Chow, Baby couldn’t quite make sense of Jack’s Off the Wall, the new casual-hangout bar slash gourmet restaurant slash live-music venue that took over the Pedro’s Trailer Park space at 2731 White Settlement Rd. a few months ago.

Even with the sympathetic Erik behind the beer taps, it doesn’t seem likely that Jack’s will cultivate butt-glued-to-the-barstool regulars. The live music (Thursday to Saturday nights) varies from traditional country to punk to classic-rock “tribute” bands to Chatterton; not much taste overlap there. Like the band line-up, elements of the décor are great, but the whole is disjointed: It’s a nice open space, divided by French doors into bar area and music area, but the brick walls are dribbled with antiques, faux graffiti (with real spelling errors), and cheesy “cracked” “plaster.” Not even real faux.

The off notes continued at dinner, which for a hangout slash music venue is oddly Upscale American (that is, expensive, though there’s a cheaper lunch menu of Upscale sandwiches and such). We started with la patata di formaggio di cheddar fumata frigge ($7), literally (Chow, Baby’s translation) “the potato of cheese of cheddar smoked, it fries.” Cheese fries, that is, though very light on the cheddar part. Of course Chow, Baby had to have a ribeye (12 oz, $21), nicely fatty and perfectly cooked but served atop nearly raw mushrooms and onions. An inedibly oversalty sauce couldn’t mask the dryness of the thick pork chops ($16).

Out of curiosity, we also ordered the “gnokki” ($12), which turned out to be cute little potato-spinach dumplings swimming in a rich, fresh-tasting pesto, adorned with pretty curls of parmesan. Tasted an awful lot like gnocchi to Chow, Baby, who asked a manager about the name – gnocchi di qualunque altro nome, as the saying goes – a restaurant manager who giggled about her ignorance of dish names, recipes, food in general, and (OK, slightly less crucial) the Italian language, but was highly skilled at name-dropping and prancing about. Chow, Baby doesn’t know if this testa vuota is also in charge of Jack’s décor and band bookings, but if so it would explain a lot.


On the Wrap

Chow, Baby’s new favorite hobby, ordering lettuce wraps so it can whine about the juice dripping down its arm, was indulged last week at Pei-Wei Asian Diner in Montgomery Plaza (2600 W. 7th St.). You might expect, as Pei-Wei is a chirpy-server-staffed national chain owned by the loathsome P.F. Chang’s, both of which serve highly Americanized Asian-like dishes, that Chow, Baby would hate this place. Not so much, actually. No, Chow, Baby rails at those who would eat at P.F. Chang’s and the now-defunct (hah!) Big Bowl because they don’t have the wontons to venture to ooh-scary Belknap Street for the real thing. But the lunchers packing Pei-Wei, most of whom seemed to be managing their minced chicken lettuce wraps ($6.25) just fine, are more likely making a laudable choice between fast-food burgers and Pei-Wei’s tasty, light stir-fries like a chunky pork ginger broccoli in an oyster-soy sauce ($7.25) or a surprisingly sweet shrimp lemon pepper with carrots and sprouts ($9). Maybe a little pricey for lunch, but the servings are large, so leftovers are possible – not for Chow, Baby, who scrapes its plate every time, but theoretically possible.

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