- Ron Bechtol
Steakhouses usually fail to thrill. They come across as numbingly similar, they are almost universally pricey, and though there may be good wine lists, the most often seem to be pushing labels, not contents.
But there are exceptions, and one of them is J-Prime, a steakhouse spun off of the Chama Gaucha chain, and its 4-7 p.m. happy hour. The décor comes across as corporate — until you notice the white baby grand at the end of the bar. That piano, and the guy behind it, Fernando Davil, is one of the best reasons to stretch out your stay to 7 p.m. or beyond. (He gets there around 6:30.) His set began with the '60s pop tune “Cuando Cuando Cuando,” he spun out a jazzy “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” … in this case, liquor’s not quicker: attitude adjusted.
Not that the cocktails were at all bad. The first bartender (black vest, dark hair, female) cheerfully navigated around the fact that the bar was out of the house Manhattan’s ingredients, Redemption Rye and Sole, an unfamiliar Italian amaro, turning out a respectable rendition with Woodford Rye and Ramazzotti.
The second bartender (red vest, shaved head, male) was given the task of concocting a not-too-dry gin martini. “I want to be able to taste the vermouth” was the exact instruction. He’d apparently been long in steakhouse mode, his idea of “wet” being a generous rinse with vermouth that then got poured out. He did ask “shaken or stirred?” (stirred; shaken is reserved for vodka) and whether I preferred lemon peel, pimento or blue cheese olives as garnish. (Blue cheese is also reserved for vodka). Maybe it was the context, or the crooner, but Red Vest’s rendition came across just right upon reflection.
All drinks, including beer and wine, are $8, making the cocktails a generally better deal. Black Vest had earlier indicated that there were some real values on the $12 appetizer list. “There’s a full five ounces of Prime beef on the grilled kabobs,” she said.
But the martini seemed to want the fried oysters with black beans, rice, sausage and bacon plus a drizzle of hollandaise, and I didn’t regret the decision; this was one of the best fry jobs an oyster has ever seen.
So the question is not whether to return but cuando, cuando, cuando. Davil is off-duty on Sunday and Monday, just FYI.
1401 N. Loop 1604 W., (210) 764-1604.