Shell Game

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar steams in and anchors down.

   You’ve got to give our city credit; Kansas City’s culinary reputation is spreading like wildfire and turning heads.

   Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar owner David Query discovered this after trolling through a number of cities to launch his latest operation. The Boulder, Colo., native counts KC’s stellar food scene as a major reason he located his first Jax restaurant outside of Colorado in our fair city.

   Not only did Query zero in on Kansas City, he was able to snag one of the toniest addresses in town.

   Even so, Tastebud and I sailed right past the West Plaza location. We thought we knew where we were going that fine fall evening.

   You might miss it, too, unless you stop talking and turn into the drive between Polsinelli and Hotel Sorella. From there, a $5 valet is at your service. 


Ode to The Deep

   Factoids: sea levels are rising and it’s been a lousy year for scallops due to the polar vortex. But that’s just half the story.

   The other half is far more heartening. 

   Though Jax can’t do much about the tides, it’s at the forefront of environmental thinking, partnering with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to offer sustainably harvested and environmentally responsible seafood. The two organizations are educating the public in favor of awareness toward more responsible aquaculture operations. 

   I feel better already.

   At the door, an impressive atrium is filled with marine décor that includes a dancing fish mobile and simulated boat overhead.

   Hunkered down underneath, two 10-foot aquariums separate the dining room from the raw bar where steamer pots bubble with seafood chowder, steamed mussels or clams, chicken and crawfish gumbo. 

   As we understand it, everyone expects to get their hands dirty (in a good way) at Jax. Pro executive chef Sheila Lucero, chef de cuisine Bobby Bowman and sous chef, Jeff Dietzler are all captains of slurping, cracking and popping.  

   And we can’t discount our hostess, Melissa, with volumes to tell us about sustainable seafood practices etc.

   “Our menu changes periodically as various species go in and out of season,” she instructs.

Mindfully sourced and soulfully prepared seafood is what Jax does best.


No Dive Bar

   So here we were in October when Dungeness crab, squid and sardines were running. Not on to our plates, however. Instead, we opted for a trio: steamed mussels ($14), peel n’ eat shrimp ($12) and lobster cocktail to start ($24).

   We quickly squired a mound of big, fat shrimp into a piquant mustard sauce. We were informed the shrimp hail from Belize where the only Jax-supported farm-raised shrimp beds exist.


   A tasty Maine lobster, chilled and sided with an herb salad was plenty for two. 

   Momentarily pausing, I notice two things across the room. 

   One aquarium was dimming.

   “Bedtime for the early creatures of this tank,” said Melissa as I thought of my kinship with these dwellers.

   Suddenly, Tastebud squeals, pointing to an order of legs, high kicking right out of their frosty bowl. 

   Turns out it was the crab duo featuring 1 pound snow and ¼ pound king crab with a slimming (!) side of drawn butter. We preferred hot legs over cold and just a sample, not a gaggle, of each. You can bet these sweet, hot legs were worth the trip alone ($39).  

   “You guys can’t possibly think you’re not going to try the oysters?” Melissa said astonishingly.

   We were caught in the net — so what could we do?

   “Meh, it’s not my thing,” said Tastebud.

   I had to agree.

   Melissa wouldn’t hear of it.

   “Sorry, it’s our specialty so I’ll bring you one – the East Coast charbroiled soaked in grana padano butter, garlic and breadcrumbs,” ($3.50) she said .

   Turns out they have three cooked varieties plucked from the Atlantic and a slew of raw varieties from both the Pacific and Atlantic.

   Oystermen know where certain oysters live, how they’re raised, the quality of the water and environmental influences. They give them pet names, shuck them and nearly guarantee rich and delicious flavor.

   “Listen, if you’re used to eating oysters, then you know what to expect; I’m sure these are like brisket or ribs to us,” said Tastebud, now sounding like a connoisseur.

   “When all is said and done, I’d rather name a dog … or cat, not an oyster, but hey … whatever floats your boat,” I countered, adding, “How about we try an order of steamed mussels?” ($14).

   An aromatic bowl of mussels soon drifted in with their tiny mouths wide open. Drenching hunks of executive chef Sheila Lucero’s Buttermilk Bread into the roasted tomato and chorizo potent broth was the ultimate ($4).

   A word about this bread. It’s from Lucero’s grandmother’s recipe and despite wheat getting a bad rap these days, gluten or no, it’s not negotiable; it’s a must.

Fish Tales

   OK, so we dissed the oyster, however, we loved everything else. Why?  Because it’s atypical. 

   I don’t usually try seafood of this ilk and I can say with certainty, Tastebud has come closer to a tiger at the zoo than face-to-face with a mussel or oyster.

   “Well, how’d you like to hear about our crab boil?” Melissa said, beaming.

   Before we could take a breath, “Talk about a mess, this is the ultimate. Available year-round, you reserve a spot in the dining room or patio then watch how snow crab, shrimp, Andouille sausage, corn and potatoes are simmered in a spicy, savory, lemon-rich broth. It’s all tossed out on steaming platters and you dig in,” ($45 per/person).

   Sounded tempting, but we moved swiftly from ship to shore, all the while cleaning up with warm, damp towels.

   Melissa informed us that chef Kelly Conwell, spirited away from her former gig at Bluestem, has perfected five delectable desserts. 

   Clearly, it was a no-brainer. 

   S’mores Torte ($8) finally tanked us with a modern take on the toasted marshmallow and chocolate classic.

   “This doesn’t resemble any s’more I remember making when I was a girl scout,” I thought.

   We took off our bibs, heard more fish tales and decided that we, like the creatures in the dimmed tank, needed to go beddy-bye.

   ‘Atta boy, Dave. Your Jax is a pearl.