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James on 8th - Room for improvement

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Our reservation was for 9:00, a seemingly easily accomodated date on a Friday, right? Wrong. Our wait stretched and stretched until finally it had been an hour and a half before we got our table. Now, to the owner Kristina's credit, she did ply us with free prosecco and scallop ceviche. Unfortunately the ceviche, allegedly seasoned with fennel and a tangerine sauce, was a bland at best.

Once we were seated, service was smooth and friendly. I started with a sweet potato agnolotti--small ravioli. They were delicious: sweet from the potato, rich from the parmigianno and earthy from the short rib sauce. I selected the slow cooked pork tenderloin with salt cooked apples and kale-parsnip gratin. The pork was tender and moist, but in the end it was just another pork tenderloin. Whatever salt cooking does, I'm not sure, because the apples were fairly plain. The gratin, however, was the real highlight. It was creamy and soft with a little firmness and the kale-parsnip flavor came through in a great way. Overall the dish was satisfactory, but not that impressive. I took a bite of my friend's very small portion of papparadelle with duck ragu and it was tasty pasta, but the sauce wasn't anything to write home about. The winner of the night was the hangar steak with smoked mashed potatoes--very tender and juicy.

I had a tender chestnut cake for dessert, as selection I made after being seduced by the waiters analogy of this cake to my favorite cake, that of the warm chocolate variety. They are not the same. Whereas warm chocolate cake is rich and gooey, this was just warm. There was no melting. The chestnut flavor went well with the fig accompaniment, but I felt let down after the description. My friend's chocolate terrine on olive oil fried bread with fleur de sel was a great concept, but the execution wasn't quite as great. The chocolate terrine was too rich and dense, the bread too thin and hard. Probably the most well executed dessert was the brown ale mousse. It was smooth and fluffy with a unique flavor that wasn't too sweet.

In the end, we shelled out $60 each with tax and tip for what I think was just a decent meal. The place has promise, but they need to work out a few kinks. They also need to reset some of their price and quantity expectations. Cocktails run around $12 and entrees aren't more than a cup or two of product. If that's your m.o., then you need to knock it out of the park with quality and James on 8th hasn't yet.

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