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D.C. Dining
Jimmy's on K helps fill a void
(Published July 24, 2006)

By MARTY PEARL

There are a number of ways that a restaurant writer visits a place that he is going to write about. The powerful writers at papers like The Washington Post and New York Times will normally revisit the same eatery several times (incognito, if possible) with a group of friends -- tasters whose opinions the writer respects so that they may try a broad range of the menu and see if the kitchen is consistent with each meal. Those papers usually have a policy to not accept any free meals and may spend several thousand dollars studying the food and service at even moderately priced locations before writing a review.

Most of the rest of us do not have that luxury. Often, when a new restaurant opens, the management will invite many media people to a press party where we have a chance to see what they are doing and sample a range of the menu items. We are also included occasionally in what is called "mock service," wherein a group of friends of the owners are basically used as guinea pigs to practice on before the actual opening. It gives the wait staff a chance to spill soup on somebody who isn't a paying customer, and it allows the kitchen to work out the last kinks in its dishes before charging real money for them. You may have seen the absurd lengths that the TV show Hell's Kitchen goes to in those efforts. Since the purpose of mock service is to solve problems and practice before doing things for real, it isn't exactly fair to review a place under those circumstances. So, of course, that is just what I will do now.

We tried Jimmy's On K Street (1700 K, to be precise) before it opened officially last month. This is basically the famous Jimmy's Harborside from Boston, bought out by the McCormick & Schmick chain to, according to the Washington Business Journal, "test a new high-end restaurant that will serve 50 percent seafood and 50 percent steak to D.C. powerbrokers." I fully agree with an online comment from a chap called Philofaxer, who said, "I'm glad that someone is finally addressing D.C.'s lack of high-end steakhouses."

OK, I deserved the groans, but remember I just report the news; I don't make it up! Anyway, our party stood at the hostess station for our 8 p.m. seating and saw the most beautiful 2-3 pound lobsters and 12-16 ounce tails being delivered to all the surrounding tables. We were like a bunch of 6-year-olds visiting Disney World for the first time and seeing Mickey just in front of us as we waited to get in. When we were seated a half hour later, our waiter informed us that they were out of lobster. It must have been a terrible sight to see a man of my age cry the way I did. Begging didn't help at all.

Well, the food we ate was good -- shrimp cocktails, blue points on the half shell, pastrami salmon and New England clam chowder as starters; a big rack of lamb, bone-in rib steak and crab cakes as entrees; with some pretty good sides big enough for four diners to share, of which the best was wonderful creamy au gratin potatoes. Desserts were some nice house-made sorbets, ice creams and bread pudding. All of the food was delicious and competently prepared with prices on a par with the neighborhood competition -- but I have awakened from unrequited lobster dreams now three mornings in a row.

***

Summer has arrived, but for me it starts with the first flicker of flame under the charcoal. When I take my evening constitutional through the neighborhood I enjoy the aromas of outdoor cooking from every direction, so this seemed like an appropriate time for a few professional suggestions.

First the argument will go on forever, but to me it should always be charcoal, not gas. I know I've heard all about the drippings onto lava rocks and all that for flavor, but it just tastes better when you cook over charcoal and real hard woods. Yes, gas starts easier, is cleaner, is more convenient and is adjustable for temperature. Charcoal and wood = yum.

Next don't use too much charcoal at a time. You want areas of different temperature under your grill so that you can move the food to cooler areas and back to heat as you cook; that is the real secret to good broiling. Don't stuff the whole area with hot coals and leave yourself no options to escape when something is getting done too fast or is starting to burn a bit and remember that you want to slow roast that corn at a lower temperature than you need to sear the steaks.

I refuse to get into the steamed crabs debate. Every family in the area has its own technique that is better than everybody else's. Just cook 'em up and invite me over. But for other seafood treats on the grill, remember that heat is usually your enemy. If you overcook shrimp or scallops or lobster, you have expensive rubber erasers. Fin fish can turn from succulent to cardboard in seconds, so watch them like a hawk. Remember: You can always put something back on the fire if it's not quite done to your taste -- but once it's overcooked, it's garbage.

Now for the heavyweights!

Steak: Always get the best quality you can afford, and for open fire cooking you want a thickness of at least 1-1/2 inches or more so that the inside doesn't dry out when you are searing the surface and creating that nice crust. Trim off more of the exterior fat than you would for indoor broiling to cut down on the dripping and flare ups that will impart a burned flavor. Keep a water pistol handy to cool down the grease flames.

Ribs: Only baste if you use a wet sauce in the final few minutes of cooking as most barbecue sauces have a heavy sugar content which will also burn easily. For those of you who par-boil ribs before grilling to reduce the fat, remember that you are also boiling flavor and texture out of the meat itself, so use the knife to first trim as much fat off as possible.

Chicken: Again, everybody has their favorite method for grilling birds, but my feeling is the simpler recipes are usually the best.

Hamburgers: Here you want to go a bit retro -- fat content of 20 percent or more usually will give you the best flavor and a juicy burger. Don't use the spatula to press it down onto the grill, as you will just drain out juices. Consider different spice and flavoring combinations mixed into the meat, but don't over-handle it or compress it too much when you shape the patties.

Hot dogs: There are many brands and styles. Don't be afraid to experiment with some German 'wursts or Spanish sausages. Be creative with toppings.

Vegetables: Try a little oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper for great roast flavors.

Enjoy!

***

Marty Pearl is founder and chef of the D.C. Dining Society. Contact him at ChefMartyDC@aol.com or in care of The Common Denominator at 3609 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20010. Call him at (202) 265-0477.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator