Jimmy's Famous American Tavern
25001 Dana Point Harbor Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
The second of our two Orange County Restaurant Week picks this year was a place that we had only been to for their grand opening party. We had been meaning to go back sooner, but something had always popped up, like it usually does with us. We had a great time at the grand opening party, the food was great, but they were just samples, so we were really looking forward to trying full size versions of their food. When we saw that they were offering a three course, $30 dinner during OC Restaurant Week, we hurriedly made Friday night reservations for Jimmy's Famous American Tavern.
Jimmy's Famous American Tavern, or as the cool kids call it, JFAT, has been opened in Dana Point since August of last year. They have another very successful location down in the Point Loma area of San Diego. When this Dana Point location opened, it felt like the shot in the arm this area needed. The harbor area of this southern beach city has always kind of felt dated to me. Lending to the old feel of this area was restaurants like El Torito, Harpoon Henry's, The Wind and Sea, Gemmell's, and the now departed Jolly Roger. All restaurants that I seem to remember my parents going to on Saturday nights, when they left us with babysitters over thirty years ago.
JFAT is run by a man familiar to OC diners, David Wilhelm, of French 75 and Chat Noir fame. He's ditched the white table cloths and bread scrappers, for this much more casual tavern, that emphasizes classic American comfort food. Burgers, steaks, and large plates dominate the menu at this big restaurant that seats 200 plus. Not only is JFAT's presence bringing nightlife to the harbor area, but they are also doing it in an eco-friendly manner. They are one of thirteen OC restaurants to get a seal of approval from the Green Restaurant Association. Restaurants can achieve this honor by using sustainable food, waste reduction and recycling, among other factors. It's nice knowing that JFAT is not just about making money, they have a conscience as well.
We got to JFAT just before 7PM on a recent Friday night. I was happy we made reservations, as the place was packed. The restaurant is dominated by a large bar in the middle of the room. We were sat on the enclosed patio, in the rear of the restaurant. Even though we were away from the action of the bar area, this is still a loud restaurant. The clientele here is a good mix of people. Young to old, and everything in between. We really had no need for the menus, as we knew we would be having the OC Restaurant Week menu. We put in our order, and this is what we came up with.
Okay, not on the restaurant week menu, but we could not resist this Warm Cheddar, Spinach, Beer and Chorizo Fondue ($7). This rich dip was almost too cheesy, and warm was an understatement. I burnt my mouth with this scalding cauldron of cheese a couple of times. The big flavors here worked well. There was plenty of spinach, which I would have liked to have been cut up in some smaller pieces. I did not really get a lot of the chorizo here, but did not seem to miss it. This was served alongside some herbed croustades for dipping. This was a good choice, as the cheese coated the bread well, and did not break off in the dip. Our waitress even provided us with some extra, as the five included on the plate did not go that far. This was a larger than expected serving size.
Okay, now we are getting to the OCRW menu. First up was Katie's selection for her starter, the Farmers Market Salad. This I assume is JFAT's version of a house salad. This salad was made up of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, corn, croutons, and topped off with a Dijon vinaigrette. Katie used her obligatory, "this used fresh produce", but also added that she loved the croutons here. They were made with their jalapeno cornbread, which added a nice flavor to this house salad. She was also pretty excited with the dressing, because it was lighter than other vinaigrette's, but did not sacrifice flavor.
The night we went to JFAT, was the night that we actually had cooler weather, which has been pretty rare this winter. I wanted something to warm me up a bit. That's why I went with the New England Style Clam Chowder. This clam chowder had plenty of small clams in it, with a nice and mellow flavor. Not too thick of a chowder, this reminded me of the clam chowder I used to have at Polly's Pies as a kid. That's not a knock on JFAT's version, as I was pretty partial to Polly's chowder when I was growing up, even though I have not had it in a long time. This was served with a couple of house made potato chips for some reason. They were good, but I would have rather of had a dinner roll with this.
You don't see stroganoff on too many menus anymore. People probably have a connotation that this is an old fashioned dish, but JFAT updated it with this Filet Mignon Stroganoff. Gone is the heavy sour cream sauce, and added is mushrooms and pearl onions. Even without the heavy sauce, this still had a richness to it. The large egg noodles were cooked well, the filet was very tender, and there was a good dose of mushrooms and pearl onions spread throughout this plate. I love when chefs use pearl onions, but Katie thought they overpowered a little.
I was really in a quandary when it came to my entree. I had a choice of either fried chicken or the Cider Braised Salmon Creek Pork. My German background won out on this occasion. This pork dish definitely had a Bavarian feel to it. It came with apples, bacon and cabbage heaped on top of it. The pork was a little spotty on this night. A little dry, but the sauce helped. The sauce also helped with the pretty bland mashed potatoes. Should have gone with the fried chicken that I have heard good things about.
When I saw the dessert portion of the OCRW menu, I knew immediately what Katie would be having for dessert, the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Drowning in Espresso. Katie is very fond of coffee, as her credit card statement could tell you from all of her Starbucks runs. This espresso was served cool, so the ice cream did not melt too quickly. She seemed pretty happy with this, and I was happy we did not have to make a stop at Starbucks on the way home.
I will preface the dessert portion of my review by telling you that I am not much into fruit desserts. Sure I do like some, but I am way more partial to chocolate than fruit. Unfortunately there was no chocolate to be had on the OCRW menu at JFAT. This Seasonal Fruit Crisp Ala Mode failed to impress. Not sure what fruit they used here, it could have been rhubarb, but it was way too tart. There was also not even close to enough ice cream on this. The fruit was served warm, so after the ice cream melted, this almost resembled a bowl of Grape Nuts with fruit. Definitely not one of my favorites.
I was not too excited by my selections at JFAT, but watching other tables food come out, I have definitely not given up on this restaurant. I look forward to coming back and trying either their burgers, or their prime rib, which sells out almost daily. Also worth mentioning are the desserts on their regular menu. They have a creation called the Bananageddon, and a Jimmy's Old School, that is a basically a hot fudge sundae with warm chocolate chip cookies, served for two. Yes please. Even though it was busy on this night, we experienced great service. Our waitress divided her time equally among her tables, and kept everything moving along at a good pace. Glad we made time to experience Orange County Restaurant Week at Jimmy's Famous American Tavern.
Out of five Megamouth sharks, (because in 1990, one of these rare species of shark was caught off of Dana Point), five being best to zero being worst, Jimmy's Famous American Tavern gets 3 Megamouth sharks.
For more information about Jimmy's Famous American Tavern, go to their website here: http://j-fat.com/