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Tasty Omaha: Jams, An American Grill


When I started this series, I considered just focusing on "new" restaurants that were opening around the city, to provide would-be diners with my experience to decide if a visit was worth their time and money. However, being a relative newbie to the Omaha area (born and raised in Lincoln, moved to Omaha just under three years ago), and discovering the subculture of foodies and incredible restaurants that abound in this city, I realized I'd be doing myself, visitors, newcomers, and current residents a disservice by limiting my reviews. So as long as it's new to me, it's fair game! ...Ah, who am I kidding? New or old, if I haven't written about it, I'm gonna, whether I've eaten at a place before or not. THE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW.

Recently, my husband and I and a couple who'd come up from Lincoln visited Jams. I'd heard of this place from a coworker a couple years ago, and she sang the place's praises to the rafters. I'd always been curious about trying it, so when our friend and his new lovely significant other came up to meet us for dinner, I figured it was time.

There's always a risk in trying a new place when you're also trying to be a good host and meeting a new friend for the first time, e.g. "This food is terrible! What do you really think of us?" but from a first glance at the menu and a detailed conversation about it with our incredible server Traci, I had a feeling we were in for a treat.

Jams describes itself as "an American Grill that offers a melting pot of different styles and varieties of food dishes containing high-quality ingredients paired with the optional cold drink or creative cocktail." The interior is certainly reminiscent of a bar-and-grill, dimly lit with a hefty wooden bar in the middle of the front part of the room, and booths and high-top tables. The interior is relatively nondescript, nothing that stands out as particularly eye-catching, but I prefer that--oftentimes, overly visually trendy restaurants tend to overcompensate for a lack of quality in their food by dressing up the interior. Trying to distract me? Won't work.

I ordered a Moscow Mule, one of my favorite cocktails, and wasn't disappointed. The ginger beer had the kick I always look for (nothing is worse than a flat Moscow Mule. Okay, there are literally hundreds of things worse than that. But you get me. Amirite?)

My husband wanted to try one of their local beers, so Traci noted his beer preferences and brought him a three-beer sample flight so he could choose his favorite. They were generous pours, too--combined, they would have been at least twelve ounces of brew.

We made pleasant small talk with Traci, who, in addition to possessing a thorough knowledge of the menu--quick aside, here: if you work at a restaurant, it helps to actually eat off the menu, so you can make recommendations to your customers, which is exactly what Traci did--and cocktail/beer selection, engaged us in a non-food oriented chat, so we felt like we got to know her a little bit. When we return to Jams, we'll be sure to request Traci as our server. She's set the bar high for excellent customer service!

For an appetizer, we selected the Blue Crab Rangoon egg rolls, which are served on a bed of java veggie salad and a plum dipping sauce.

They were nothing short of perfection. The wonton wrapper was lightly fried to the ideal crisp--not soggy, not greasy, and a light golden brown. The filling itself was decadent and savory. Shredded crab meat mixed with what I assume was a cream cheese base, although I tasted something very similar to goat cheese, as well. I normally hate goat cheese (I HAVE TRIED TO LIKE IT, I swear. I can't reconcile the tang with my taste buds, but the texture of goat cheese is absolutely divine), but this filling only carried the faintest hint of the telltale tang of chevre, enough to grab my attention, and all of that gorgeously silky texture. A sprinkling of cilantro for the garnish and a dip into the plum sauce create a magnificent triumph of an appetizer. TL;DR? Order the GD rangoons.

A side note to big-ups the patience of our dining companions: obviously, this wouldn't be a proper review without photos, and I sure appreciate them letting me snap pics of their food! My husband will silently roll his eyes and tilt his plate for me to catch just the right angle. He's totally resigned to this by now, as he has with a number of things concerning me (my need to discuss every Game of Thrones episode in length, attacking him with my novel plot holes while he's trying to shave or drink coffee, me hogging the living room TV to furiously play Final Fantasy VII [and IX, and all the video games] for hours on end, sending him endless cat videos on Facebook, etc.).

