Jackie’s Revisited

Had it really been four and a half years since we last ate at Jackie’s (8081 Georgia, Silver Spring)?  Our experience in summer 2009 wasn’t so hot, unless you count the semi-pornographic conversation at the table next to us.  At the end of 2010, they got a new chef and a rave WaPo review.  They have changed chefs AGAIN since then, Adam Harvey took over the kitchen this past spring, and in any case the changes are quite apparent, even though the decor remains equally funky and fun.

The menu is completely different, and yet overall not necessarily better or worse than it was in 2009.  Jackie’s has jumped on the small-plates bandwagon, which can be fun, but is almost always a terrible value.  If every dish is great, then the experience can be sublime, but when quality is mixed, and portion sizes are just large enough for a party of four to have a bite or two of each offering, it can all go downhill.

Our selections were fine, although the attractive presentation generally exceeded the flavor. Fried calamari, Wagyu beef, lamb “Ketta”, spareribs, pumpkin salad (without much pumpkin), endive salad…all good, but nothing really memorable, especially when you just get a few morsels of each.  Not huge portions for the price.  The crispy chicken banh mi is fun, served in a basket, but the flavors didn’t quite work for me. Mrs. Me ordered the soup (shitake soup I think), and I think she liked it a lot, but I don’t really remember that either.

On the positive side, service was excellent, friendly and efficient and attentive but not intrusive, a huge improvement on previous visits.  The wine list has many affordable and interesting selections, better value than the average wine program at similar restaurants.  Cocktails are expertly done (I enjoyed a sazerac) — not surprising, given Sidebar next door. Jackie’s knows beverages. It’s fun to watch the action in the open kitchen at the back of the dining room, although we found it a bit off-putting to arrive slightly on the early side for dinner, before the restaurant got busy, to find a row of stone-faced gray-clad line cooks glaring at us as we were seated.  Once they stopped staring and started cooking it got better.

Jackie’s can get loud, with all the brick and metal, but if you get a booth you’re pretty cozy, although we were too cozy at first, with the heater running full blast right above our heads (they turned it down and all was well).  Just don’t get stuck in the row of two-tops, nearly on top of one another, much too close for comfort even if your next-table-neighbors aren’t having inappropriate conversations.

In general I think Jackie’s is a better experience than it was a few years ago, but I’m still not sold on the food.  Mrs. Me and I are not big into the small plates thing, so take that bias into consideration when reviewing this review.  If you love tapas-style American bistro food, you will probably like Jackie’s a lot.

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