The Capital Hotel
208 Kenmount Rd.
St. John’s, NL
Ph. (709) 739-4480
John “Jack” Steele has given the restaurant named after him, Jack’s, a full-blown makeover. Jack’s has been around for more than a decade so it was time. If only one or two other restaurateurs would give their dining rooms a similar face-lift, instead of the equivalent of lip filler or eye shadow.
Sadly, Jack’s new look didn’t stretch to the menu. Both lunch and dinner cards remain pretty much the same. Take lunch apps for example: fish chowder, French onion soup, soup of the day, spinach artichoke dip. I keep seeing the same kind of appetizers at restaurants inside and outside St. John’s. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a “Groundhog Day” loop. To be fair I’m mainly referring to traditional Newfoundland restaurants where pan-fried cod is sacrosanct and change is less likely than Donald Trump repealing Obamacare.
Jack’s is different. It’s not a strip-mall mom and pop caff. It’s in a busy St. John’s hotel. Jack’s regulars covet a pot sticking fish chowder and mineral scented liver and onions. There’s nothing wrong with keeping them happy; but what about broader culinary goals? We’re in the middle of a food revolution. Supermarkets are bulging with fantastic ingredients, our farmers are growing and producing things – even in St. John’s – that we didn’t think could be produced here a few years ago.
A stylish, contemporary restaurant – that, at least, is Jack’s visual image – should have a fresh, contemporary menu. Embrace change. Develop dishes with flair. Seek ideas from world cuisines to the east, west, north and south. Your sister restaurant, Exile – at JAG – is trying. Capital Hotel guests, tourists and local diners deserve a wider variety of menu options.
Now to Jack’s new face. Very conservative, traditional décor has been tipped over the side in favour of something less vintage. Shades of brown and grey dominate the room. Wall coverings, furniture and dividers featuring a freestyle lattice top give the room a contemporary, half subdued appearance. A vibrant colour injection from abstract paintings would have suited this space nicely. Instead, colour is found in a collection of paintings featuring landscapes, seascapes and fishing villages.
Spouse and I had stopped in for lunch. Jack’s lunch menu is less developed than its dinner version, unless you’re looking for a salad or sandwich – I counted five kinds of each. Of the three soups, I chose the fish chowder and spouse tried the soup of the day, tomato vegetable with beans. I couldn’t bring myself to write about French onion soup again, which, by the way, becomes “Onion Gratinée” on Jack’s dinner menu. I guess menu descriptions must be soigné in the evening, even if the dish is the same.
Jack’s fish chowder was thicker than paint but it tasted very good. A generous amount of fin fish, scallops and shrimp made it a concoction that won’t leave you feeling hungry. Food presentation is one of those important details that separates restaurant cuisine from something scooped onto a plate at home. White chowder in a white bowl on a white plate doesn’t feed the eyes. However, it did manage to strain my retinas. Jack’s chowder would have benefitted visually from a sprinkle of freshly chopped herbs, a drizzle of infused oil, or some other garnish.
Soup du jour
A “soup of the day” can be interesting because it provides a chef with an opportunity to do something different, to be creative – or not. Jack’s tomato vegetable soup was campfire food – tinned tomatoes complemented with roughly chopped root vegetables – no knife skills required – and black beans. It had tang and flavour.
Spouse was hungry for moose and had Jack’s moose burger. Moose and moose burgers seem to be popping up everywhere these days, along with the occasional lamb burger. (Which reminds me, I was once confronted by a live moose during an early morning walk, here in my St. John’s neighbourhood. The moose was as taken aback as I was and reflexively jumped over a garden fence before I could.)
Jack’s burger was juicy and delicious. I had no doubt I was tasting fresh, unadulterated moose. It came loaded with onions and melted cheddar. The fries were overly brown but enjoyable. If you’ve never tried moose, remember, it’s wild game. It has a strong, unusual taste. Some like it and some don’t.
Burgundy beef penne pasta was the best dish ordered. Large, expertly cooked penne was coated in a sauce redolent of red wine and beef. Tender slices of steak hugged the pasta. Grated Parmigiano provided a salty, sharp boost of umami. With a glass of round red this dish will make you feel like you’re in heaven . . . or Italy.
* Good * * Very good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Price Lunch for two with wine, tax and tip costs approximately $80.
Service Warm and friendly.
Atmosphere Low-key, easy on the senses.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Monday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Reservations Accepted and walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards All major.
Parking Hotel’s parking lot.
Beverages Capital Hotel has a separate lounge if you’re looking for a pre- or post-dinner drink in different surroundings. Jack’s offers the usual apéritifs, cocktails, martinis and digestifs. Popular choices dominate the beer and wine lists.
Best bets Fish chowder and Burgundy beef penne.
Wheelchair access Yes.