Review: Jax Glendale is a net gain for the Denver dining scene

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar 650 South Colorado Boulevard, Glendale 303-756-6449 Years ago, when I heard about the Seafood Watch pocket guide produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I printed it out and tucked it in my wallet. Then, before ordering at restaurants, I'd scan the list to see if the fish I wanted fell in the red "avoid" column, skipping it if it did. Although the guide helped me make conscientious choices, it also led to many awkward moments. Servers often grew flustered, ill-equipped to answer my queries about where and how the fish was caught. Friends viewed my questions with suspicion, as if I were a high-maintenance version of Meg Ryan ordering dressing on the side.

See also: A Closer Look at Jax Glendale

How times have changed -- and not just because Seafood Watch now comes in an app. "People want to know where they're getting their food," says executive chef Sheila Lucero, who's been with Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar since 1997 and has seen a surge of interest in sustainability. "Traceability is huge." In response, more and more restaurants are taking responsibility and removing the awkwardness that once fell on guests' shoulders. At the four Jax locations, servers are quizzed daily in pre-service about menus and specials. And earlier this year, Jax joined more than a hundred restaurants nationwide as an official Seafood Watch partner, guaranteeing that none of the fish or shellfish served falls on the red list. This makes interactions with servers more like the friendly exchanges they should be, and less like an inquisition.

Indeed, the only people I really wanted to interrogate one night when I stopped by the newest member of the family, Jax Glendale, were the developers of CitySet, a project with two hotels, a host of restaurants, and a parking garage the size of a pea. By the time I reached my table, I felt like I'd been Christmas shopping at the mall, stalking someone to the garage in order to claim his spot. But the restaurant was hopping, transforming my negative energy watt for watt with the happy buzz that comes from so many people under one roof -- and on top of it, seated at Hi^Jax, the 120-seat rooftop patio that reopened for the season late last month.

Unlike Jax's sister locations in LoDo, Fort Collins and Boulder, the Glendale space was a new buildout, and the restaurant has a polished, contemporary look. Walls are sea-colored and bedecked with photographs and art. Windows flood the interior with light. Bar-side columns are filled with oyster shells, a fun touch given the ice-filled raw bar nearby. Even bathrooms perpetuate the theme, with silver sinks resembling rolling waves and shiny blue doors. It's a testament to both the decor's relaxing vibe and our affable server that I never once had the urge to scribble on the paper-lined table with the complimentary crayons, not even to vent the parking-related profanities that had been dominating my thoughts just moments before.

Without the burden of defending a fish's provenance or catch method, servers have plenty of time to field questions about other things. Oyster varieties, for example, which they're able to rattle off with the comfort of someone who's slurped more than a few, talking about the differences between East and West coasts in a non-pedantic way that encourages oyster neophytes to take the slippery plunge. They do such a good job describing the salty, mild or sweet morsels that on more than one occasion, I've caught myself adding a few oysters to my already substantial order, as if the bivalves were an impulse buy at the checkout counter.

And the servers need time to talk about non-seafood-related topics, since the menu, while full of details on exclusive oyster varieties, purveyors and sustainability, is more sparse when it comes to dish descriptions. Entrees, grouped under the heading of "Spring Specialties," are just as likely to include a listing of ingredients as they are details of what the kitchen has done with them. So I wouldn't have known that the pan-seared halibut came with a smear of carrot purée if the server hadn't volunteered this information. I'm glad she did; that detail -- along with a tidbit she served up about the accompanying housemade cavatelli -- clinched my order, given how well fish and purées go together. Keep reading for the rest of the review of Jax Glendale.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz

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