Oysters rank among the upgrades at Jacks Restaurant, plus an avalanche of incredi-web stories.

Hot Plate: With new dishes like the standout day boat scallops (with wild mushrooms and black pepper pappardelle pasta, $27), Jacks GM Sonny Petersson is most stoked seeing staff “re-energized.” He adds: “They had seen the same menu for a while.”

At times Jacks Restaurant (649-2698) can evoke linebacker Manti Te’o – the guy who’s got all the game but just can’t find real love. The Portola Plaza location is strategic, the room grand, the eco ethic as strong as most any eatery out there. And most importantly, Exec Chef Jason Giles knows what he’s doing. Still, locals largely limit visits to lunch.


My experiences have reinforced my faith in Giles, but servicewise things have strayed from bad into bizarre: On one occasion a manager lectured me for asking to split a plate; on another he sent homeless men to our table to play real and imaginary instruments.


He’s no longer there. Sonny Petersson migrated just up the coast from C Restaurant (where Thamin Saleh has stepped in nicely) and has been working furiously with Giles for several months to hatch a rediscovery. 


They’re keeping the classics, like the lavish lunch salad bar ($12.95; $2 off for locals), the basil-crusted sole ($25) and Jacks chowder with sustainable clams, fresh Dungeness crab, Bakers Bacon, and a roasted corn backbone ($11). Amen. 


To help spark inspiration, the exec chef and GM recently canvassed 10 Bay Area restaurants in a day after Giles assembled a list that included Farallon, Water Bar and Katana-ya. Some of the fun new items I saw on a visit last week: roasted red beet and poppy seed ravioli ($23), filet mignon carpaccio ($16) and sweet corn panna cotta ($13). 


“It was nice to tear down the menu and rebuild with seasonal flavors I enjoy putting out there,” Giles says. 


The skewered, curried and grilled lamb tikka ($29) was excellent; the house fennel-apple sausage-stuffed quail ($31) was good too, though its herb risotto tasted like tuktuk exhaust.


To give the dauntingly big room a better buzz, Petersson’s hoping a new raw bar dotted with Fanny Bay and Kumomoto oysters and flanked by tall tables and champagne toasts will draw more movers and shakers. I loved the Rockefeller and raw slipperies we had ($19 and $15 a half dozen, respectively). 


A stronger red meat lineup matches the steakhouse decor and is driven by nearby Harris Ranch’s top cuts like the filet ($38), ribeye ($36) and strip loin ($36). Plates can get pricey (chicken alfredo for $22); thankfully locals get free parking and a 15-percent discount. 


I’d love more seafood, and more menu cohesion overall. Petersson concedes doing a little bit of everything can be dangerous, but they’re eagerly gathering feedback. At the same time, he’s giving Giles every creative authority and resource he can. “I haven’t said ‘No’ to anything,” Petersson says, which bodes well for a Jan. 30 wine dinner with the Hess Collection ($65). “I think he’s shining more than ever.” 


And unlike a certain linebacker, Petersson’s not making that up. 



--- { QUICKBITES } ---


• Thank god Flava Flav invented the Internet, because it allows for so many breaking foodie news stories to appear in their full lavish length at www.mcweekly.com/edible. Some of the most striking news up now: Lokal loses a co-founder and The Independent Marketplace in Sand City dies – and finds new life. The magic words: More on the blog. (Get used to that.)


•Seaside has a very solid new falafel-schwarma spot with House of Gyro (394-4420). Fresh and handmade Morroco-American style pita-and-hummus fare at reasonable prices. More on the… blog.


Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) did exceptional things Monday with its Barolo wine dinner. But what happened at the hospital was even more epic. More on… the blog.


Monterey Beer Fest has been sold by founder Jeff Moses to the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which helped put on the event the last seven years. More… on the blog.


•Monterey’s City Council has reduced the candidates for the passenger train depot next to Wharf II to two contenders. One is a local restaurant. More. On. The. Blog. 


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•Tried the new workers lunch at il vecchio (324-4282). Don’t know how to say bargain in Italian, but here’s one way: $9 for all you-can-eat pasta and salad. More on the blog!!!


• Storied Anton & Michel (624-2406) is into an update designed to make it more contemporary. Schedded to wrap Feb. 1. 


• While chefs Cindy Pawlcyn and Jeff Rogers are working on menus, the opening of the Aquarium’s new Cindy’s Waterfront has been postponed until at least April. 


• The 57th Annual Kosher-Style Take-Out Lunch and Bake Sale at Salinas’ Temple Beth El is Thursday, Jan. 31, 424-9151. Great tradition, greater pastrami, $11 a box.


Crazy Horse Restaurant (649-4771) is back with the salad bar ($10.95) that so often wins the Weekly readers Best Of vote. 


• Chef Kurt Grasing and importer Thompson Lange pop-up Philanthropic Foodies, a gourmet dinner – think Dungeness crab risotto and braised veal osso bucco with chanterelles – paired with fancy wines from local vintners like Joyce, Pessagno and DiOrio to benefit The Carmel Foundation, 6pm Thursday, Jan. 31 ($110, 620-8702 for tix), set in the big, leafy and lovely Homescapes Carmel. 


•The Monterey History & Art Association fires up Burns Night Friday, Jan. 25 – in honor of badass Scottish poet Robert Burns – at the Serrano Adobe, with haggis, good scotch, dancing and poetry in character by Taelen Thomas. $50, 372-2608. 


•The 1645 River Road Seasonal Dining experience showcasing Pessagno wines returns this Friday, Jan. 25, with wildly underrated Mo Tabib of Fish Hopper doing the four-course cheffing with treats like abalone poke, Maine lobster risotto and crab-crusted salmon, www.pessagnowines.com.


• Thursday, Jan. 31, the chef scientists at Point Pinos Grill (648-5774) pair all sorts of soju with goodies like warm crab salad and forbidden rice pudding arancini ($60). 


•“We must,” said sociologist Ivan Illich, “rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation.”

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