Restaurant Review: Jefe, Lake Oswego, OR

Jefe is a Mexican-style-inspired restaurant in Lake Oswego, just south of Portland, OR. This is Mr. Moon's new job, and in support of their "soft opening"*, I went with one of our Boy Scout buddies and my Blog Buddy from (with her aforementioned twins and her hubby who is Mr. Moon's childhood best friend).

* A "soft opening" is when a restaurant opens their doors for the first time, but doesn't announce it. It usually means that they'll get a few tables in, usually family and friends of the owners and employees, and whatever neighborhood folks have noticed there are people being served inside. The purpose is to work out the kinks of service, try out recipes and test the Point of Sale system as well as the staff in action. It's usually followed within a couple of weeks to a month with an announced "GRAND OPENING," complete with banners and advertisements and the whole 9 yards.

Let me sum up: The owner is a local celebrity considering the number of local restaurants he has opened, made popular, and subsequently sold to move onto the next project. He said this is the biggest soft opening he's ever had, and that was 2 hours into it.

But now for the details!

Given the clientele, the menu features a low-carb menu, lots of side options (nothing automatically comes with rice and beans!), and a craft cocktail menu. The atmosphere is upscale-casual, so jeans-to-cocktail dress are are all acceptable but a tux might be over the top. When you enter the restaurant, they have a host stand taking names and seating people, a booth-style seat for those awaiting a table, and you are facing the front of the bar. To one side of the bar is a cocktail-table area, high seats and a counter around a fireplace; the other side is a bit larger, with two rows of booths down the center and the walls (and a couple tables with chairs, for those who prefer--great for wheelchair accessibility). The center booths are easily extendable into tables for larger parties, and the wall booths are deep with privacy curtains in between as well as at the end of the booths! It's all dark woods and rich fabrics and lusciousness, complete with a "wall" made of tequila bottles and chandeliers over every table.

At 5:40, Boy Scout and I showed up and had the struggle to find parking, it was that backed up inside. The parking lot is small, but I expect that Jefe and the as-yet unopened frozen yogurt place next door will be the main businesses whose customers will be parking there at night, so it might not be a huge problem once the construction vehicles are out of the way.

We got inside and requested a table for "6, but two are 2-year-olds." We were told an hour, as long as we wanted a booth and not a table with high-chairs (which was actually perfect--their 4-person booths leave plenty of room for 4 adults and 2 kids, or even 6 adults if everyone gets reasonably cozy). Boy Scout and I went over to Starbucks to grab a coffee and headed back. It MIGHT have been 10 minutes, but our table was ready!

Let's ignore the fiasco of not realizing that the Twins & Family were waiting for us in the parking lot while we waited for them at our table. The server assistant (the industry term for Bus Boy) was fantastic with water refills, and grabbed our server for us when we decided we would like to order drinks and an appetizer while waiting for our friends.

The Service: Friendly, reasonably attentive, and the fact that they were CRAZY BUSY was barely a blip on the radar except for...

The Timing: It was as expected. Honestly it's not something I would even include in a star-system rating, given the circumstance. I will say that our entire meal took 3 hours, and that the kids were understandingly restless but remarkably well-behaved for the duration.

The Food: Of course I'm going to focus on the food above the beverages, it's a restaurant and I'm a chef. We started with an endless supply of house-made corn tortillas, which kept the twins occupied and generally satisfied while we waited for our dinners. We also started with a dish of ceviche. I admit I haven't had this before, I understand it's a dish of "raw" fish that is served mixed with what is basically a pico de gallo--fresh salsa. The fish is "cooked" or gently pickled in an acid. This ceviche was decidedly delicious, with fresh tomatoes and garlic and cilantro mized with shrimp and baby scallops. I admit I had a piece of shrimp with a bit of shell attached to one side, but here's the deal: I will happily accept a missed piece of shell stuck to my shrimp for the knowledge that the kitchen staff is dealing with fresh, unshelled shrimp! (Caveat: I HATED peeling shrimp in school, and I didn't miss it. I will give bonus points to any restaurant that commits to the practice long-term, as it indicates a commitment to fresh from-scratch foods.)

For entrees, our table had the pork tamales with "whole grain rice" and one of the beans (I forgot which one was which!), and it was fantastic. Hot, not too spicy, but everything was flavorful. Similarly, the enchiladas with whole grain rice and another style of beans, really flavorful and my favorite part was they weren't drowning in sauce. These plates were big enough to pick a bit off for the little ones among us without anyone going hungry, but still mild enough that the twins could eat them.

