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Jennifer James: Back to Basics

By Susan Stiger
Of the Journal
      If I didn't have plans tonight, I'd head straight to Jennifer James 101 for dinner. The new restaurant at 4605 Menaul NE, between San Mateo and Washington in On Street Plaza, seats only 40 people, so let's pace ourselves. And make reservations.
    On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, James, and partners, Kelly Burton, her sister, and Nelle Bauer, are offering a community table for eight people at 6 p.m. Everything comes family style for $35 each, which includes drinks.
    James, Burton and Bauer are also partners, along with others, at Chef du Jour.
    “The 101 stands for us going back to the basics with just exceptional, consistent food, nothing crazy going on. No crazy combos, no fusion, just straight, simple, clean food,” James said. “And it refers to constantly educating ourselves in the business. We want to do that for our customers as well.”
    James, Burton and Bauer are planning to change their menu often, according to season and the availability of local products. Count on specials every night, with beer and wine available. Here are a few menu items that sang to me from the page: green goddess dressing; pissaladiere (sweet onion tart with niçoise olives and anchovies), flash-fried oysters, grilled tuna with roasted beets, schmaltz-roasted potatoes (I have no idea, but don't they sound good?), garbanzo cakes, grilled New York strip with potato gratin, and prosciutto-wrapped halibut with crisp risotto cake. There's more; the rest carried the harmony. Entrees will range from $16 to $28.
    No lunch for now, although the women could be persuaded to provide a private lunch for your party if you have at least 12 people. Surely you can come up with 11 friends. Or you could throw a private dinner party.
    Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Call 884-3860 to make those reservations. No surprises of 100 people showing up all at once with no reservations, please. I don't want Jennifer coming after me wielding a New York strip. Unless it's medium rare.
    MICHE CHANGES: You know how you hate change, so please be brave. Le Cafe Miche owners Claus and Linda Hjortkjaer are selling their restaurant after 12 years running the sunny, white-tablecloth gem at 1431 Wyoming NE.
    But everything will be all right. Their executive chef of four years, John Salazar, is buying it. Exhale, you're turning blue. If you've never been to Le Cafe Miche, it's time you partook of some French country cuisine, whether it's a special occasion or you're just hungry.
    The Hjortkjaers bought Le Cafe Miche 12 years ago from Mogens Hansen, a truly great Dane, and transformed it from a little nine-table cafe with terrific food to a fine dining spot seating 90, with terrific food.
    If you've had enough coffee, you may notice that Mogens Hansen, Claus and Linda Hjortkjaer and John Salazar are not French names. Is this a problem? Try the food. Just because you weren't born in France doesn't mean you can't cook French. At least that's what Julia Child said.
    The Hjortkjaers served their last meal May 31 and then closed the restaurant for a week. Call 299-6088 for more information or reservations.
    NEW HOME FOR THE RANGE: If you go to the Range on Wyoming during peak hours, you end up standing in line next to the big, hairy stuffed bear inside the door. He's not a bad guy really, a bit rough around the edges for a maitre d'. Rather than fire the bear and get a human to do the job, Range owners Matt DiGregory and Tom Fenton have decided to move the restaurant to bigger quarters and maybe avoid the lines all together.
    Their current space, tucked into a plaza at 4200 Wyoming NE, seats 125 to 140 and has limited parking. The new space, the former Carrow's across the street at 4401 Wyoming NE, will seat closer to 200, including patio space. More parking, easier entry and exit, same menu and same whimsy to feed the imagination. In fact, Roger Evans, the Range's 3-D art man, is working on a huge mural of cows with propellers flying off the wall. As with the other locations, Ben Forgey will paint the table tops; Laura Robbins will create a tile mosaic for the fireplace. Look for the old location to close toward the end of the month, followed by a three- to four-day downtime and a reopening across the street the first week of July. Don't look for a grand opening.
    “If we get it open, it will be grand,” DiGregory said. “We've never done a grand opening. We just open the doors and fly by the seat of our pants.”
    The Range will hire bakers, line cooks, hostesses, cashiers, servers and bussers. Evidently, the bear will keep his maitre d' job. For more information, call 293-2633 and ask for the manager on duty or go to the current location at 4200 Wyoming NE.