The ’Roo Incident
The good news: The food is better than the service at this Pleasantville restaurant.
The bad news: the food quality is uneven
There are times when making a mistake can work in a restaurant’s favor. Say, for example, the waiter brings you an overcooked steak. In one scenario, an apologetic manager whisks the steak away, and within minutes a perfectly cooked replacement arrives. The manager returns later to check on your meal, and you leave with warm feelings and the intention to return.
That same mistake can also be a customer-service disaster. “The ’Roo Incident,” which occurred at Jackson & Wheeler, is a case in point.
It was a Saturday evening and the dining room was about a quarter full. The owner took our order; one of my dining companions decided to try the kangaroo, but without the accompanying beets. When his wife said she’d have them, the owner replied, “Oh, then I’ll leave them on his plate.” We chortled when our beet-hating friend sternly said he didn’t want them anywhere near his food. The owner agreed to bring them on a separate plate.
The kangaroo arrived surrounded by glistening ruby cubes of beets. After struggling to get a waiter’s attention (an experience that was repeated throughout the evening), our companion sent his dinner back—only to have the meat returned, gray and now sans sauce. He took a bite, shook his head, and said, “Maybe with sauceâ€¦”
But no amount of sauce could make that kangaroo pleasant, nor could even the most heroic attempts at mastication render the dry, rubbery meat easy to swallow. After confirming that kangaroo is best eaten medium-rare, the owner called over executive chef and partner Greg Gilbert (formerly of the Kittle House), who acknowledged, rather nonchalantly, the meat was overcooked. He offered a replacement dish (the rest of us were now nearly finished eating) and joked twice that he would go into the kitchen and shoot “my guy.” My hungry friend was not amused by the chef’s flip tone.
While this incident tells much about the attitude and sloppy service at Jackson and Wheeler, it says little about the food. Any restaurant might send a dish out wrong—even twice—but hopefully most would offer at least a sincere apology.
The kangaroo was not the lone food problem. The food was uneven, to say the least. A few dishes were quite tasty; a starter of fresh, clean-tasting tuna tartar was accompanied by a crisp fried wonton wrapper and, incongruously, pita bread. The tuna was served with a
classic and well-balanced lightly pickled crunchy seaweed salad.
Tender golden halos of fried calamari embraced by wisps of crunchy batter came with a bowl of spicy, smoky mayonnaise-based srirachi sauce, the chili and garlic sauce that gives Vietnamese and Thai dishes their musky heat.
Seasoning might have piqued our interest in the purÃ©ed lentil soup, but nothing could save the house salad from its bitter, scorched dressing—so thick it was actually tacky. Hidden in the lettuce were bland pieces of poached pear that added nothing to the dish.
The sweet port reduction dominating our grilled quail was at the other end of the taste spectrum. Lardons on the plate managed to assert themselves through the sauce, adding a modicum of balance. More subtly, a firm shrimp-crab cake offered pleasant, gently briny and slightly sweet flavor of the sea and was accompanied by a piquant mango relish served atop mesclun greens and a roasted corn sauce.
While we loved the pillowy thick waffle fries with their crisp exterior and the light crunchy batter on the onion rings served with the ribs, the dry meat left us yearning for more of the traditional southern coca-cola sauce. On the other hand, we had no complaints with six oversized tender, moist sea scallops seared to a perfect sable brown and accompanied by naturally sweet tender leek and diced potato ragout.
It should be noted that there were other service mistakes throughout the evening. Our friend’s wife did, in fact, get her beets, but we were charged for them (and she never received, nor were we charged for, a side dish she did order). At the start of each course, at least one of the four diners at our table was missing a key utensil, and flagging someone down to get it was painful.
Desserts paralleled our experience throughout dinner. It was impossible to refrain from yet another bite of the rich, creamy layered espresso cake served with coffee ice cream, but a macadamia nut blondie tasted like unbaked cookie dough and a blueberry tart looked like a muffin and didn’t taste like much. Flaky pastry sandwiched intense summer strawberries and cream in a delightful Napoleon. But still, it was the bitter taste of the ’Roo Incident that lingered.
JACKSON & WHEELER
25 Wheeler Ave., Pleasantville
Mon. to Thurs. lunch 11:30 am-3:30 pm, dinner 4-10 pm
Fri. to Sat. lunch 11:30 am-3:30 pm, dinner 4-11 pm
Sun. brunch 11:30 am-3 pm. dinner 4-10 pm