st Street) is its latest addition.
In the same building as Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, The Jacobson occupies a space that housed the Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company in a bygone era.
Fire and water play a role in the location’s new incar- nation as well, not only in the kitchen, but also on the patio, one of the new restaurant’s most popular features. In the past few years, Kansas City has begun to embrace outdoor dining, and the patio at The Jacobson is a perfect place for a very pleasant outdoor experience. The triangular space is anchored on the west by the dynamic “Delta Rings,” a sculpture by local artist, entrepreneur and personality Stretch. The centerpiece of the patio is a fire-and-water sculpture that helps take the chill off outdoor dining if your drinks haven’t done that already.
The interior space is equally pleasing. Modern and clean but warm and comfort- able at the same time, it’s not a fake boys club or a faux retro lounge. The Jacobson is a congenial, grown-up locale decorated with work by local artists, and it’s very easy on the eyes.
Not only is it easy to take in the view, but if you’re thirsty, The Jacobson can take care of that as well. Beginning with wine, the drink list features grape juice of the red, white, rosé, and sparkling varieties, with an emphasis on California. Beers on tap (handles) run the gamut from PBR to the local favorite Boulevard to Shiner Bock, Lagunitas IPA and Guinness. Bottled beers fill any voids in the tap list. Both the wine list (soon to be expanded into a small book) and the cocktail list were engineered by sommelier Ashley Robison. Although I tend to prefer the classic Bond-style martini or Negroni, the list of hand-crafted cocktails is sure to have something for every palate. And if you can get your group to agree one or two cocktails, they offer flask service (large amounts of one cocktail in a flask held on ice at your table) with at least five of the most popular cocktails on the list. If you like to be on the cutting edge of cocktail trends, try something made with Samogon. It’s basically high-quality (and high-octane) Russian moon- shine that is making its way into drink menus all across the country.
If you’re looking for something with a little less kick, the aperitif section might just be for you. Bucking the American trend, the aperitifs—the drink one has before the meal to stimulate the appetite and conversation—are on the sweeter side, in the European tradition, and could equally serve as after dinner drinks.
This brings us to the food, choreographed and conducted by chef John Smith, formerly of 801 Chophouse. For a food critic, The Jacobson presents a problem that chefs, especially in this melting pot of a country, struggle with: what is the focus of the cuisine and how does it form a cohesive whole? Let me give you some examples from the Crossroads: Michael Smith/Extra Virgin is “new American” with strong Mediterranean influences; Lidia’s has regional Italian with Italian-American influences; Affäre, modern German with inter- national influences; Grünauer, classic Austrian with alcoholic influences. The difficult thing for The Jacobson—open only three weeks at the time of this review—is finding its voice.
I hesitate to classify the menu as “new American,” because many of the well-executed dishes are lifted directly from their places of origin without any changes into an American idiom. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are with a group that can’t agree on what type of food to eat. The current trend in dining is “sharing,” and I have to agree that it is a fun and sensible way to get variety in one’s diet, as well as capitalize on having the greatest number of taste experiences at a single meal. And, as a restaurateur friend of mine said recently, “I’m over entreés.” The Jacobson has a great sharing menu that offers a tour of terrific culinary world hits.
Begin your meal in their “mingle” section, designed expressly for sharing. Build a trio of spreads from choices like garlicky hummus, olive tapenade, roasted beet puree, cauliflower and ricotta mash, savory short rib marmalade, or my favorite, the explosion of flavor known as tomato and bacon chutney. A little like barbecue, bacony rich but tomatoey refreshing at the same time, I could put this chunky chutney between two slices of bread or just eat it out of the bowl sans utensils. Wish I had come up with that one. All of the spreads are served with crispy toasted lavosh crackers and grilled pita bread.
Equally suited to sharing are the herb-crusted beef carpaccio and the roasted marrow bones, although like the average canine, I’m not always successful sharing good beef marrow. The carpaccio tasted mostly of its accompaniments—refreshing bits of grilled asparagus, tangy sweet pickled radish and the herb crust, almost like a light salad. The marrow was delicious, like butter but more complex, rich but not cloying. Served with the traditional garnishes of grilled bread and parsley salad, the added but unnecessary bonus of short rib marmalade helps to extend the tiny feast.
Before I delve into the next appetizer, let me say that I have never been in love with shrimp—jumbo, peel and eat, batter fried, with fettucine Alfredo (stab me in the eye) or otherwise. However, the crispy salt and pepper shrimp at The Jacobson reaffirmed my belief in the American dining public. Our server told us this was one of the most well-received apps on the menu, and after tasting I believe her. Derived from a Cantonese Chinese classic, the salt and pepper shrimp is a textbook example of a dish that doesn’t need any interference. The shrimp are left in the shell, but the shells are split down the back, vein removed. They are then tossed in flour or corn- starch and quickly sautéed or stir-fried. Next, they are re-sautéed with salt, pepper, lime and whatever secret ingredient the chef uses. The shell protects the shrimp keeping it moist and flavorful, and you have to eat it with your hands. Be sure to first slurp the sauce off the outside of the shrimp shells, and then lick your fingers after each shrimp is finished.
The accompanying sundried tomato remoulade and chimichurri sauce are nice extras but not necessary.
