Second Helpings

Jing is beautiful on the surface, but don't look too deep

Jing has one of the sexiest rooms in Greenwood Village — which is roughly equivalent to having the hottest car on the Hyundai lot. But it also has one of the city's up-and-coming young chefs: Jay Spickelmier, an American kid in a Chinese restaurant (like the Korean family running the American diner in this week's review of Silver Creek). Spickelmier joined Jing's staff a few months ago and just took home the gold at this year's Westword Steel Chef competition, even if he won it largely by cooking a lovely Tuscan white-bean soup with lamb that was just about as far from Chinese food as you can get without using hot dogs.

Under chef Spickelmier's command, Jing has one of the best-looking menus in the city — and that really is saying something. It's a board that makes you drool just reading it — all glitz and luxury, strange juxtapositions and super-nouvelle Chinese cuisine, all fresh takes on international classics. Ahi napoleons with mango pico de gallo and wonton crisps, pan-fried lobster dumplings, sea bass glazed in miso, Chinese fish and chips with sesame fries, herb-battered fish with a sriracha tartar sauce. Unfortunately, though, all the good looks and smart ideas in the world don't matter a damn when the staff on the floor seems bewildered and annoyed by the simplest requests and the guys in the kitchen can't execute moves that are basically cooking school 101 — problems I've had with Jing since pretty much its third month in business.

Stopping in for a quick dinner last week, I was faced with a server who seemed to have no idea what was on the menu of the restaurant that employed her, a lovely hostess completely incapable of running the cash register, and a line crew flummoxed by the simplest interactions between meat, pans and fire. Lobster dumplings? A great idea on paper — and probably a big seller, too. But though mine were very pretty on the outside (little triangles, fat with lobster meat and beautifully seared), they tasted powerfully fishy and weren't cooked through; the chunks of lobster were raw in the middle. Rock shrimp tempura? Another great idea, and nicely done on the plate — except for the lukewarm chile aioli that tasted of sour mayonnaise. And the chicken lo mein that I'd liked a lot when I'd eaten at Jing shortly after it opened in late 2007 was just dull, barely a shadow of the original plate.

"Pretty on the outside" actually describes both Jing's food and its physical appearance. It's a place that looks much better than it is right now. But if its staff could gain a little depth and a little diligence, it might rise to become the good restaurant that I'm sure exists somewhere inside all that appealing detail.