Kismet. Fate. Karma. A rained-out RiverDogs game. Soggy in the stands. Call it what you will, but for Robb and Wendy Walker, it was both love at first sight and love at first bite. That would be Charleston and J.Paul’z Restaurant on James Island. The Walkers were looking to settle in this area, and a dinner at J. Paul’z sealed the deal.
The Walkers purchased the popular James Island restaurant and in 2012 expanded into Mount Pleasant on Ben Sawyer Boulevard. J. Paul’z Mount Pleasant is the gateway to the beach, with patio dining, easy parking and a menu that spans the globe and the eating needs of most guests.
The Walkers hired Monica Farrell as executive chef. Farrell, whose career includes a stint at the Kiawah Island Club, Cassique and sous chef at Halls Chophouse, joined the J. Paul’z operation in 2011. She set to work creating signature dishes, streamlining the menu and maintaining the small plates guests have come to love while being mindful that those who were not part of the cocktail crowd may very well want “dinner.”
On this front, the restaurant offers three dining options. Sushi, under the direction of chef John Browder, provides an expansive menu of choices. The fish is fresh, and the offerings are familiar. Aioli, avocado and cream cheese splash around easily with tobiko (flying fish roe), daikon and eel. And the sushi menu borrows freely from other cuisines. Cream cheese frequently provides the mortar that is classically rice’s role: island roll ($9), Philadelphia roll ($9) and crunchy lady ($12), for example.
For those squeamish about raw fish, the raw is replaced by the cooked: tempura, crab and smoked salmon.
Rice is cooked with care, acidity is managed with balance and portions are generous. Budd’s island roll ($11) generously serves two and could sample four. It combines the crunch of tempura shrimp, the velvety goodness of salmon and a wasabi-seasoned aioli that we thought could use more heat. But the dish was attractive on the plate and easy on the palate.
The tapas menu has nothing in common with Spain, and “small plates” is a misnomer as portions are generous. It makes them good for sharing but too large if you plan to sail through a few choices in the tapas fashion.
The trio of dips ($11) demonstrated Farrell’s touch: The hummus is lentil-based, pimiento cheese acknowledges location and Gouda cheese and caramelized onions kick it up a notch when it comes to queso dip.
Chicken satays ($11) with their Moroccan seasonings and harissa-seasoned crema steer away from their Indonesian roots. The pan-roasted sea scallops ($12) on a pea and basil puree have been a Mount Pleasant favorite.
The tuna tartar tostados ($10) layer paper-thin corn chips with avocado, diced lush tuna and a squirt of chipotle creme. The latter was a wonderful flavor foil for the meaty tuna.
The chef mixes it up with ingredients and sauces: Morocco and Mexico intersect with Italy and Japan. Southeast Asia visits Northeast America.
Farrell gilds the lily of mac and cheese ($7, $8, $11), toying with truffles and cheeses, adding to the basic and banal of pasta and white sauce.
Salads ($7-$14) are scripted and garnished with a considered intent. But the dressing served with a shrimp BLT salad ($14) needed more tartness and seasoning. The shrimp and fried green tomatoes were nicely done.
Entrees bear Farrell’s’ culinary education. Layers of flavors, considered ingredients, marriages of food and sauce. But the kitchen faltered with garlic and Parmesan fries ($6), whose garlic bits were raw and the rosemary-seasoned aioli tasted neither of garlic nor rosemary. Steamed mussels ($12) shared a similar fate. A seasoned broth was topped with tepid mussels and a hill of tomato chunks contributed nothing to the dish. Lacking salt and herbs, this cool garnish did nothing for the mussels. And the toasted bread was grilled on one side only.
Entrees ($15-$24) are balanced and feature Colorado lamb burger ($16), salmon ($19) with gnocchi, and a wild mushroom-sauced linguine ($15) that has hit a home run with pasta fans.
Our server was well-informed about the menu and the wines and created a very pleasant dining experience.
The beach rush is over, and J.Paul’z and its kitchen can settle in to the task of fine-tuning a menu for all appetites.