The next appetizer was another classic, “Angels on Horseback,” a dish from the United Kingdom that dates from the 1800s. Plump, fresh oysters are wrapped in bacon—in this case, house-made bacon—pan fried until golden brown and just crispy. Again, served with unnecessary chimichurri and roasted garlic aioli. The crispy sesame- crusted oyster mushrooms made a very good booze-absorbing cocktail-accompany- ing snack, but I lost track of the mushrooms in all of the sesame-crustedness and seasoning.
The accompanying sriracha aioli and ponzu sauce were fine but unnecessary. A moment of sympathy with the chef: most Americans need to dip their food in something. If you don’t give it to them, they will ask for it. A drizzle of good oil, a squirt of lemon? These are not enough. Must dip. I don’t know why… Brought to my attention by foodie Jenny Vergara were the beef and pork meatballs stuffed with goat cheese. I’m not a meatball fan—something to do with my childhood I suppose—but these I actually enjoyed. The meatballs, served steaming and bathed in a tasty herbal tomato sauce, are stuffed with a dab of fresh goat cheese that supplies a pleasing bit of tangy complexity and luxuri- ance to the ordinarily over-sold (and fre- quently overcooked) meatball. They are also featured in a pasta dish if you want to make a meal of them.
On the lighter side are their fresh greens, a collection of salads with the potential to be a full, if smaller, meal. We sampled the Crossroad, a salad of crisp romaine, toasty grilled corn, tomatoes, avocado and bacon (house-made, of course), with oregano dress- ing. It was topped with one of my favorite of all time salad garnishes, the soft-poached egg, a garnish that turns any potentially vegan salad into a majestic meal. We loved the whole combo, flavors, textures, everything. Speaking of vegan and vegetarian dining, The Jacobson does designate appropriate dishes on the menu, and there appear to be a number of dishes that could easily be transformed to meet meatless dietary requests.
One last appetizer before I move on: the blue cheese and tomato tart. In my experience, vegetable tarts are either good or bad. There’s really no in-between. This is a good one. A round of warm and crispy puff pastry is topped with layers of tomato, blue cheese, new potato, fresh spinach and bacon crumbles. Served with a little soup, this could be a very gratifying meal.
Although I failed to sup anything in the soup category in my visits, I did man- age to sample a few sandwiches. Let me state that my first job in the culinary service industry almost 20 years ago was that of a sandwich assembler. My zeal for placing harmonious high-quality ingredients between two slices of bread (or other appropriate vehicle) has never waned, and neither has my sandwich scruple.
We began with the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich classic. The menu description was spot on: slow-braised pork belly, pickled vegetable slaw, fresh cilantro, and sriracha aioli on toasted baguette. First impressions: great flavors and textures. We tossed the baguette (saving room for more food) and ate the filling as a delightful salad. Here I must insert a little story. When preparing for a review, I do Internet research for ideas on dishes, techniques involved and customers’ reviews on various websites to see where we all stand. The Internet+blog has turned every human with Internet access into a critic. One comment on this sandwich really irritated/amused me—enough to share it: “The banh mi sandwich was disap- pointing. It was very fatty.” What part of pork belly went unnoticed here?
Our other sandwich was The Jacobson Burger, and it was indeed deserving of a house name. I don’t eat a lot of burgers, especially ones with bells and whistles, because a high-quality burger, unadulterated and lovingly prepared, is something special that should be eaten (even in a rush) with respect. The Jacobson Burger is seared to your temperature preference, topped with bone-marrow butter, short-rib marmalade and crispy onion straws, all stacked on a butter-toasted brioche bun. The short-rib marmalade and bone-marrow butter sound like overkill, but the luscious combination was extremely satisfying and harmonious— like the volume was turned up to 11.
We did sample the “Yard Bird,” a roasted Cornish game hen that was the least memora- ble of dishes on our visits. The grilled Scottish salmon served with a zucchini and feta frit- ter (nice idea) and a salad of wild arugula, Niçoise olives and shaved fennel was exactly as described. If I ate out every day, this would be one of those go-to meals to prevent obe- sity—good, clean ingredients that have been minimally manipulated or abused.
Left to my own devices, I seldom eat dessert. Generally, I drink it. But for all of you I go the extra mile. I’m a giver. We sampled The Jacobson’s signature “Dutch Baby,” a conceited pancake cooked in a diminutive cast-iron skillet where it puffs and creeps up the sides of the pan. Very dramatic.
It’s more savory than sweet, a little eggy. It’s a perfect snowy winter breakfast dish but not my idea of the way to end a big meal. And this toasty treat is large. This is not the dessert to order if you are the only person in a group that orders dessert, at least if you don’t want to look like a pig. Two of us barely put a dent in the thing. The pancake was topped with a hot embellishment of caramel and ripe bananas (Bananas Foster). The chef plans to change toppings regularly. On another visit we scrutinized the popular warm brown-sugar cake with peanut butter ice cream and caramel. Actually, we polished the plate. Again, it was everything promised.
The kitchen knows how to cook, the sommelier knows how to pour a drink, the service staff knows how to make a guest comfortable and the designer knows how to put together an attractive venue. The late hours are sure to work in its favor. All we need to do is keep visiting The Jacobson and watch as it finds its own voice