First Bite

First Bite: Jake's American Grille in Northwest DC

Old photos of Edwin Jablonski, a naval officer and chemical engineer, look down from the walls of his namesake restaurant.
Old photos of Edwin Jablonski, a naval officer and chemical engineer, look down from the walls of his namesake restaurant. (Deb Lindsey)
Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Edwin Jablonski died 25 years ago, but the former Navy officer lives on in a shipshape new restaurant bearing his nickname on the corner of Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW: Jake's American Grille.

Boat-size booths, splashes of sea-blue paint and black-and-white photographs of Jablonski on his tour of duty in World War II add to the nautical look of the latest idea from Gaynor Jablonski. One of the inspiration's grandsons, he's also the owner of the District Restaurant Group, which includes the Ugly Mug on Capitol Hill and District 2 Bar & Grille in upper Glover Park.

The entrepreneur, who hired a chef from the Golden Nugget hotel in Las Vegas, Michael Degginger, calls Jake's "my most ambitious" venture to date and "the one I most want to go on and duplicate," possibly in the suburbs.

His grandfather deserves a tribute. Trained as a chemical engineer, the senior Jablonski was among a handful of men who helped create the precursor to the foam now found in fire extinguishers but used during the war to put out flames onboard ships.

Jake's doesn't stint on eager service or generous portions, although the food in the restaurant's maiden weeks could use some finessing. Cold shredded duck, three outsize cherry tomatoes, underdressed greens and plantain chips make for a clumsy starter, and a rib-eye over-rubbed with cayenne, ground espresso, pepper and cumin just slaps the tongue silly. Offered as a "steak," squid is deeply striped from the grill and displayed as a fan of slices over a salad of black beans. The appetizer passes muster, more or less. Degginger's crab cake is decent, and I appreciate the accompanying crisp green beans but not the sweet potato mash, so saccharine the scoop could qualify as pie filling.

Jablonski says he has sunk $500,000 into the setting thus far, and it's clear he's eager to please the neighborhood when he describes his plans this spring to open an outdoor patio and an underground playground - dubbed the Boiler Room - with arcade games, foosball and a pool table to amuse customers of all ages.

I hope he upgrades the chow in the process.

5018 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-966-5253. Lunch entrees, $11 to $19; dinner entrees, $14 to $29.

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