Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


Mini Restaurant Reviews
short takes and editorials

J. James Restaurant

by Robert Rich, December 2006

Travelling through Salem OR on the way north, my wife and I stopped for a late dinner at J. James on a very quiet night. The manager Lenny kept the restaurant open just for us, which earns extra points for effort.

J. James is a large and very classy restaurant with high ceilings and modern soft interior. I can imagine it gets busy with business dinners - it has that sort of vibe.

The menu focuses on fresh seafood, a modern interpretation of American grill with Pacific fusion and French influences. Prices range toward the medium-high side, though not exorbitant with entrees between $20 and $30.

We started our meal with an appetizer that sounded a bit more interesting than the result, a steak and wild mushroom terrine ($9). It consisted of an inverted ramekin of rice with bits of tenderloin and shitake mushrooms, with some parmesan cheese crusted on top. The earthy rich flavors did pair well with the Syrah we brought in with us ($15 corkage.)

My wife ordered a pork loin with a light molasses cure and reduction sauce with fruit overtones ($24). The meat was firm but not dry. I was very impressed with my dish, a fillet mignon ($28) which I requested cooked "blue". This means, a dark sear on the outside and almost raw in the middle. This method exposes both the kitchen's grilling skills and the quality of the meat, which must be very tender. The kitchen nailed it perfectly. I don't eat steak very often, but this tasted exquisite. The wine and mushroom reduction sauce perfectly complemented the simple salt and pepper seasoning, allowing the tender fillet to take center stage.

We tried a glass of locally made Oregon Pinot Noir ($8) which had a smooth tropical fruit profile, hints of strawberry and earth, and paired well with the wild mushroom flavors.

Our dinner bill came to around $90, which placed J. James in the category of mild extravagance. But we enjoyed our meal very much. We don't live in Salem, so it will be difficult to return to J. James on busy nights to see if the service remains as personable as it was this quiet night, when we closed down the restaurant. We look forward to another opportunity when we pass through town again.

J. James
B325 High St SE
Salem, OR 97301
(503) 362-0888

Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 - 2:00 PM
Dinner Mon-Thu 5:30-9:00 PM, Fri, Sat 5:30-10:00 PM