By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Men really had it made in the '50s. You totally get the point of feminism after watching a few episodes of AMC's Mad Men, a drama following the travails of a group of Madison Avenue advertising execs and their frustrated wives, disposable mistresses, and horny secretaries. Mad Men is a fun show, twisted porn for foodies, women's fashion historians, and anybody with an interest in Mid-century modern furniture. I keep hitting the pause button to goggle at the exquisite lines of a lounge chair (or the exquisite lines of a secretary, for that matter). And I'm continually amazed at what these guys are eating and drinking.
Drinking! Every corner office comes equipped with a liquor cabinet. And boy, do they go at it. There's milk and vodka for breakfast, a shot of whiskey to gird up for a presentation with a new client, the proverbial three-martini lunch (which sometimes expands into four or five), the late-afternoon chat with the boss over a rocks glass filled with brandy, and an occasional all-night bacchanal involving raids on the office supplies of crème de menthe. As for dining out, they smoke between — hell, during — courses, admitting between puffs that while raw oysters are a new fad, they're a fad one could get used to.
After watching 12 straight hours of last season's downloads I found myself inexorably drawn to Jackson's Steakhouse, as if an unseen hand were fluttering a menu under my nose that whispered: "Shrimp cocktail." "Porterhouse steak." "Oysters on the half shell." There's a wonderful scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is having lunch with his boss Roger Sterling. Confronted with yet another plate of freshly shucked oysters and their third martini, Sterling quotes Jonathan Swift: "It was a brave man who first ate an oyster."
Responds Draper: "It's like eating a mermaid."
I wanted to hug the writer who penned that line — exactly.
There's an element of the otherworldly, the fantastic, in the taste of a good oyster: it's what gets aficionados past any initial revulsion and hurls them blissfully face down into their third or fourth dozen — and damn the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences are many: including the bacteria vibrio vulnificus, which flourishes in warm waters, Hepatitis A, and Norvovirus, any of which can lurk inside an oyster shell to sicken or kill you. The old warning to shun raw oysters during months without an R (May through August) is both true and not true these days. Farmed oysters from the West Coast can be kept at cold temperatures and force-spawned later in the year — it's safe to eat them in summer. And now a new technology has made raw Gulf oysters safe year-round, too — they're IQF'd, or "individually quick frozen" (for more on this subject see our blog at http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/shortorder/2008/08/those_fresh_oysters_are_frozen.php).
Sigh. The nostalgic frisson I was seeking at Jackson's was, like the palatability of Gulf oysters in summer, both there and not there. It's there in the "private club" Jackson's operates during the day for execs who want to lunch with clients, giving the place the sheen of exclusivity. It's there in the private lockers for wines and cigars. And in the alarmingly extensive and pricey wine list. It's not there in the luxe-gone-to-tatty furnishings, the hyper-boring menu of ye olde steak-house standbys, the nervous service and graying clientele. And certainly it's not there in the pre-frozen Gulf oysters, flavorless lump crab meat, or underseasoned steaks.
I wanted something more than I got at Jackson's. The place has been around since 1997, and when a restaurant survives that long, it's usually doing one of two things. Either it's continually updating menu, service, and bar to keep pace with the times — or, it's doing the opposite and clinging to its brilliant, original vision exactingly. Sadly, Jackson's is doing neither, and the result is as dated and dingy as your Mama's Playtex.
The menu, for example, is surprisingly reticent. It doesn't name your oysters or detail their origin (you have to ask), nor does it reveal what kind of crab meat is in the cocktail or crab-cake or whether the steaks are dry or wet aged, grass fed, organic, "all natural," grain finished, or wagyu/kobe. The steaks are "USDA Prime" and the lobster is from Maine or Australia, period. There's nary a nod to contemporary mores — no truffle oil or pink bush tomato salts, no unpronounceable spices from foreign climes, no lobster pot-pie, Kurubuta pork, or wood-fired anything — Jackson's operates in the interstices of a time warp where the garlic in a bowl of roasted mashed taters was all the exotic anybody needed. If you're hankering for sauce on your steak, a little béarnaise, toasted peppercorn, foie gras, hand-gathered morels, or gorgonzola cream — with or without the price markups — forget it.
So what does Jackson's do? How can they hope to compete with the Michael Minas and the Burt Rapoports, the Jeffrey Chodorows and the venerable old Morton's? They're not undercutting the competition — a three-pound Maine lobster goes for $75 (the price of lobster is down this year, but we're not seeing that reflected on restaurant menus) and a 16-ounce veal porterhouse is $39. A gin & tonic or a side of mushrooms is $9; a mid-low priced bottle of Oregon pinot from their list is $75 (wines range from $34 to $1000, most hovering between $70 and $150). There are many good wines by the glass, but the only rosé available by glass or bottle is a Beringer white zinfandel "blush" (yikes!) — yet another sign that Jackson's remains hopelessly out of touch.