It’s Mardi Gras, so naturally there’s masks and beads waiting for us when we get to Jax Fish House. While we weren’t there to indulge in the Mardi Gras madness and crawfish boil, we were there to get down and dirty with our seafood selection, courtesy of chef Rob Monahan.
March is Oyster Month at the popular local chain, and if you haven’t gone, go. They have high quality oysters available in different variations. I love the grey, raw slimy aphrodisiac with a bit of smoky scotch. Sparkling or white wines are the favorite pairing, but there’s something about the smoky, briny combination that not only feels indulgent, but balanced as well. So while our incredible server started our night with sparkling, we quickly switched over.
Oysters have a “dreadful but exciting” life. The delicate mollusk takes 18 to 24 months until an oyster has ruminated in the rushing waters, soaked up the salt and brine and grown big enough to eat. We look at a stunning plate of oysters now before us, each one shining, brimming with flavor of the sea, beautifully shucked and cleaned. Gorgeously clean. The variations of grey, black, and white ridges on the shell apparent.
We sampled all of the varieties offered during our visit (they rotate based on availability). We started with strange and delicious East Coast European Flat oysters. All of the oysters were fresh and delicious, the Fannie Bay oysters a delicate and creamy West Coast oyster, which Chef paired beautifully with the sake-infused creme fraiche and kombo sauce, Russian style.
The Emersum, bred just for Jax, is the oyster you will convert your friends on: salty, just a hint of sweetness and a smooth texture – a taste you feel as the gelatinous marble rolls down your throat. It goes great with their grapefruit and jalapeño mignonette. What I appreciated is they let the oyster be. I got to choose my topping, which for the most part, isn’t necessary. Too often in Boulder I’ve had an oyster special that’s overdone.
The European Flat was the highlight for us. A must try if you’re an oyster lover. It’s complex – a bit of salty, briny umami flavor with a rich and creamy texture followed by a metallic, brassy finish. Take a sip of scotch, and it melts away the metal and brings out the complexity.
Because it’s oyster month, I had to try their cooked oysters. These were fresh, each treated to its own speciality of flavors. My favorite – the spicy housemade kimchi with Sriracha aioli, fresh green onion and trout roe. The classic oysters Rockefeller were handled expertly and although I didn’t care for it all that much, you have to respect a chef who knows to showcase by keeping it simple.
Chef has an inclination toward Asian influenced flavors that sets the Boulder Jax location apart. I’ve eaten at other Jax restaurants, but have not had some of the complexities and intrigue I get when dining here. Mostly, I’m talking about the mussels. I’m always going to order mussels when I see them on the menu. We ended our night with the curry flavored mussels with rice and cabbage (and bread). Divine. I look for chefs that push boundaries, because so often food can become homogeneous. Jax Boulder is doing something different. It’s in all of the personal touches, sometimes screaming, sometimes singing you a soft, whispered melody.
We also tried a few of the classic Jax dishes: calamari and spicy tuna. While the calamari for me was just ok, the mango mojo sauce and cilantro aioli that accompanies it are beautiful. I love spicy food, so the spice in the mojo was excellent, perfect with a fried piece of squid, which for me could have been a bit more tender. The cilantro aioli was bright and added a nice earthy balance to the acidic spiced mojo. The spicy tuna was the standout. It soaked in the white ponzu but managed to keep its firm crispy rice base.
Oyster Month runs through the end of March with 10 cents donated to First Decents for every Emersum oyster shucked during the month. Not that you need a month to celebrate one of the finest foods in the sea, but it prepares you for what’s to come: a mother shucking oyster festival.
High West Oyster Fest begins at 6 p.m. on April 3 at the EXDO Event Center in Denver. Tickets are $45 and include the oyster eating competition, Fresh-shucked Emersum oysters from Jax, the oyster shucking competition, live NOLA funk and more. For those who don’t want to worry about transport, Jax has a bus to show leaving from Boulder.