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Review: Jsix Restaurant In The Gaslamp Quarter

Thyme and paprika smoked duck breast over faro with grilled radicchio and kumquat marmalade.
Thyme and paprika smoked duck breast over faro
with grilled radicchio and kumquat marmalade.
Photo by Brandon Hernandez

I wanted to check up on an eatery I’ve always found to be exceptional—Jsix, the shrine to all things “organic” and “sustainable” in San Diego. Nowadays, such terms are buzzwords diners have shouted at them ad naseum by restaurant folk all over the county (some of whom are striving to or actually doing a great job of responsibly sourcing their meats and produce, while others do the bare minimum to take advantage of what they really view as marketing jargon). But Jsix has been living out this admirable ethos on a daily basis since Executive Chef Christian Graves first came aboard and made the restaurant his own several years ago.

Graves’ dishes exhibit a focus on technique over sparkle, and taste trumps anything else. While plates like his new thyme and paprika smoked duck breast over faro with grilled radicchio and kumquat marmalade arrive looking both lovely and appetizing, it’s obvious that they haven’t been fawned over and erected using tweezers, paintbrushes, squeeze bottles and an arsenal of other food styling tools. As with his recipes, Graves approaches the art of presentation with a refined element of restraint.The wafting aromas and vividly colored fresh produce (plucked exclusively from Suzie’s Farms in Imperial Beach and the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market) is enough to elicit the urge to dig right in.

From gourmet strongholds down to grandma’s kitchen, people talk about it all the time—love as a secret ingredient of sorts. I am a believer that nothing enhances the flavor of an assemblage of ingredients like a craftsman’s affection for them and the art of converting them into a tasty, cogent and soul-sating dish, and this is what Graves does night in and night out. I’ve heard him use expressions like “making love to” when explaining the processes behind the aforementioned duck dish. I’ve seen the room of hanging, air-drying meats, the barrels housing his house-made vinegars and his jars upon jars of condiments (including outstanding whole grain mustard), preserves (even Buddha’s hand) and pickled items. The man lives to put his hands, heart and mind to use with food.

So, it’s no surprise that his short ribs are cooked to the perfect level of tenderness where they maintain their form and retain their structural integrity while yielding to the softest of forkings. The silken fava bean purée he serves with it adds an earthiness that complements the ribs without taking away from their brawny beefiness and the hearty olive oil-poached fingerling potatoes beneath them. Balance is the key to any great dish and it’s a hallmark of Graves’ cooking.My “if I see another short rib” rant is legendary in food writer circles (and loathed by my poor wife, who’s put up with this and so much more), and I hold fast to my assertion that no dish has been more overdone in San Diego over the past two years. The reason Graves’ short ribs merit commendation from such an unlikely proponent is because his passion is a main ingredient.

On the charcuterie front, Jsix was at the top of the heap before an entire trend based on preserved meats took over the urbanized areas of San Diego. Even with dozens of charcuterie-minded chefs popping up, in some cases just mere blocks away, Graves and his crew have not only maintained their status as frontrunners but by their own admission (and mine) are better at it than they’ve ever been. A recent plate turned up a quartet of spicy chorizo, paper-thin sopressata and lomo (defatted pork loin rubbed with garlic and spices then aged) and a salami. The latter had just the right amount of pepper and a salty tang that was so deliciously profound it registered in an almost citric manner on the palate.

Another standout dish is the warm Burrata salad. Every time I see Burrata (a fresh Italian cheese with a stringy exterior similar to mozzarella encasing a creamy center), I recall when this fromage debuted on the SD scene in early 2008. Since then, it’s gone the way of short ribs and charcuterie, and now it can be found in dozens of restaurants all over town. Since it’s such an exactingly prepared and unique item, few chefs do anything to it, instead opting to let it shine on its own while serving complementary accoutrements with it--typically a few basil leaves, some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fancy salt and tomatoes. It’s just a gussied up Insalata Caprese, which is hardly anything to write home about. Graves dares to add heat to the equation and the results are the stuff that makes a cheese enthusiast’s baser instincts go berserk. The semi-freeform Burrata goes full-on oozy goozy, allowing it to be scooped, along with wilted spinach and delectable chanterelle mushrooms plumped after soaking in a sweet sherry vinaigrette, onto the toasted slice of bread they’re served alongside.

All of these dishes (or any combination off the menu) can be enjoyed as part of Jsix’s Chef’s Mercy Menu, which consists of five courses prepared by Graves for a table of willing participants. Several fine dining restaurants in San Diego offer such an option, but Jsix’s is one of the most economical at $59 per person (or $79 with course-by-course wine pairings). There’s always a very reasonable three-course Chef’s Tasting Menu option for $30 where Graves serves you an entrée of his spontaneous selection. If you’re going a la carte, consider the Colorado Lamb Sugo, a savory heap of pure Italian pasta goodness, or any dish incorporating chicken; few cook up yard bird and make it cluck with as much juicy gusto as Graves.

It’s tough to go wrong with many of the options at this outstanding restaurant. From the sourcing of the ingredients to the care those consumables are afforded en route to the plate, a hard-thumping heart is at its helm. When surveying the growing array of San Diego’s big name chefs, it’s both fitting and a joy to see Graves among that class.

 

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: (619) 531-8744
  • Name: JSix Restaurant
  • Address: 616 J Street