The Boy Scout had clam tacos for the obvious sex joke and because they looked damn tasty. The clams were great, and they were piled high with toppings on those house-made corn tortillas, though the cole slaw could have been a little spicier. I ordered off the Low-Carb menu, partially to see how it all came out and partially because the Carne Res (Car-nay REEz) looked fantastic. Despite the fact that I was asked how I wanted my steak cooked, my medium-rare meat was cooked decidedly well-done. I can't say it was bad, though! The meat was tender and flavorful, had a great sear on it, and was in edibly-sized pieces. It was sitting on a bed of grilled onions that were caramelized enough to say so, but still held their shape and a texture to die for. The peppers were almost invisible, but were definitely adding flavor. The mushrooms were a perfect balance of cooked, seasoned, with a little crunch to them. I don't know what the cream sauce was, it wasn't spicy but it looked like it could have been--whatever it was, IT WAS AMAZING.

The plating of the tacos was inviting, and I know this is weird but at REALLY liked the almost pasta-bowl shape of the dish in which my steak was served. The tamales and enchiladas were a little more lacking in visual appeal, but the quality of the food definitely made up for it. Actually I guess I can't say "lacking" so much as they were not plated as "fancy" as the tacos and steak were. There seemed to be a dichotomy of some dishes being fancier than others--which could really be a selling point! I just can't help but feel that those two dishes were stuck in "smiley face" land, with two sides as "eyes" and the main dish as a great big smiling mouth. I'd like to have taken some pictures, but it was a bit too dark to get any clear pictures with my phone, and my digital camera is still packed somewhere!

I heard a couple people mention they were disappointed with the serving sizes of the side dishes being sold separately for $4.50. Mr. Moon said this is something they talked about at the end of the evening, and portion sizes/prices will be adjusted pretty quickly here.

The Drinks: Being allergic to grapes, I didn't try the house red wine myself. However, I will say that the colour was rich and the smell was divine, and the Boy Scout said it was fantastic, nice and spicy (with the caveat that he usually drinks boxed wine from the convenience store, due to the budget of being a college student ;). Still, for $7 for a glass of wine, it was a generous pour and a good value.

The first drink I had was the Ave Maria: It has rosemary-infused tequila. Served "frozen" over a mixer of crushed ice, it was refreshing and balanced with the rosemary on the front end but a pleasantly sweet (though not overpowering) aftertaste. I really thought the drink was too classy and pretty-looking to have been served in the mixing glass. I literally couldn't SEE my drink, and only know that it was a gorgeous colour because I poured some out to look.

I ordered a Burro de Moscow, which was vodka and lime with house-made ginger beer and some bitters I've never tried before. I was disappointed when my drink came it was decidedly short on ginger beer, but halfway through my drink it was discovered that the drink I was given was NOT in fact the Burro de Moscow! Apparently there was a mix-up on the drinks, and I do hope that whoever was supposed to get the original one ended up with whatever they ordered. We're still not sure what I got, but I'm guessing a Casa Maragarita and whatever it was, it was tequila and lime without being too sweet--so I'm guessing they're not heavy-handed with the simple syrup. The Burro de Moscow that eventually showed up was very gingery on the front end, delightfully lime-sweet in the middle, and the carbonation left almost nothing on the aftertaste to muddle up the food flavors. A GREAT palate cleanser between courses, our even just between bites to cut the richness.

The Spanish coffee was a bit... raw tasting. Not caramelized enough, and no toasted cinnamon and nutmeg that are the core of the drink. The sugared rim was washed away by the whipped cream melting down the side of the glass. The cinnamon whipped cream, however, was fantastic! Mixed in, it really helped to make the coffee a little more palatable.

In Conclusion: I'll be back! A second review is in order to see how the pacing works out when they work the kinks out of the system, but the food and beverages are worth a second trip by themselves. I think there needs to be a bigger range of spiciness to the dishes, or else they need to supply a house-made hot sauce for adding some flavor and kick. Frankly I'm hoping for the second option, because given how awesome the rest of the food was, whatever they come up with for a hot sauce would have to be amazing.


  1. Amazingly informative. You related the atmosphere along with the experience. Result? I'm hungry!


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