My husband ordered the Lobster Tacos from the Seasonal Menu. Tempura-fried, beer-battered lobster pieces in a fried flour tortilla, topped with shredded red cabbage, cilantro, arbol chili aioli, and Havarti cheese. It's accompanied with a bowl of five-cheese tortellini. I know, you're probably all, "Hole lup, did you say tortellini and tacos? What in the ever-loving hell?"

I can't explain why it works, but it does. And when it comes to things like tortellini and tacos, you don't question it. You just put it in your foodhole.

Our friend's girlfriend ordered the nightly feature--a ribeye steak on a bed of creamy Havarti grits, accompanied with roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms. It was enough food to feed a small army, and according to her, was as delicious as it looked.

Our friend ordered the Midtown Meatloaf, served with snappy, verdant green beans and normally served with whipped potatoes. Steak and potatoes is a staple meal for any restaurant to ace here in Nebraska, and Jams hit the mark.

That brings me to my dish.

For some reason, I tend to have bad luck with meal selections at restaurants I'm trying for the first time. I always waver between whether to select an old standby to see how well the place can nail it, or something unique to the restaurant. I tend to stray from obvious choices that will clearly be delicious (e.g., the lobster tacos. Although, now I'm all, WHY DIDN'T I GET THE TACOS.) because they're a given. I need to figure out a better algorithm or mathematical formula for selecting meals, because once again, I chose something that was underwhelming--and something Traci hadn't personally tried. THAT should have been my first indication not to go there. Alas.

I selected, from the seasonal menu, the classic Aurora Sauce Salmon. It's an eight-ounce salmon fillet poached in a citrus Aurora sauce (a light, tomato-garlic creamy sauce) served with cherry tomatoes and capers, broccolini on the side, on a bed of Parmesan polenta and garnished with fresh dill.

The sauce was...saucy. Traci let me know what to expect, so that wasn't a surprise, but the amount of tomato was a surprise. I'm used to creamier Aurora sauces. I wasn't fond of the cherry tomatoes plopped on in their whole entirety, like tiny basketballs circling the fish. They struck me as an uninspired afterthought. Also, serving tiny whole tomatoes in an already heavily tomato-y sauce seemed odd. The capers added a nice tartness. The salmon itself was the most disappointing part--perhaps I'm unaccustomed to a trendier, more modern way of consuming salmon, but mine was undercooked--to me--in the middle. The outside was beautiful seared, with crisp corners, and alluded to an excellent fillet overall. However, as I forked off flake after flake and neared the middle, I realized it was rare on the inside. The menu didn't indicate that this would be the method of cooking, nor was I asked how I'd like my salmon cooked.

The Parmesan polenta was the best part of the dish, and was truly delicious.

For dessert, my husband and I ordered the toffee cheesecake from the seasonal menu. Our friends ordered the carrot cake and the crème brûlée. The latter is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and based on what I could see, it was definitely master-level. The custard is made with Madagascar vanilla and topped with turbinado cane sugar.

The carrot cake was four layers of substantial cake, with visible shreds of real carrot (you'd think this would be fundamental to carrot cake, but you'd be surprised how many places omit the carrot. A key ingredient, no?) and a gorgeous, decadent frosting. The whole thing is drizzled with ginger crème anglaise and sprinkled with toasted macadamia nuts.

Our cheesecake was flecked with toffee bits, surrounding in gloriously smooth, rich cheesecake filling that I suspect was made with mascarpone cheese based on the texture. The gingersnap crust added just the right accompaniment of spice to the rich filling, and of course, everything is better when drizzled with caramel.

My meal was a disappointment, but based on the quality of the other food, from the appetizers to the meals of my companions to the decadent desserts, I am in no way turned off from returning here. In fact, I suspect this will be a go-to place for me and my husband. And the level of excellent customer service we got from Traci cannot be overstated. Traci, if you're reading this, thanks taking good care of us, and we hope to see you soon!

Grade: B+