A fusion of flavor and visual flair make Jazz + Soju a distinctive addition to the Locust Point area.
The handsome restaurant on the ground floor of Anthem House combines industrial chic (high ceilings, exposed duct work, eclectic lighting fixtures, etc.) with a neat homage to classic jazz — album covers by Louis Armstrong and other greats decorate one wall; LPs fill large glass-enclosed shelves on another.
Live jazz is offered occasionally. We only had the recorded kind the night we stopped by, but that still provided an effective background as we sampled enjoyable food and drink.
The signature item here is chicken wings. That body part has never particularly interested me — so much fuss, so many messy fingers, so little reward. But the twice-fried-in-soybean-oil technique used here works wonders, resulting in an irresistible, remarkably non-greasy crunch on the exterior, moist and very tender chicken inside.
We didn’t detect a tremendous difference between the soy garlic and spicy soy garlic coatings (we expected the latter to knock us back in our seats), but both provided a dynamic element to the wings. (The restaurant advises customers it may take up to a half-hour for wing orders to arrive. Ours didn’t take that long, but we would not have minded waiting.)
Grilled edamame made a simple, effective meal-starter. Like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts seem to be omnipresent in every type of restaurant now (remember when kids wouldn’t touch either?). The sprouts we tried at Jazz + Soju got a vivacious treatment from a sauce of honey and gochujang (red chili paste), mixed with bacon bits.
While you can get relatively normal French fries here, we opted for the ones with a piquant kimchi cheese sauce.
There’s an appealing list of rice and noodle dishes. Japchae, a robust stir-fry of vegetables with cellophane noodles, revealed robust flavor and texture. (Our request for the vegetarian option got lost somewhere along the line — the first bowl contained beef — but it was soon put right.)
The rich, tasty bulgogi boasted finely sliced beef over rice and grilled vegetables; a fried egg on top added to the appealing heartiness. And a bowl of garlic fried rice, buoyed by pieces of seafood and seaweed flakes, delivered a satisfying spark.
Don’t be surprised if a bite of one dish at Jazz + Soju quickly tempts you to try other things. We couldn’t stop ordering.
From the chicken wings, for example, it was a natural transition to the chicken waffle cone. OK, so that didn’t exactly wow the table — the strips of double-fried chicken, sharing the cone with pickled radish, were bland. But we followed that item with a rather elegant dish of crisply fried chicken breast, its slices complemented nicely by a cabbage salad and rice.
And the note of seafood into the meal provided by the garlic fried rice led the way to the seafood pajeon, a fried savory Korean pancake brimming with a harmonious, subtly textured melange of shrimp, scallop and calamari.
Only because we boxed up a ton of stuff to take home could we even contemplate dessert, and we found the perfect one after so much indulgence — petite and refreshing ice-cream-filled mochi (rice cakes).
In addition to Korean soft drinks and cocktails made with the Korean spirit soju, beverage options include lots of fruity alcoholic concoctions. At least one of them, the milkshake-like, vodka-based “creamy sunrise martini” (grenadine, pineapple juice and cherry are in the mix), would double quite nicely as a dessert.
Jazz + Soju
900 E. Fort Ave.
Prices: Appetizers $5 to $12; entrees $13 to $25
Ambience: It’s a lively room (noisy when full) that seems to attract a diverse, casual crowd.
Service: Both the bar and the kitchen apparently misread a few of our orders, sending out wrong items, and the arrival of food wasn’t consistently timed, but our genial, helpful (and over-extended) server made things right and made us smile.
Parking: Garage (90 minutes free) and street.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
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Wheelchair accessible: Yes