Note: This is a review of Jo’s under chef Colin Kruzik, who was fired in June 2010. Chef Andrew Pressler eventually replaced him. Click here for a review of the food under Chef Pressler. The restaurant closed in May 2013.
Out of failure comes a second chance. Most restaurants we’re visiting these days are in spaces formerly occupied by other restaurants.
That’s the story at Jo’s, which opened in May in the former Tasting Room space. The earlier failure there was one of the sadder stories we’ve seen. Colin Alevras had a cult hit in the East Village, but it didn’t scale up to a NoLIta space that was triple the size.
Jo’s has humbler ambitions. The website describes it as “casual, neighborhood dining at great prices.” The food is better than we expected, but unlike the Tasting Room, Jo’s isn’t a destination, and apparently doesn’t aspire to be.
If you remember the Tasting Room, the new space won’t make you forget it. A couple of partitions, some modest wall hangings, and a new bartop have been added, but the Tasting Room’s old sliding barn door and exposed brick walls remain.
With $9 cocktails, $4–6 beers, wines by the glass mostly $9–11, and a happy hour every night from 5–8pm, there is a clear emphasis on the bar trade. So far it seems to be working, as we found the space full on a Friday evening. We were delighted by those cocktail prices until we tasted a couple of them. We found them far too sweet and syruppy.
The dining room was not full, but if a few of those bar patrons can be persuaded to stick around, they’ll find it worth their while. Appetizers are mostly $9–12, entrées $15–25. Several of the entrées are listed with two prices, “old school” or “à la carte” (sans vegetables) for $5 less. Side dishes, not coincidentally, are $5 apiece.
Chef Colin Kruzik (a veteran of James, Maremma, Nobu 57, and Bouley) works in a solid American comfort-food idiom. We encountered nothing adventurous, but within its narrow ambitions, enjoyed all of it.
A selection of Cured Meats ($11) was just fine, but we were even more impressed with Crispy Pork Ribs ($11), in a garlic glaze with shiso and peanuts. The meat fell off the bone, and the sauce was just right. I would go back just for those.
Is chicken the acid test for a competent chef? If it is, then this chef passed. I loved the Free Range Chicken ($19) with wilted baby spinach. Shell Steak au poivre ($25) was at the level you would expect of a good neighborhood place.
Service was attentive and polished, but we would have liked a place to hang our coats and bags, as there was little room for them in our booth. We thought the food came out at a reasonable pace, but the concerned kitchen comped a bowl of excellent gougères (photo above) while we waited.
It’s hard to walk in here without remembering the Tasting Room, but Jo’s is probably a better fit for the space. We sampled only a few dishes, but we’ll bet that the chef who made that chicken can nail the rest of the menu too.
Jo’s (264 Elizabeth Street, south of Houston Street, NoLIta)