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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Jak's is a steakhouse that is like the model of steakhouses: A museum-grade replica of the elder, established meat-and-martini operations on

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Friday Food Porn: Meat and Potatoes at Jak's

Jaks7.jpg
Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Jak's is a steakhouse that is like the model of steakhouses: A museum-grade replica of the elder, established meat-and-martini operations on which it was based, grown into its own kind of originality. Jak's is a simple place, a tenaciously neighborhood-y place (no reservations, ever, not even if you ask really nicely), dimly-lit and un-extravagant and small by modern standards. Step in through the only door and there's no doubt about where you are: after dark, it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust, but you can smell the meat and hear the shushing of cocktail shakers immediately."

From this week's review of Jak's Grill in West Seattle

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Within two blocks and four cardinal directions of this bull's eye, a fella can find almost anything. It's 10 steps from a wedding dress to a bathing suit to a DUI attorney, from London Calling on vinyl to a Brazilian wax, a cocktail, a used television and a new set of dentures. Measure your steps just right and you can get all of this in an hour, maybe two. Fire down the gin, wear the dress, carry the TV on one shoulder, and snap at passersby with your new chompers and you'll fit right in. Welcome to the crossroads.

As for food, this intersection is a chunky stew of possibility and potential digestive challenges for any hungry pilgrim making the West Seattle hajj. Step blindfolded and open-mouthed through any unlocked door and the odds are about 50/50 that you'll end up snapping the unagi right off the chopsticks of some bewildered girl in nerd glasses and spike-heel boots (which is fun, but not necessarily a good way to make new friends). On one side of the street, there are diners still clinging to the cracked linoleum and shotgun architecture of pre-gentrification. On the other, there are flamethrower curries, tacos, microwbrews, chowder, cupcakes, oysters, root beer ice cream, croissants that'll make you weep for distant arrondisments, tumbledown teriyaki shacks burning with neon and empty noodle shops where the staff stand, looking out suspiciously into the busy street as though waiting for Godzilla or, at least, the late-night udon rush that resolutely refuses to come.

Smack at the red-dot center of this is Jak's Grill."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"On a Saturday night, I hit Jak's front door at about 5:30 to find the bar and lounge area full and tables filling fast on the floor. With admirable speed, I am brought back to a booth along the narrow hallway that serves as Jak's main floor and order a martini just like the giant one hung on the wall behind me, only smaller: good gin, single olive, as classic a cocktail as a steak is a meal."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"The Laurelhurst Jak's, which opened in 2003, does a decent business, moving customers in and out with reasonable speed. The Issaquah location, which threw wide the doors just a year after the West Seattle debut, is notorious for ridiculously long waits (two hours is not unusual at all) and ridiculously loyal regulars who will actually wait that long if, for some reason, they didn't manage to squeeze through the doors with the first rush between 4 and 5 p.m. No lie: You can tell how busy the place is just by cruising past at half-past 5 and gauging the density of the knot of customers lingering around the front door drooling down the fronts of their polo shirts.

The West Seattle location is a bit more of a toss-up. You can walk in on a weeknight on either side of 7 and expect to be seated and served expeditiously. But on weekends, when what passes for the power crowd descends, you just have to take moderate precautions. Do not show up near-death from hunger at 6:45 on a Friday. Don't linger at the bar if a booth is what you really want. And while, even today, you're not going to get out of Jak's at 20 bucks a head, you can still eat well here for 40--or what it once cost to park the Beamer, drink some bourbon, tip the barman and be shown a menu at The Met."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Jak's opened its West Seattle location (the flagship of its three-location mini-empire) in 1996, at a point in our nation's fiduciary history when dropping $40 on a fat steak and trimmings seemed like responsible economic policy. More than that, it seemed wise. Forty bucks was a bargain for the meat alone when compared with other steakhouses, not to mention the veg, the starch, the wrap that came complete with every order at Jak's. There were other meat palaces where an intemperate spender could part with 40 dollars at the bar before he was even seated, then double that at table by the time the apps, the salad, the meat and maybe some creamed spinach on the side were all plunked down. But in 1996, everyone was rich and stock certificates grew on trees, so Jak's wasn't looked on as anything more than a highly localized anomaly: a place that produced a fine steak (corn-fed and Nebraska-grown, either dry or wet-aged in-house for 28 days minimum before making its way to the galley) for a mid-range price and existed as a kind of bridge between rapidly vanishing $10 steakhouses and the ever-popular yuppie magnets which more or less vacuumed all the disposable income from your pockets the minute you walked through the door."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"The main tonight is a New York Oscar--a narrow but thick cut, boneless but still beefy, napped in a great béarnaise (heavy on the tarragon, as is appropriate here) and set with a mound of lump crab meat. The béarnaise is a workhorse, rock-solid enough that it doesn't break with the heat of the steak or even as it cools on the plate. The crab makes for a nice counterpoint to the meat, though mostly I eat it alongside the potato pancakes which Jak's will serve in lieu of more traditional potato sides if you ask (something I love the place for). But again, the steak is what matters: dry-aged, center-cut and heavy. Granted, in this configuration, it is difficult to taste the more subtle flavors--buried as they are under a blanket of béarnaise and a fall of Dungeness. But really, it's tough to complain when you're talking about a fat steak, drooling with butter and topped with crab."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I would hazard to guess that the exchange of money (in some form) for meat (in some form) was probably the very first service industry transaction: one caveman offering a bunch of shiny pebbles to another caveman for a chaw off his freshly-grilled wooly mammoth leg.

In this modern world, not much has changed. Buying a steak dinner is still something of a Neanderthal affair: trading shiny pebbles for meat. The cooks at Jak's have steaks and a fire over which to cook them. You, presumably, have a hunger. Everything else is just details."

Check out the full review of the West Seattle Jak's in our all-West Seattle issue (on the stands now), or online, in the restaurant section, right here.

 
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