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Friday, August 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

Mainly big dishes, entirely delicious

Special to The Seattle Times

From the food to the quirky décor to the service, Jack's Tapas Café, Mainly Chinese on the upper Ave. is a delight. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's get to the name. Talking about Jack's without bringing up the name would be like trying to ignore the fact that your friend isn't wearing pants.

Everything about the name is almost true. There are some small plates available. Four of them. (They're called "taster's size" on the menu.) The rest are generous appetizer and entree plates. The menu is not mainly Chinese, it's entirely Chinese, with emphasis on dishes from northern China. And yes,the chef's name is Jack, although I'm guessing that's not what it says on his birth certificate.

Jack's Tapas Café, Mainly Chinese

5211 University Way N.E., Seattle

206-523-6855

www.jackstapas.com

Chinese

$$

Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Mondays, 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30-9 p.m. Sundays.

Drinks: Beer and wine.

Credit cards: V, MC.

Accessibility: No obstacles to access.

Rating: Recommended.

This space once belonged to a very eccentric Japanese restaurant. Now, as Jack's, the décor is all-new but just as eccentric. There is artwork on the walls, but it's not Chinese art, nor is there any apparent theme. The moldings sport grape-bunch flourishes, giving the place a Mediterranean feel. "Muddle" doesn't begin to capture the place. I loved it.

The menu at Jack's, which is identical at lunch and dinner, is divided into appetizers, noodles and stir-fries, all appealing and with an especially strong selection of vegetarian options — not just tofu, by any means. There's also a specials board with at least a dozen options daily.

While we were eating lunch, Jack himself ambled over to ask how we were doing. I told Jack everything was great, and I meant more than just the food.

"We don't want to be just another Chinese restaurant," I later read on Jack's Web site. No chance of that.

Check please:

Sesame and Scallion Layered Bread: If you took a regular scallion pancake and inflated it to monstrous size, you'd get this focaccia-like bread, crisp and studded on the outside with sesame seeds.

Sour Napa with Lamb Stir-Fry: Like pickled cabbage? Spring for this very sour and satisfying stir-fry, which worked especially well spooned into the sesame- scallion bread and eaten like a sandwich.

Assorted Cold Cut: I ate at Jack's during the recent heat wave and was grateful for this cold platter of braised beef, kelp, hard-boiled egg and sliced tofu.

Water Spinach Sautéed with Garlic Sauce: Water spinach, sometimes known as kangkung or ong choy, is that green vegetable with the crunchy hollow stems. The stems soak up sauce and squirt it back at you when you chew them, which is potentially dangerous but also, as here, potentially delicious.

Fresh Squeezed Lemonade: Aha! I've cracked it. This refreshing lemonade is not at all Chinese. Therefore, the menu is "Mainly Chinese."

Itemized bill, meal for two

Sesame and Scallion Layered Bread $8.95

Assorted Cold Cut $6.95

Sour Napa with Lamb Stir-Fry $11.95

Water Spinach Sautéed with Garlic Sauce $8.95

Fresh Squeezed Lemonade (2) $5.00

Tax $3.89

Total $45.69

Matthew Amster-Burton: matthew.reviews@gmail.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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