It's hardly the first day on the job for the husband-and-wife team who own it. Kathy Garling, the front of the house, has been working in the industry for over 25 years and Chef Tim Garling has been in the kitchen for over 20. Focusing on fresh, locally produced ingredients whenever possible, the menu is largely a high-minded take on meat and potatoes. And with Garling's classical training in French cuisine coupled with his attention to the flavors of the Pacific Northwest, it makes sense.
The décor is white-tablecloth, but eclectic with a homey feel and a sense of fun. While not overly upscale, the room succeeds in masking its strip mall location and transporting diners to a warm, friendly place where the food is dependably high quality, the wine list is extensive and well-thought-out with many less-expensive options, and the overall dining experience is infused with the affection that the owners very obviously have for their life's work.
Starters ($10-$15) like fresh steamer clams in garlic-tarragon broth and grilled prawns with black beans and a mixed chili sauce sound appealing. But I'd have trouble passing up the award-winning Dungeness Crab Stuffed Mushrooms in garlic butter. They were piping hot, and the seasoning perfectly complemented the flavor of the crab. The Crisp Bib Lettuce salad ($9) was refreshing, and the green goddess dressing was creamy and flavorful but not too heavy. Even the accompanying crouton, a garnish I often ignore, was superb. Far from your average crouton, it was a fresh hunk of bread baked with whole pieces of roasted garlic. Not a crumb was left on the plate.
The relatively short list of main courses ($23-$30) offers only a couple of options that aren't red meat, including mixed seafood pasta with a tomato, white wine, and fresh basil sauce and alder-smoked salmon with a honey-lime chipotle glaze, grapefruit, and rice pilaf. Vegetarians are pretty much out of luck. Fortunately, I'm not one. There are two steak options, rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, or the cheapest option, the Jackalope Kobe beef burger ($15). However, being of Eastern European ancestry, there was no hesitation in ordering the schnitzel. A massive portion of breaded pork cutlet smothered in creamy mushroom gravy and served with string beans, braised red cabbage and a potato pancake with applesauce was like a dream come true for someone of my extraction. Another winner was a special entrée one night but available as an appetizer on the regular menu, medallions of elk in a red wine sauce served with truffle mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables garnished with plump blackberries. It was a perfect embodiment of Garling's palate.
I really would have loved to follow that elk with a mousse, but no one seems to serve mousse anymore. Fortunately, its relative and latter-day favorite on the dessert menu, chocolate pot du crème, was among the options ($7). An unsolicited visit to our table by Chef Garling to inquire how our meal was, followed by glass of port on the house, confirmed what critics and regulars have been saying since Jackalope Grill opened its doors. It's fine dining without pretention, served with a personal touch.
The Jackalope Grill
1245 SE 3rd St. (in the Scandia Plaza), 318-8435. Tues.-Sat., 5 p.m. to close