Good luck getting a table at JW this weekend. You can call, but the restaurant will be sold out. Such is life for the tiny 30-seat restaurant that opened March 4 on Harborview Drive.
What makes it the hottest seat in town? JW offers refined entrées for less than $20, has a restaurant owner with a name recognizable in foodie circles and touts an inviting comfort spin on upscale American dining. I smell a win.
Jason Winniford is the JW behind the restaurant. Locals who follow restaurant happenings will recognize Winniford as the former general manager of Gig Harbor’s Brix 25.
Winniford has created a homey and memorable space – I’d characterize it as funky lodge meets cozy cottage with a wash of warmth and a truly welcoming vibe. While the restaurant is interesting looking, the awkwardly shaped dining areas cram too many diners into such a small area. Privacy you won’t find, but the experience at JW is meant to be convivial, not romantic. (Note: minors are not allowed.) The high-top tables for two in the lobby area won’t be the most coveted seats in the dining room, but they do yield a view of the open kitchen.
A visit starts with a complimentary sip of wine, the same sort of hospitality diners find at Brix 25, where Winniford spent much of his early restaurant tenure from 2006 to 2010. Service throughout my single visit was effortless, fluid and welcoming. I barely noticed when wine was poured, plates cleared and crumbs brushed from the table. This report is a first-bite analysis, and our standard is not to be overly critical of a restaurant in its first month of operation. That being said, I was impressed. Rarely have I visited a brand-new restaurant and experienced such gracious, effervescent hospitality, courtesy of Winniford’s extended family. Father Joe and stepmother Karen are majority owners in the restaurant, and both act as greeters and hosts. Winniford’s brothers Jarett and Claude also work at the restaurant.
The menu is American comfort-eating brushed with sophisticated strokes. The palate is meat and potatoes with colorful, curious twists. I asked Winniford via email about his approach to the menu, which he designed with JW Chef Justin Goodfellow, and he described the menu as, “Super good home-cooked meals for great value. We wanted to come up with something catchy that described our food but also didn’t make us sound like a roadside diner. We came up with, ‘creative comfort cuisine.’ ”
Creative comfort cuisine translates into a super small menu. Five entrees, three salads, four appetizer choices make for niche cooking. Said Winniford via email, “We like having our menu small because we believe this allows our kitchen team to source the absolute best ingredients for those items. We also believe that a smaller menu allows our kitchen team to make those items exceptionally well. I’d rather have a menu of five items prepared exceptional than 12-15 items done mediocre.” The menu will change monthly, but diner favorites will remain. Nightly specials keeps the menu fresh.
My party sampled three out of five entrees on our visit, and they universally were good, except for one problem: they were tepid. It was a consistent problem and one I thought worth asking Winniford about. His response: a venting hood was blowing cold air on the food. They’ve since fixed the problem, he said.
A starter of charbroiled pizza ($9) chewed more like flatbread than pizza dough (in fact, Winniford said, the foundation was flatbread, not pizza dough). Sweet morsels of crab shared sparse space with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Melted Swiss filled in the gaps. I liked that the toppings didn’t overwhelm.
Sautéed clams ($12) stole the starters show with thick wedges of Portuguese sausage and a basil-garlic spiked broth that was boozy good, courtesy of British pale ale from Gig Harbor’s 7Seas Brewing. Note to kitchen: You let a few gritty clams get past you.
Seared scallops ($20) proved the delight of the night – sweet and plump, seared with a beautiful crust, but wonderfully unctuous inside, sharing plate space with a sweet and punchy roasted red pepper Romesco sauce. Creamy, perfectly al dente risotto blew away the poorly trimmed green beans that also came with the entrée.
The same green bean problem showed up with the tri tip steak ($18), which was set atop a mound of buttery potatoes with just a touch of chunk left in them. The tri tip was pure to that cut of meat’s beefy prowess: I’m a fan.
Boar bourguignon ($17) was a curious twist on the traditional beef and red-wine stew. This version was plated prettily, large in portion and paired with a crispy-around-the-edges fried polenta cake that broke pleasingly soft on the palate. Meaty nuggets of slow-cooked boar were slightly chewy (but not overwhelmingly so), the nutty, gamey flavor of boar nicely opposed the sharp cabernet-port sauce.
A cheesecake for dessert ($6) would have been better had it been fully cooked and set in the center. Crème brulee ($5) was about as perfect a version as I’ve ever tasted, and not too sweet, either. I’ll be back for the tuxedo torte.
Where: 4107 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
Note: Make reservations.
Also: JW is a 21-and-older-only restaurant.
No minors are allowed.