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Jai by Wolfgang Puck Restaurant

Jai Restaruant - Exterior
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Talk about an unexpected pleasure. On the way to a show at the La Jolla Playhouse, one of those ugly little dining issues presented itself - not quite enough time to sit down for dinner, but stomachs noisily growling needing to be fed. Jai Restaurant by Wolfgang Puck, which is newly located on the La Jolla Playhouse grounds, came into our peripheral view, and we thought, “what the heck…appetizers at least.” While the name “Wolfgang Puck” can add luster to any restaurant, it can also be a case of an over-marketed and under-performing brand. Remember when Pierre Cardin was hot? Once a chef hits celebrity status, it’s hard to judge if the food is now made out of love or ego. Whatever his part in the make-up of Jai, the place hit all the right marks.

Sauntering into to any restaurant at 7:15 p.m. and needing to be out in less than 45 minutes for an 8 pm curtain certainly raises the hackles of any front house staff. Imagine the surprise when we were able to enjoy a glass of wine, an appetizer and dessert with ample time to spare. Now that is a well-oiled machine, all done with smooth grace and big smiles. Who runs this place?

Jai is a funky little bit of a restaurant and completely Wolfgang Puck. It’s trendy, stylish atmosphere creates a “you-must-be-seen-here” vibe. The setting has a very retro feel to it. Think of the Jetsons meets Kyoto. Cool shimmering lights and a delicate string globe dangle from the ceiling, illuminating the venue. Glass surrounds the entire structure, so even though Jai is on the small side, its openness prevails. Yet, for all of its styling, Jai is a very easy-going, comfortable establishment with a staff that gives more personality and interaction in one short performance than most restaurants do in a week.

Jai Restaurant - Interior
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The hostess was immediately warned of the timing dilemma and handled it with ease, finding a table straight away even though there was a busy pre-theatre crowd present. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones thinking of coming to Jai before the show. Our excellent server, Jeff, took the baton and continued the night’s perfection. Glasses of wine were quickly ordered and delivered before you could blink. This was accompanied by a unique complimentary amuse-bouche of Schezuan green beans with cashew and tofu. The dish was flavorful with a great crunchy texture. Nice touch guys!

While there was no time for entrees, the “First Flavors,” or appetizers, looked plenty filling. Literally minutes after ordering the Kurabuta Spare Ribs ($13) with molten glaze, scallions and kim chee (pickled cabbage) and Tempura Soft Shell Crab ($10) with a red and white endive salad and Korean miso sauce, the dishes we set at the table. Such a display of orchestration is truly rare, especially when you know that most, if not all, of the restaurant patrons have the same deadline. Take a hint from our server if you really want to enjoy Jai, and go while the play is happening. You’ll have the whole lovely place to yourself.

It isn’t just speed that makes this restaurant sing; it’s the dishes themselves and, once again, Jai impressed beyond expectation. The ribs were a robust delicate feast with vigorous flavors and lots of meat, accompanied with delicate jasmine rice ordered on the side. Truly enjoyable and satisfying. The crab exuded freshness with just the right amount of miso seasoning while the perfectly cooked tempura offered a crunchy texture to the softness of the meat. Can’t say enough about the tempura, which is so often a big glob of fried starch. This is lighter than air, and packed with delicate flavor.

Samplings of food.
Copyright©2010 sandiego.com, Inc.

Believe it or not, we had enough time for dessert. Thank the gods because this one’s a doozy: How about a Liquid Apple Pie ($7) shot with Snickerdoodle cookies? The beautifully constructed plate featured the aforementioned shot made with Everclear (yummy, but ouch), with three Snickerdoodles lined up in a row amidst a smear of caramel. Dip the cookies in the deliciously decadent shot, drag it through the caramel, insert in mouth, and ... ahhhhh. It doesn’t get any more interactive or unique than this.

Jai turned out to be a very enjoyable and unexpected surprise. Prices are on the upper end of the hemisphere but not outrageous (it is Wolfgang Puck, after all). As a venue, Jai will have to deal with an odd location (great for the theatre crowd but what to do when it’s off season?). Parking is a couple bucks extra with no validation (could you tell me I need to know my space number before I walk 200 yards to the machine? Pure genius UCSD). Designed more for an adult gathering, Jai provides great food, maybe a little mischief and absolutely awesome service. Enjoy!

The good - Fast, no, very fast service with smiles.

The bad - Wish we could have stayed longer.

Details »
  • City: La Jolla
  • Phone: 858-638-7778
  • Name: Jai by Wolfgang Puck Restaurant
  • Address: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive