You're standing out on a beautiful hillside patio; a bucolic panorama of farms, quaint houses and church steeples spreads out below. Above, a Spanish bell tower plays carillon chimes and the aroma of roasting chicken is about to drive you mad. You are in: Napa, Calif.; Seville, Spain; Draper, Utah.
If you guessed Draper, surprisingly enough, you're correct. You have very fortunately happened across Jake's, one of the area's newest and best restaurants that is, for once, not Italian. Not that there's anything wrong with Italian. It's just that every other restaurant that opens these days seems to feature garlic and pasta. Although there is a pasta of the day on the menu, Jake's highlights chicken, fish and steaks and does it exceptionally well.It was a bold move to build such a fine restaurant in an area most people associate with the prison. In fact, when I told him of our destination, my dining companion was dubious, as were the others who inquired which restaurant I would be reviewing this week. But Jake's had been recommended by a very savvy diner, and my faith remained unwavering as we drove farther and farther south.
Upon entering, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was joyously surprised. The architecture is Southwestern mission-style, expansive and light, with lots of copper, terra cotta and oak. The building has been cunningly constructed on a hill, with huge windows and a view that overlooks a charming valley while blocking out the nearby strip mall. Tables are big and encourage large parties, as does the menu.
Why? Because portions are unique and generous. For an entree you can choose from halibut, lamb, shrimp, salmon, chicken, several cuts of steak, pasta of the day (which is usually meatless) and Montgomery Inn ribs, beginning at $10.95 and reaching up to $18.95. Everything we tasted was superb, tender, juicy and simply but outstandingly well-seasoned. Since the entrees are simple and limited, the staff can take great care in selecting and preparing the finest ingredients. Main courses, served alone, are huge. The lamb comes in a generous rack, and you'll receive an entire chicken, previously seen roasting on a large spit as you walked in.
The uniqueness of the menu comes from the side dishes, which you can order as appetizers or as entree enhancements, for $2.95 each. They come in portions generous enough for everyone at your table to try. The more the merrier. There's a fried onion flower, which is light, tasty and non-greasy. There are also Saratoga chips, or homemade potato chips that come with a barbecue dip. Not bad, but I didn't particularly think they were worth the calories, which seemed to be as enormous as the serving.
For a salad, you can order the fresh lettuce wedge, but the tomato and onion salad is preferable. It consists of a sweet, mild Vidalia onion and a flavorful tomato covered with a garlic vinaigrette and shredded parmesan, on a bed of greens. All vegetables are personally selected by the proprietor at a vegetable market daily, and his care shows.
For a side dish, you could order a basic baked potato, but I would recommend the twice-baked, where the inside is scooped out of the jacket, delicately whipped with sour cream and a few seasonings, then reinserted and sprinkled with cheese. The tremendous portion of sauteed vegetables is also nice and comes with various kinds of squash, onions and peppers, all well-cooked but still firm and fresh-tasting.
If you can make it that far, dessert is worth ordering, and, once again, each serving can easily serve several people. We especially liked the strawberry shortcake, which came mounded with strawberries in a tart glaze, baking powder short cake, ice cream and whipped cream topping everything off.
While there is no official children's menu at Jake's, young ones can easily share with their parents, or the staff is happy to whip up chicken fingers, a hamburger, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, if that's what the tiny heart desires. The help is accommodating and eagerly takes care of wedding parties, family reunions, office celebrations, etc., if notified in advance.
Wise restaurant critics usually give a new establishment at least three months before reviewing them to give the servers and chefs a chance to settle in. Although Jake's has only been opened since June, I'm glad I stopped by as soon as I did. It gives me that much more time to enjoy it.
Rating: * * * *
Jake's, 12300 S. 1300 East, Draper, 531-1112. Open Monday through Saturday, 6-10 p.m., Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Reservations are accepted and large parties can be accommodated. Checks and major credit cards are also accepted.