by Andrew Chalk
With five restaurants, a catering operation, a line of retail food products and nearly 400 employees you might think Kent Rathbun would be long retired to the corner office or the sinecure of a TV program. Not so, he is behind the stoves and facing the culinary questions that a rising Texas economy and a slew of new competitors poses.
Item one last week: unveil the reset the menu at the venerable Jasper’s. The decade-old restaurant that began as an early adopter of The Shops of Legacy (a venue that turned out to become the premier Plano restaurant location) and has expanded to take in north Houston (The Woodlands) and Austin. Further locations are planned so it has to go forward with a menu as attractive as the one it opened with ten years ago.
At a media event last week, Rathbun himself held court while Jasper’s – Plano execuchef Jeff Moschetti delivered a six course meal. Rathbun had wanted to do twelve courses, tapas style, but the marketing folks convinced him to scale back.
Kent Rathbun talks about the new menu, cooking for Julia Childs, and the origins of the lobster shooter signature dish
I asked him about the tightrope he straddled. This restaurant is full (it will do almost 300 covers on that Tuesday) isn’t there a big risk of disappointing regulars with the introduction of a totally made-over menu? He admits that’s it’s a problem but says that a restaurant risks ossifying into irrelevance if it does not keep up with cooking styles and ingredients. He intends to bring his customer base along with the changes and notes, for example, that the Jasper’s clientele has a very adventurous palate when it comes to seafood. He doesn’t feel confined to the sea bass/salmon/lobster/shrimp/scallop liturgy that pervades Dallas restaurants. He will also offer a grass-fed cut of beef on the menu (while keeping the traditional grain-fed steak to meet the traditionalist’s expectations) and offer some parts that used to be considered off-cuts using preparations that bring out their flavor while molifying their toughness (flat iron steak for example).He also notes that many touted ingredients and techniques were in use at Jasper’s before they became “new” (for example, cheesemaking in-house).
Part of what makes the menu is the process. Chefs from all the Rathbun properties converge for menu development sessions at one of the kitchens and those chefs presenting new dishes get blown down in flames or praised to the rafters by their own peers. Rathbun has the final say on what gets tried on the menu.
Here is a photo essay through the new or updated courses that we tried. Moschetti executed them with flair and efficiency. The new menu is available now at all Japser’s locations. If you are a Jasper’s regular the changes should not be too wrenching. If you have not tried Jasper’s, or have not been for some time, it is worth a visit.
Crispy Five Spice Calamari with Sweet Chili Vinaigrette. Rathbun is as tired of rubber squid as I am so he avoids it by cutting the animal in diamonds rather than rings.
Jasper’s Toasted Ricotta Flatbread. Ricotta made in-house
Blistered Shishito Peppers
Tuna x Two. Grilled Tuna Tataki, Tuna Tartare
Thai Green Curry Mussels with Fresh Lime and Micro Herbs. An unusual spin on an old favorite
Pan-seared Bronzini with Parma Ham and Charred Tomato Hollandaise. This european seabass dish is a winner with the sweetness of the hollandaise embalming the fleshy fish]
Cedar-Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Mash, Melted Leeks Butter and Crispy Lemon. Rathbun teases with small quantities of traditional fat-based sauces that have receded from menus in recent years in favor of reductions. Moschetti’s execution leaves no denying their palatal attractiveness and visual presence. The horseradish mash is a simple but memorable piquant touch
Pimenton Rotisserie Chicken with Garden Vegetable Toasted Couscous and Pan Jus
Wood-grilled Pork Tenderloin Filet with Jalapeño-charred Corn and Texas Peach BBQ Sauce. Texas peaches arrived in a nick of time to make this upscale rendition of pork barbecue possible
Hickory-grilled Flat Iron Steak with Roasted Crimini Mushrooms and Cippolini Onion Butter. An updated version of the dish that had a sauce that was steak butter (balsamic red wine butter). Crimini mushrooms are Portabello mushrooms that are still in grade school
Dessert places miniature baked Alaska atop sponge cake