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Night Fishing 

Thursday, Nov 27 2003
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

Weeknights in the restaurant world can be quiet. But a number of the city’s enterprising chefs are luring customers out on work nights with special menus that promise a bit of novelty and a bargain as well. Chefs themselves take advantage of these less busy evenings to flex their own creative muscles, try out new dishes, cook things they can’t offer on nights when the kitchen is under more pressure. Sunday is the family-style dinner at Lucques; Campanile offers a family-style dinner on Monday; Wednesdays are the bargain regional menus at Alto Palato; Thursdays are grilled-cheese night at Campanile and family-style dinners at Angeli. And this year has seen the happy advent of Fish Market Tuesday at Jar.

Tuesdays, Jar co-owner Mark Peel heads to the IMP fish market downtown, finds whatever’s fresh and best, and brings it back to the restaurant where he and co-owner Suzanne Tracht decide how to cook it. The resulting three- to four-course, fish-based menu, for $38, is then photocopied and handed to customers that evening along with Jar’s usual meat-rich, Asian-inflected, nouvelle-American à la carte menu. It isn’t imperative that the whole table order from the oceanic menu — only the fish lovers. Let the others eat steak. (Or pot roast. Or pork shank.)

Tracht’s cooking walks an interesting line between severity and indulgence, minimalism and lushness. Her dishes are largely unadorned, yet often pack a major sensual wallop — like her rich, profoundly caramelized pot roast, her house-aged steaks well marbled with fat and wine-y with time, her pork belly braised to slippery perfection. And so with her fish. One week, the four-course menu — three fish dishes and dessert — commenced with plump seared scallops with thin mats of salty Chinese-style barbecued pork and a fresh, lightly brined lima-bean-and-corn relish. Next came firm white monkfish wantonly sauced with a silken, béarnaise-like aioli that was scented with tarragon and studded with bits of pickled onion. On the sparer side was the third course, beautifully sautéed, more delicate ishigaki tai, Japanese snapper served with a chaste amount of an earthy shiitake-and-watercress sauce.

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On a more recent Tuesday, the menu was just three courses, the first being a hefty lobster strudel which looked like a giant eggroll and shared its shredded vegetables; it was wrapped not in a won ton skin but in a layer of paper-thin filo — really, you could get lost in the culinary cultural allusions. Deep-fried, this strudel, or eggroll, was crunchy and firm on the outside, with the vegetables barely wilted and al dente around big sweet chunks of lobster within. Pulling the elements together was a classic, cream-enriched shrimp sauce.

On a mild, beautifully grilled Australian sea bass we again met the lima-bean-and-corn relish. Like so many tasting menus these days, Fish Market Tuesdays tend to be long on protein. Though I loved the dishes themselves, I also wished for more green, more vegetal matter. Especially since one of the major delights of Jar has always been the range and handling of the side dishes and vegetables. Luckily there was a half-order of the iceberg-wedge salad dressed with excellent blue cheese and shaved red onions. Also delicious was the lemony Bibb lettuce salad with breakfast radishes (those long white-tipped radishes). We left it up to the other diners at the table to order the generous portions of pea tendrils or creamed spinach or, best of all, the roasted turnips, which come trailing their compelling, bitter greens.

Jar also has a new, charming, affordable little bar menu. The hamburger was luscious, but better yet, try the hamburger steak, a big juicy football of excellent coarse-ground beef seated on a thick grilled slice of French bread and topped first with a rich brown jus, then crowned with a soft-yolked basted egg. Break the yolk to create a rich, golden sauce, a kind of proto-hollandaise that’s stunning in its extravagance and simplicity. And don’t miss the onion rings, which were battered rather than breaded, encased rather than crusted, so that each bite broke through a crisp, hot, surprisingly light shell into the hot, sweet onion sealed within.

Desserts again demonstrated Tracht’s lush austerity. One night, the fish menu wound up with a strawberry sundae: a wineglass holding strawberry sorbet, strawberry ice cream, vanilla ice cream and, of course, strawberries. Another night concluded with the simplest ice cream sandwich; both the dark outer cookie and the interior chocolate-malt ice cream were homemade, and it came with a cunning little pitcher of intense, barely sweetened milk-chocolate sauce on the side. Once more, Tracht homes in on what, exactly, gives pleasure — and then strips everything else away.

 

Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Fish Market menu on Tuesday nights, starting at 5:30 p.m., $38; dinner Sun.–Mon. 5:30–10 p.m.; Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m.; Sun. brunch 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.

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