Dining Outside at Jaks
With its chic, muted sandstone colors, the new Jaks at the Santa Clara Square Marketplace doesn’t announce itself conspicuously as an Indian restaurant.
Which is just what owner Michael Agnel intended.
The former general manager of Arka in Sunnyvale and operations manager at Sakoon in Mountain View, Agnel explains that he wanted to attract diners not only craving modern Indian cuisine, but ones who desired an elegant, upscale experience overall — no matter the food’s provenance.
To that end, he hired Mumbai-born Chef Prakash Singh to take regional Indian specialties and make them his own. Agnel also designed the extensive beverage program that includes the Peg Gastropub Bar inside the restaurant that sports a revolving 12 microbrewery selections on tap. A daily Happy Hour, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., features specially priced beers and cocktails.
The bar also boasts a sizeable selection of Japanese whiskies, tequila, and mezcal, not to mention a wine list that includes a 2018 Joseph Phelps Insignia for $450 and a 2018 Hundred Acre Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for $650 for big spenders.
It took more than 2 years for the restaurant to come to fruition, including completing a build-out in a brand-new space and weathering supply-chain issues during the pandemic.
Jaks, a name that Agnel chose because it’s short and catchy, has a sizeable outdoor dining space at its entrance, which is where I dined last week when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
With a permanent roof, the space is outfitted with half glass walls on three sides that are equipped with motorized screens that can descend at the touch of a button if it gets chilly or a rain storm hits. There are also overhead heaters to keep things comfortable.
For a taste of autumn, try the Ciao Bella ($14), a boozy, apple cider-like cocktail of vodka, the floral-bergamot-citrus Italicus Rosolia de Bergamatto liqueur, apple spice, and lime. Adorned with a striking edible spiral garnish, it’s definitely made for those who enjoy their cocktails on the sweeter side.
The presentations here are all lovely, and the food overall relatively mild in heat.
The Karuveppilai chicken fry ($18) are tender, boneless pieces of chicken dredged in peppery spices, then fried, and garnished with fried curry leaves and chili-spiked podi aioli.
I can never resist the chaat known as puri or gol hai gappa ($13). The delicate, crisp, hollow spheres are filled with sprouts, spiced potatoes, pomegranate arils, and fried chickpea flour balls. Pour a little of the mango and mint jaljeera into it, then pop the whole thing into your mouth for a refreshing gush of tang and spice.
The baked roti pe boti ($28) is like a lamb pot pie, only made with flaky layers of roti enfolding a generous amount of meaty lamb chunks heady with cardamom.
One of Jaks signature dishes is the Awahdi Murdi dum biryani ($28) that arrives with a flourish in a casserole encased in unleavened flatbread speckled with fennel seeds. Poke a hole into it to find fluffy basmati rice fragrant with saffron and studded with almonds and big chunks of chicken. Spoon some of the accompanying cool raita on the deeply poultry-infused rice for the perfect bite. And don’t forget to enjoy the flatbread topper, as it’s entirely edible.
Dig down to find the smoky, grilled chicken in a pool of rich, creamy, tomato sauce in the classic butter chicken ($27). Steamed rice or rosemary-garlic parotta ($5) with its ribboned layers is the perfect accompaniment to dunk into all that lush, thick, buttery sauce punctuated with sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes.
For dessert, there is Aamras shrikhand ($12), a Bombay treat that’s updated into a fanciful, fried whole wheat and semolina tart shell that’s crunchy, sticky and sweet from a drenching of honey and sugar syrup. Its sweetness is tempered by the subtle tanginess of the creamy mango-yogurt filling flavored with cardamom, then topped with chopped pistachios.
Jaks joins the growing list of more contemporary Indian establishments, including Rooh and Ettan, both in Palo Alto, adding greater gusto and variety to the Silicon Valley dining scene.