By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Lucero is one of those people, Jax one of those houses.
But pig is not fish. I get that. And tonight I've come for seafood, which Jax has been known for since 1996. That's when Dave Query (who already had Zolo and the original Jax, both in Boulder) took over the old home of the Terminal Bar — a classic end-of-the-line joint so grim that it actually figured prominently in a Tom Waits song on Nighthawks at the Diner — and threw over the crud and watery light in favor of fish and yuppies. Sad, but true. No one at the Terminal would have paid extortion-level prices for Wellfleets and lobster. In fact, no one in the entire neighborhood around the Terminal would have paid those prices. But the neighborhood was rapidly changing, and for more than a decade now, Jax has been an anchor of the gentrified LoDo — a dependable, often excellent place for fish and booze and booze and fish and booze.
So finally, I order the scallops. When they arrive, they are perfect — huge and soft, seared golden at the flat ends, speckled with black pepper, milky white and tender within. The kitchen has topped them with a sun-dried tomato gremolata that I could live without (it's lazy: julienned sun-drieds with lemon zest piled dry like a crown atop the huge scallops), but it has also based the dish around a roasted-bone-marrow-and-potato risotto that's nothing like I'd expected it to be. It's not really a risotto, not really a marrow-mounted sauce, but rather like the best, most luxurious homefries in the world, served in a pure-white cheese-and-marrow béchamel. Seafood and potatoes make a great, comforting combination — something rough and rustic about the mixing of flavors and textures bypasses all filters of the brain and palate and grabs right at my heart, makes me want to wear a rolled-neck Hemingway sweater all day and move to the Maritimes. It is an unbelievably delicious plate.
I've long believed that Jax is as good as it is because of its focus. For a dozen years, it's concentrated on seafood, changing menus with the seasons, changing chefs occasionally, changing kitchen crews and price structures (ranging from expensive to really fucking expensive) but always, always focusing on the swift and intelligent repurposing of sea creatures into my dinner. But then I have to go and screw with this theory when I drop in a few nights later for lobster (Maine lobster, flown in daily) and ask for a cheeseburger instead. I have no idea what's come over me, what strange path of appetite I'm following — ordering a cheeseburger in a fish restaurant — but come to find out, Jax does a damn fine burger. Colorado beef grilled up a perfect mid-rare, topped with white cheddar, on a soft, grilled brioche roll and sided by hand-cut fries. A great seafood restaurant has no business making such a great burger; it seems wrong, almost greedy. But there it is. And I still get my lobster, to go, as a house lobster roll — which isn't a lobster roll at all, but a lobster salad sandwich on a hamburger bun. Despite this fact and some diced celery, it's still a very good sandwich.
I wish I were a fat man. I wish I were vast, with the appetite to match. I wish that, on any given night, I could belly up to the raw bar at Jax in a disreputable seersucker suit and sauce-stained tie, doff my enormous hat and eat the place clean out of the day's catch, the day's shipment of all things that squirm, hop or swim. I wish I could do that, but I can't. So I will just have to keep coming hungry and leaving stuffed, disappointed only in all the things that I'm not able to eat this time and anxious for any excuse to return.