Saturday Sep 26, 2009
Jilly’s was an unexpected surprise. Angel came across it while surfing the interwebs looking for restaurants. We had never heard of it and knew no one that had ever eaten there, so our expectations were minimal.
The directions said ‘behind the Quick Trip”, and sure enough it was. The parking lot was ample and only moderately filled. To the left of the main entrance was another entrance this to the bar and dance floor. (live music on many nights) To the right was something altogether different from the bar/steakhouse we had imagined. The dining area was upscale, dark paneling up to the chair rail, then rich, tasteful and demure textured wall covering to the ceilings. Dark hardwood floors added even more warmth and unexpected classiness. Centered by a large sunken dining section the surrounding booths were tucked into roomy enclosures, wood paneled floor to ceiling. Soft individual lighting made the booths very inviting and intimate.
Upon entry there was a distraction, a life-sized butler or waiter that quivered mechanically as you passed by it. Not as tacky as “Billy Bass” but just as unnecessary and kitschy.
The restaurant was very well staffed, clean white shirted young people dashing back and fourth going about their duties were everywhere. Aside from one young man spinning, tossing and catching a menu they were not a distraction and seemed to be both satisfied with and serious about their tasks.
The music in the air was soft and unexpected. Rather than fancy restaurant elevator fare or steakhouse country, or the perfectly harmless generic vintage rock played at many family chains, the music was traditional blues; a rather welcome and refreshing touch.
We were seated in a booth by the hostess and immediately served with water, in glasses.
We were told our server’s name and that he would be by shortly. He was. Clean, friendly, serious and apron clad he greeted us and told us about the evening’s specials as he handed out the menus.
The menus were well sized and not complicated. There were several items, but not too many. Of course there was steak. There was also a generous compliment of sandwiches, pastas, chicken etc. Adam, our rather picky adult son, quickly found something in the chicken category. Angel decided on the 12 Ounce Sirloin with Cabernet Butter Sauce with a Mushroom Risotto and Onion Scoops. I wanted steak as well, but since Angel already covered that, and this quest is all about branching out and exploring, I instead chose the Crab Encrusted Salmon with Seasoned Green Beans and Boursin Whipped Potatoes.
Drinks were ordered and delivered promptly. Two ice teas and a Coke. I noticed and remarked that the coke and tea were served in plastic tumblers whereas the water had been served in nice glasses. My family told me to shut up and stop nit picking. In my mind any ‘Café’ or steakhouse that distributes fancily folded napkins, should not serve drinks in plastic tumblers. I expect them at Denny’s or Ruby Tuesdays, but menu prices at Jilly’s were quite higher than those chains for similar offerings.
The tea itself was unremarkable. It wasn’t bad, just not memorable. I mention this because tea can easily be exceptional. Usually though it is not.
Next came the basket of rolls. The rolls we were served were pretty typical. I wish I could tell you what kind they were. We detected a possible poppy seed taste, maybe not. We asked the server what kind they were; he struggled for a moment and responded “whole wheat” as if his answer were really a question. I really don’t think they were whole wheat.
Even better than the mystery rolls was the whipped walnut butter served with them. If there were any left Angel planned to take it home. I’m not a fan of nuts as an ingredient in anything, but Angel and Adam made such a fuss about it that I am sure it was top-notch and woth mentioning.
The Salmon was large, eight ounces, about three ounces larger than it really needed to be. Better too much than not enough I suppose. The crab paste encrusting it was awesome good, the lemon butter sauce equally delightful. Most of the salmon was perfectly cooked, but since the filet was so large and not of consistent thickness, the doneness was a little uneven. The part that was a bit overcooked was rather small, so in all it was very, very good. I’m just saying, had it been a little smaller and more consistently thick it would have likely been perfect. I still highly recommend this dish though. The crust and the sauce more than overcame any defects.
Angel and I tasted each other’s meals and decided that one was very much as good as the other. Angel declared her steak the best she had ever had. The risotto was another story. She’s only had risotto a few times and has yet to find any she really liked. I tasted it and found it way too mushroomy. Risotto is a rice dish cooked slow and with a technique that forces an infusion of the flavors of whatever it is cooked with. It has to be done carefully. Risotto essentially amplifies flavors by concentrating them into the rice during the slow cooking process. My taste of it was far too strong where more subtlety would have been preferred in a side dish.
The Service, etc.
The service was pretty good, not exceptional. The wait for the check was a bit longer than it could have been, our server was pretty much nowhere to be found for several minutes. More attentive wait staff/supervision would have noticed the fidgeting and looking around of this table a bit sooner. That and his unfamiliarity of the rolls kept our tip down to the lower end of the appropriate scale.
The criticisms listed are really quite modest. In all I’d give the experience a ninety out of a possible hundred. Certainly a high B, almost an A. We decided that yes, we could recommend it and would go back ourselves. The dinner cost us seventy dollars including tip, about thirty percent more than we would pay at a family chain, however the selection and quality of the food was for the most part exceptional. If Jilly’s can get over it’s minor identity crisis, use actual glassware and dump the silly fidgety faux-waiter it might more easily match its prices and fine food offerings and overall near-elegant ambience. Details, details, details.
*Several minutes after the meal I noticed an aftertaste. Something was too salty, perhaps the potatoes, I don’t recall noticing it so much as I was dining, but there was a definite lingering saltiness later.
Seldom asked questions: (SAQ's)
Where is High Ridge?
High Ridge is not a big town, 2000 census data shows 4236 persons. It lies in north – central Jefferson County, not far at all from suburban St. Louis County. If I lived in High Ridge instead of Hillsboro I could easily shave about twenty minutes off of my commute. Should we decide to relocate for convenience it is one of the small towns we would definitely consider.
That it is a small town is evident from every angle. It’s proximity to St. Louis is evident in a few places, apartment complexes, etc. but for the most part it is just a small town, convenience stores and towing services dominate the billboards. Fenton, one of St Louis County’s large and southernmost suburbs is a mere seven miles up highway 30 (Gravois). Fenton has all the stores and restaurants you are thinking about.