- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Location, location, location. From La Bernoise, a quiet little neighborhood restaurant on the Potomac Palisades, Swiss-born and educated chef-owner Herbert Kerschbaumer has moved to a larger space with more buzz in Dupont Circle. Jack’s is also a neighborhood bar and restaurant, but with a difference.

The old place specialized in Swiss dishes and the walls of the cozy restaurant were decorated with Swiss folk art. Jack’s is eclectic American, with two large television screens over the long bar and several tributes to Jack Daniels around the high-ceilinged space.

Jack’s the restaurant is named for a friend’s German shepherd, not the whiskey, but Jack Daniels is featured in several of the cocktails on the menu, and Mr. Kerschbaumer contributes a portion of every Jack Daniels’ cocktail to the Whitman-Walker Clinic.

Despite the shift in style, and the chef’s recent two-year journey through Brazil and Europe, Mr. Kerschbaumer remembers his Swiss in his dishes, primarily through a lack of assertive spicing. Most of the cooking is bland, some of it very good and some not so good. Fortes appear to be soups and potatoes.

The restaurant’s signature tomato bisque is excellent, redolent with the flavor of roasted tomatoes. It’s a complex dish, not your mom’s ordinary tomato soup. It would be even better if it were served hot rather than room temperature.

Garlic shrimp are another fine beginning. A generous portion of large shrimp are sauteed in garlic with shallots and white wine. The garlic is a little timid, but the shrimp are not overcooked and remain succulent in their sauce.

Fried calamari, another signature, are heavily breaded. Without the breading, the rings of calamari are tender and mild. They’re served with what the menu describes as a “French remoulade sauce.” Jack’s version is heavy on grainy mustard and light on capers; it seems not to contain any anchovies, a critical ingredient in a classic French remoulade. The mustard gives the sauce some depth to contrast the blandness of the calamari. A small mound of mixed greens in a creamy vinaigrette is served on the side.

Jack’s crab cakes disappoint. The crab was flavorless and the consistency mushy. The cakes are served on a red pepper sauce which neither complements nor enhances the crab. The remoulade sauce and seasonal vegetables described on the menu were missing. Instead, a side of the same mixed greens served with the calamari accompanied the crab.

Many of the main courses are served with potatoes — french fries or typically Swiss roesti, a cake of shredded potatoes. Both get high marks; they’re hot and freshly made.

Another of Mr. Kerschbaumer’s signatures is New Zealand lamb shanks with risotto. Alas, they were not available at a recent weekend dinner. St. Louis baby-back ribs, however, were. Our waitress asked how we wanted the ribs cooked: rare, medium or well done. A curious question about pork ribs.

The ribs are served on a bed of lettuce, which would astonish anyone from St. Louis (or Memphis or Kansas City). The sweetish “homemade” barbecue sauce is flavored with liquid smoke. The flavor was good but the ribs were tough. These can be ordered as a large main course portion or as an appetizer.

Two pastas are available: penne with vegetables, olive oil and garlic or ravioli with a selection of sauces. On a recent evening, the ravioli were filled with a mild ricotta and served in a mushroom sauce. The small pieces of mushroom had no flavor and tasted reconstituted, not fresh. A disappointing dish, despite the well-cooked ravioli and the pleasant filling.

Jack’s lunch and dinner menus are identical. Lighter items are a hamburger, a grilled filet mignon sandwich and several salads, including one with slices of flank steak in a mustard dressing.

Prince Edward Island mussels, like the ribs, are available in starter or entree portions; they are served in a white wine Pernod sauce. Carpaccio and a deli plate for two are other choices to begin a meal as well as onion soup or a soup of the day.

Main courses include duck confit with tarragon sauce, seafood stew, grilled tuna steak, flank steak, and stuffed chicken breast. One wishes the chef had included some of those excellent Swiss veal dishes on his menu.

A highlight of dinner was a dessert of fresh, fragrant strawberries in an excellent cold sabayon sauce. The sauce was light, foamy and a lovely creamy blend of sugar, egg and Madeira.

Jack’s wine list is almost exclusively French. There’s an ample selection of wines by the glass ranging in price from $5 to $8.50, and three half bottles, all white. Service is friendly but the waiting time between courses tends to be long.

Jack’s has the atmosphere and clientele of a neighborhood restaurant. Since there’s no down time between lunch and dinner, it’s a good place to drop in for a bite if hunger should strike in mid-afternoon. Once the weather becomes warm, the large outdoor seating area on 17th Street should be a welcome place to linger and watch the lively street scene.

RESTAURANT: Jack’s, 1527 17th St. NW; 202/332-6767.

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and until 10 p.m. Sunday; 5 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday

PRICES: Appetizers, soups and salads $5 to $15; entrees $9 to $18; desserts $6.50

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Dupont Circle (Red Line)

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