Note: Jo’s closed in May 2013.
Over three years ago, I wrote a mostly favorable review of Jo’s in NoLIta, which soon became obsolete after the owners fired the chef. The restaurant soldiered on for a couple of years with cooks, but apparently without a named chef, before Andrew Pressler (formerly of the Fatty Crab empire) was appointed executive chef late last year.
The owners recently invited my family and me to pay a return visit. We paid for our drinks, but the food was comped.
The space remains as I described it last time. The bar business is brisk; the cocktails are a strength, and at $11 a bargain by Manhattan standards. The new menu is dotted with Southeast Asian accents, although it’s not as provocative as the “Fatty” menus. But if you like that style, you’ll like this place, and it is less expensive.
On the current online menu, starters (dubbed “small plates”) are $7–16, entrées and house specialties $14–23, side dishes $3.50–6.00, desserts $7.50–11.00.
Our first quartet of dishes was:
1) Mussels with spicy garlic and butter ($12; above left)
2) House-made mushroom and cabbage dumplings ($6; above right)
3) Spicy shrimp with curry ($14; below left)
4) Deep-fried ork ribs ($16; below right)
The ribs were the highlight of this course, as luscious and plump as I’ve had anywhere.
Whole red snapper ($34 for two; above left) with curry and banana was the highlight of the evening, beautifully prepared, and easily separated with no bones to speak of. Shrimp fried rice with chili peppers ($14; above right) had an intense, fiery finish.
Fried chicken with butternut squash ($18; above left) was coated in a memorable plum sauce. Vietnamese Lamb Pho ($12; above right) in fish oil received nods of approval at our table, though I found it less compelling than the other entrées.
Fried chicken & waffle ice cream with maple syrup ($9; above left) is one of those gimmick desserts you have to order, but it really didn’t need shards of fried chicken skin protruding at odd angles. Peanut butter s’mores ($7.50; above right) is a much raved-about dessert, and deservedly so: a must-order.
Lime panna cotta with coconut (above left; not on current published menu) was a bit rubbery, but there were no complaints with a simple bowl of three house-made ice creams ($7.50; above right).
I’ve listed the prices above, where the items correspond to the current on-line menu. At the current rates, and compared to similar places, the food struck us as very good, with perhaps just one or two items slightly disappointing, among the dozen we tried. The chicken, the fish, the fried ribs, the fried rice, and the peanut butter s’mores are all highly recommended.
It’s hard to re-launch a restaurant under the same name: to the critics, it’s not considered a novelty. If you haven’t been to Jo’s lately, you haven’t been to Jo’s. I’m a big fan of the “Fatty Crab” style of cooking; I know it’s not for everyone. If you like the style—you know who you are—Jo’s is worth a try.
Jo’s (264 Elizabeth Street, south of Houston Street, NoLIta)