When "celebrity chef" is used to promote a new restaurant, warning bells jangle. Most places fronted by TV-famous cooks are disasters, lowlighted by shitty food and prices only an accountant could love. If Chef Bigshot ever drops in, he or she might need to ask directions to the kitchen. I wasn't thrilled at last fall's announcement that San Francisco chef and food TV star Chris Cosentino would be opening a hotel restaurant downtown called Jackrabbit with local bike buddy Chris DiMinno, formerly of Clyde Common.
Over the six-month run up to Jackrabbit's late-spring opening, the gregarious Cosentino hopped into Portland on a surprisingly regular basis, always insisting he would be a hands-on operator even if he wasn't around day-to-day. I didn't believe he'd actually be in Portland all that much, but after a half-dozen visits since opening, it's apparent Cosentino has kept a sharp eye and deft hand on this restaurant. Jackrabbit has exceeded my expectations.
Early accounts had me thinking the dining room would resemble an entrail-splattered abattoir floor. Though Cosentino's celebrity derives partly from his facility with offal, describing Jackrabbit as gut-centric is a little unfair given the menu's broad range. Sure, it's meaty, but it's also in a hotel lobby. Cosentino and his business brain Oliver Wharton are savvy enough to understand that most tourists and expense account types want steak, not pork bung.
Naturally, the highlight at dinner is a chunk of beef. It's splashy in both price and presentation: For $120, you get a "pin bone steak," essentially a steroidal Porterhouse sliced from the bone à la Peter Luger and served on a massive slab of wood with roasted fingerling potatoes and seasonal vegetables. It'll feed four average humans at that price. While a few slices of our medium-rare pin bone crept beyond medium, we found solace dunking the meat—and everything else on the table—in the accompanying saucepan full of manna-like melted bone marrow, seasoned simply with salt and garlic slices.
The biggest star on the menu is easily overlooked: The humble "House Potatoes" ($7 lunch/$8 dinner) are a big bowl of skin-on Yukon Golds that have been boiled, coarsely shredded into chunks and bits of all sizes, then deep-fried to a divine, crunchy, greaseless golden brown and augmented with smoked aioli. I knew it was a winner when my vegan buddy couldn't keep his hands out of the bowl. (Luckily, the potatoes turned out to be vegan.)
A whole greens-stuffed trout ($30) was fine at another dinner, a gooey Taleggio grilled cheese sandwich with duck egg and honey ($14) made for a satisfying lunch, and the shmaltz-enriched deviled eggs are pure ovoid ecstasy. We also wolfed down an order of pappardelle ($25) in which the lamb sugo with pickled peppers and goat cheese starred, and my boozer buddies were very excited about Jackrabbit's big gin collection.
There are only a few things to complain about. The too-clever-by-half "Around The World in 8 Hams" touches only two continents and at $25 is a bit of a gouge. The "Lettuces & Herbs" salad ($10/$11) is a smattering of leaves dressed lightly with an uninspired lemon vinaigrette. And the beef heart tartare ($16) is an egregious misuse of a delightfully un-organ-y tasting organ.
You may also want to avoid the main dining area's packed, too-wide tables, which require conversation partners to shout. Opt instead for the darker, more intimate and comfortable back dining room. Wherever you sit, know that pig's heads and other such oddments can be delicious, but they're not for everyone. If Chef Cosentino is in the house—and he might be—take it up with him.
EAT: 830 SW Sixth Ave (in The Duniway hotel), gojackrabbitgo.com, 503-412-1800; Breakfast Monday-Friday 7-10 am, Brunch Saturday-Sunday 8 am-2 pm, Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 am-2 pm, Dinner and Late Night Sunday-Thursday 5-11 pm and Friday-Saturday 5-11:30 pm.