- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

Open for less than six weeks, Jordans is the latest member of the famous basketball player's culinary empire and apparently has found its market. It was difficult to make a dinner reservation when we called, so busy or distracted were the various receptionists. Put on hold twice, we arrived to find that no one had put down our name for the correct date. That could have been a result of shakedown nerves in the early weeks.
Undoubtedly, the Jordan name lures people who might otherwise not make an effort to find the place. If the wizard among Wizards can rescue an ailing ball team, he may also have helped revive this not-quite-obvious location in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center that Palomino, the last tenant, had to abandon.
Mr. Jordan, whom management says is a frequent visitor (at least for a recent 39th birthday bash of his own), is one partner among three owners of an umbrella organization called JumpHigher L.L.C., which oversees other restaurants with other names in Chicago, North Carolina (Mr. Jordan's home state), New York and Connecticut. The operation is "chef driven," says Daniel Mahdavian, the Washington general manager, and the style of each both food and decor is deliberately different. Jordans' executive chef is Daniel Pochron, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and formerly of Citronelle in Georgetown.
Jordans' official address is 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, but a casual stroller in the neighborhood has to look carefully to see the entrance. A large brown, black and white banner on the building's side is the first clue. Another clue, at least in the evening, is the valet parking sign and a golf cart that will take patrons a hundred yards or so from the curb, over the plaza and to the front door.
The interior is a challenging space for a designer and, in this case, the owners seemed to have handled it well. It's a two-story circular shape with a wide curving staircase separating the upstairs bar and dining tables from the larger dining area downstairs. An enormous orange-red six-pronged toy jack hangs in the open between the two floors as a unifying signature and motif. The staff wears all black.
That same jack motif is repeated in the carpeting and on some of the furniture. Chairs are cream-colored leather and dark wood. Lighting is subtle and refined, lending a sophisticated cast to each section, with each section designed deliberately to appeal to a different clientele.
The entry-level floor upstairs, where smoking is allowed, is crowded after work on weekdays with a happy hour scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. The luncheon crowd is largely business-minded groupings, the menu appropriately casual mainly sandwiches and salads, with traditional dishes given some fresh treatments: a lobster club on brioche, a nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna, and a "nontraditional cobb salad" with a Creole mustard dressing. Nights and weekends attract a lot of couples, and the distance between tables is wide enough to allow intimate conversation and discourage eavesdroppers.
The wizard of the court does not directly influence the menu, we were told, but at least three of the items are considered his favorites. These could change, since the menu is expected to be revised at least four times a year to reflect the availability of seasonal offerings. No North Carolina barbecue is featured now, but that could turn up in warm-weather months.
Naturally, after a quick perusal of the menu cleverly divided in an unusual manner into "hot" and "cold" and "water" and "land" entrees we had to request for starters "Jordans crabcake" and the steamed Thai black mussels that we were told he favored. (Another is a fairly conventional Delmonico steak served with a portobello mushroom and mashed potatoes.)
Sadly enough, the crab cake was a disappointment, especially at the $12 price. There was too little taste of crab inside the fried pastry flutes that lay atop a spicy red pepper sauce. The mussels that arrived in a cast-iron pot with a strong flavoring of lemongrass had a broth worth savoring in any form. The portion would have been enough for four.
Another starter that won our hearts was a minuscule roasted baby beet salad with Virginia goat cheese and just a whiff of truffle oil.
Side orders at $4 each named at the bottom of the menu include "handcut" french fries with white truffle oil, Maine lobster mashed potatoes, and wild mushroom ragout, as well as macaroni and Swiss cheese. The ragout thrilled the outdoorsman among us who is a mushroom connoisseur.
An unusual note in small print asks steak eaters to specify "How do you like your steak?" then lists six categories including "no color, somewhat dry." Help. Explain such a possibility, please.
A braised lamb shank atop goat cheese spaetzle with a light touch of rosemary is a perfect winter dish, even if winter is behaving like spring. Two "water" choices to recommend: seared sea scallops atop oxtail barley risotto and a whole daurade with baby spinach and fried capers.
The shellfish was perfectly undercooked so that the flesh stayed moist as the heat finished the job at the table. Our waitress described the dourade, a French fish, as being "like founder." This wasn't flat like a flounder but it had plenty of tender white meat on its bones.
Presentations were appealing, with the color balance particularly attractive. The same talent extended to the desserts, all priced at $7. We couldn't resist a "chocolate dome," which is pure dense perfection, and the creme brulee that came in three tiny differently shaped dishes and flavors: vanilla, chocolate and ginger. The ginger is a winner and completed the meal in an unexpected way, repeating the pungent taste of the mussels' broth.
RESTAURANT: Jordans, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202/589-1223
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
COST: Dinner: salad $5 to $9; appetizers $8 to $12 ($40 to $80 for small and large chilled seafood platter); entrees $15 to $27; desserts $7; wines by the glass, $6 to $15 and by the bottle $12 to $275
CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards
PARKING:
Street and valet ($7)
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS:yes.


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