Jax is really so much better than it has any right to be. I mean, it replaced the Terminal Bar. And it's been parked in that prime Lodo spot  for 14 years—way past long enough for cynicism to set in, for making a policy of packing in the conventioneers & game-day carousers, pouring pints down their throats, & pawning off subprime seafood on the booze-blunted suckers nightly. Never mind that whole reality-show hoohah.

But no. Whatever kind of pressure chef Sheila Lucero may or may not feel to shine in the spotlight that Hosea Rosenberg, her former Top Chef-winning colleague in Boulder, has cast on Jax doesn't show: her style is fun, even funky, but never fussy, & urbane without getting all slick.

Aside from the blackened catfish with crawfish hush puppies, red-eye gravy & pepper jam that was my most recent Dish of the Week, the Director & I also split oysters broiled with shrimp, asiago & spicy Worcestershire butter—a combination that the flavor of the oysters themselves got lost in the midst of, but their lacy edges sure were pretty, & their texture, natch, made its own contribution.

In its ubiquitousness, it's rare that a bowl of steamed mussels really sparkles—there are only so many variations on the theme—but this one did,


with roasted tomatoes & chorizo that didn't create much of a broth until, suddenly, they did, mixing magically as they cooled with the garlic, herbs & shellfish juices to squeeze out a millionth of the Mediterranean sea.

I've long been intrigued by the seasonal menus' bold flourishes—pickled mustard seeds & verjus vinaigrette here, white bean croquettes & salt-roasted marble-potato hash there—but I never quite believed the place could still possess the panache it promised after all these years. Happily, it proved me wrong—on my 40th birthday, no less. What's the point of getting older & if you can't get fatter & wiser?

Jax Fish House on Urbanspoon