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+

Tasty Omaha: Della Costa

The Midtown Brix location was a much-loved and often-visited spot for me and my husband. Typical date nights included dinner and a movie at Midtown Cinema, followed by dessert at Delice. All of this was preceded by a glass of wine and a niblet or two at Brix. 

When Brix closed its doors early this year, we were crushed. Not only did we enjoy the seemingly endless array of wine, but the closing meant no more date-night kickoffs in Midtown. No more summer nights sitting out on the patio overlooking the ritzy area while drinking sangria. No more sitting close to the fireplace with a bottle of Italian Cabernet Sauvignon. We were all, “What the hell, man?” 

Then murmurings of a new restaurant to take its place began. The buzz grew louder over the spring, and finally, the doors reopened. The restaurant is Della Costa, a Mediterranean/Italian fusion restaurant with a special seaside emphasis. 

I grew more curious to check the place out, especially after learning that half of it was to be a bakery. Given the excellent location and space, Della Costa had big shoes to fill. 

I went with my husband and my parents near the end of July. I made reservations through Yelp (I’m probably late to the party per usual, but that’s a thing now–super convenient) for an early evening time. We were given a nice table next to the window that overlooks Farnam Street.

We began by ordering glasses of their sangria–two red, two white. 

The red was luscious, rich, and sweet, bursting with fruit flavor. A triumph, if you’re a fan of red sangria. The white was my favorite, however. Less sweet, with a dry bite to the wine reminiscent of Chardonnay, and the peach slices perform triple-duty–elegantly simple garnish, a subtle fruity essence, and a hint of sweetness. 

The menu is divided into sections, with emphasis on small bites in the form of amuse-bouche (single bite-size appetizers), crudo (raw fish small bites), preferiti (larger than amuse-bouche, tapas-style), soups and salads, mano alla boca (sandwiches), piattini (small entree-style plates), pasta, and piatti (larger entrees). The menu can be rather overwhelming at first glance, but our helpful server explained everything in detail and answered all of our questions. 

We started with some selections from the amuse portion of the menu: chile-lime peanuts, focaccia, and hummus. 

My dad is a peanut-monster. Therefore, I was not able to capture a photo, but I was assured they were “delicious.” 

The hummus was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. There’s a delicate balance that must be struck with the perfect hummus (which I personally have not been able to find in my own cooking). It can’t be too dry and crumbly, yet it can’t be overly moist. It must have enough garlic for flavor, but too much is overpowering. It has to retain enough chickpea flavor to be recognizable, yet not so much the other flavors are lost. Della Costa has found and nailed that balance. The accompanying slices of pita are house-made and more tortilla-like than in accustomed to, but lacks nothing in flavor. 

The focaccia was easily my favorite selection here. I know. “Meredith loves bread? OMG, THAT IS BRAND-NEW INFORMATION.” Hear me out, though. This focaccia is glorious–fluffy, buttery, with a hint of salt on the outer crust that’s been baked to a perfect golden brown. It comes with olive oil and an herbed butter made in house that, combined with the bread, makes me want to give up all dietary carb-control for the rest of my life (as well as any other necessary life-sustaining nutrients) and subsist solely on this. It is, I repeat, one of the finest things upon which you will ever nosh. If you eat nothing else at Della Costa, go there for that. I mean it. Run, don’t walk. So I can trip you and beat you to the bread so I can eat it all. 

We ordered a bottle of red wine, because you can’t go out to eat with Lori Ma (my mom) without doing so. It’s a family law. I am no wine connoisseur, so I can’t speak about the notes and such. It was just plain good. If you like cabs, you’ll like this. Boom. 

For the main course, we all agreed to order something different. I went with a relatively basic pasta dish compared to the rest of the menu. I like to see how restaurant do the basics, sometimes, so I selected the Fettuccine Tre Colore. As the name suggests, it’s fettuccine pasta already tossed in a pecorino cream sauce, and comes with a roasted garlic-tomato sauce and a pesto sauce. 

I was a little surprised at the presentation–much simpler than I was expecting. The amount of pasta I received was smaller than what you typically receive in a restaurant setting. That said, it was actually the perfect individual amount, and was generous even then. I could have finished it all in one sitting, but (based on the amount of bread I had already eaten), I opted to eat about two-thirds of it and take the rest home. I added in all of the tomato sauce from the bowl and all of the pesto from the little dollop on the presentation plate. I could have used more pesto. Always give more pesto. 

They do simple well. The noodles were the perfect al dente. They weren’t drowning in sauce, but there was enough of the pecorino cream to cling to and coat each noodle. The sauce itself was, again, that perfect balance of creamy, savory, and flavorful. The tomato sauce was good; however, it was pretty basic, so it was underwhelming. I’m not sure I understand the logic of putting a bowl of it next to the pasta rather than drizzling it into the pasta. The presentation there had me scratching my head. The pesto was also delicious, but there was so little of it that it was lost when I mixed it into my bowl of noodles. I suppose if one was going for the true “tre colore” experience, you’d have to dunk and dip rather than combine. Overall, though, it was enjoyable. 

My mom got the pan-seated corvina, which arrives in a bed of sweet potato-chèvre purée and a side of broccolini.

Dad got the Bucatini Putanesca–grilled, fennel-seasoned sausage, anchovies, capers, kalamata olives, and fire-roasted tomatoes make up the decadent sauce. 

My husband got the grilled ribeye, with a delicious bordelaise, and sides of the sweet potato-chèvre purée and broccolini.

A note on the purée: if you love chèvre, and sweet potato, this is for you. I’m not a huge chèvre fan, by which I mean I can’t stand it. The sweet potato flavor, though, is balanced nicely with the chèvre (Della Costa has the balance thing down) and the texture–the only thing I like about chèvre–is heavenly. Silky-smooth, light, and fluffy. 

Because no outing would be complete without dessert, we ordered two: cassata flambé and the Morrocan orange cake.

The orange cake is dense, almost as if shortbread and cake had a wild, drunken night together and this was the result of that. It has a beautiful hint of almond to smooth the bright tang of orange. It’s accompanied with a scoop of saffron ice cream (all of the ice creams are made in-house and are available for purchase by the pint–I took home a container of honey lavender shortbread ice cream, and yes, it is in fact the food of the gods) and a meringue crisp, plus a few fresh berries. 

The flambé was a show+dessert, so, winning. ​

Sponge cake is covered with strawberry, chocolate, and hazelnut-turron ice cream, layered in more sponge cake, and coated in meringue. The flambé action happens with a shot of Cointreau, but for a dollar more, you can upgrade to Gran Marnier. Want to guess what we did? 

For all of the glitzy presentation that always comes with flambéed anything, the dessert was underwhelming. Tasty, certainly, but I preferred the orange cake, and wished I would have gone with one of the other offerings on the dessert menu, such as the Crema Catalana, or the pine-nut tart. The combinations of ingredients and flavors in these selections is far more interesting that flaming sponge cake and Neapolitan ice cream. 

Della Costa is owned by Ron Samuelson, who also owns Herbe Sainte in Aksarben Village, and features Chef Jeff Owen, previously of Herbe Sainte. Part of the restaurant, near the bakery side, features retail offerings like pasta, Italian sodas, jarred goods, wine, and more. There’s also a crudo bar, and of course the aforementioned bakery where customers can take home ice cream, too. 

Brix will be missed, certainly, but Della Costa is a delightful new addition to the Midtown restaurant family, and is especially perfect this time of year, when the warm weather makes it easy to pretend you’re enjoying fresh coastal catches and fruity sangria right by the sea. 

Grade: B+