Jonathan Waxman is Jam-ming again.
Jonathan Waxman is one of those great journeyman chefs who's picked up tricks, tips, and techniques across the decades. The 1970s found him working as a young chef at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley—talk about starting at the top!—and then he gained fame co-founding Michael’s in Santa Monica.
Eventually he brought sunny California cuisines to New York with Jams restaurant in the 1980s, an experience people are still talking about, despite it having been closed for forever. As of last month, Jams has been rebooted at 1 Hotel Central Park, and Waxman has taken the wine list in hand with a bit of his hard-earned wisdom. (Waxman also still operates the beloved Barbuto in the West Village, though it is set to close next year.)
“When I go to restaurants, I am always turning the bottle around to see who brings it in,” Waxman told me when I stopped by for dinner (try the chicken, always a Waxman strong suit). He means that he’s checking on the importer/distributor information, which is on every wine label—even though most people never examine that bit of small type.
So every single selection on the Jams list includes the importer/distributor name right there in the same type as the wine name. “It’s information,” he said. A good importer isn’t a guarantee that a wine is great, but it’s a step in the right direction, especially from a handful of top outfits, most of which are represented on the Jams list. My eye was drawn to some of the great Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley on offer: Pascal Janvier Jasnières 2014 ($56, Lynch Wine Merchants), François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire 2011 ($85, Polaner Selections), and Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec ‘Le Mont’ 2014 ($92, again from Polaner).
Firms like Michael Skurnik, the most represented name on the list, are staffed with people who spend a lot of time scouting out smaller producers. And you wouldn’t be able to enjoy new and different wines if they hadn’t gone to the trouble to travel and taste on our behalf. “They do a lot of the work, and don’t get a lot of recognition,” Waxman said.
Whether or not this is a trend sweeping the nation, Waxman is celebrating good taste, transparency, and smart scouting. This is an undiluted plus for wine lovers.
I asked Waxman what the reaction has been so far. He grinned: “Some other chefs came by and they were just mad they hadn’t thought of it first.”