Monday, February 28, 2011

Restaurant Review: The Dégagé Jazz Café

The Dégagé Jazz Café
301 River Road
Maumee, OH 43537
(419) 794-8205

Tu - Th: 5pm - Midnight
Fri - Sat: 5pm - 1AM
Sunday Brunch 10 - 2
Sunday Dinner 5 - 9

I've never been one to pass up a good meal complimented by live jazz, so when Flopsy and Mopsy rolled into town Friday night, Main Lady suggested we all go over to the Dégagé Jazz Café on Saturday, get dinner and chill out to the live music, well... how could I refuse? I've never been to the place and there's always a chance that I'll find an excellent jazz club that the great unwashed has yet to stumble into. Fat chance.

Getting right to the point, unless you're one of those people who like to stand in line for an hour or more before you get seated at the lousiest table in the house, make reservations. Tell whomever it is that answers the phone that you insist on a good table, and that you both know that location is everything. If you can't get a decent table, don't go. Believe it. The Dégagé Jazz Café occupies three separate rooms, and while you can hear the band in all three you can only see the band in one room. The other two rooms use wide screen wall mounted televisions that the patrons can watch. We were seated in the annex, meaning that we watched the band on TV, listened to the music and enjoyed a good deal of privacy. For my money, we got the best table in the house, but not everyone will see it that way.

The Annex
Our waitress stopped by immediately to rattle off the specials of the evening and answer any questions about the menu. The trouble was that the band was playing at that time and she was unable to make herself heard above the trumpet. This was not because the music was too loud; this was due to the waitress being reluctant to speak up. I suspect that our waitress was new at her job, and although she tried hard she was untrained.

The drink menu at the Dégagé Jazz Café lists every au courant concoction known to vogue fashion plates from New York to Paris and a few new combinations. While the ladies tried to decide on the color and texture of their poison and perused the concordance, I ordered one of my old standby drinks. I feel that the true test of a bartender or a waitress is a dry martini, straight up. These days I'll forgive a waitress (a young waitress, anyway) for asking if I want gin or vodka, as the current generation are poorly informed amateurs who don't know that martinis are made with gin, and gin only; Gimlets are made with vodka. If the bartender fails to chill the glass or the gin, then he's not much of a bartender and the only safe things to order from him are shots on the rocks, beer or wine. Likewise if he's so ignorant that he actually shakes the martini, the resultant watered down gin will get sent back to him with the suggestion that he return to bartending school for a remedial class on mixology. An experienced cocktail waitress will ask to the brand of gin and a preference for olives or a twist. An exceptional waitress will bring a tall glass of water as a chaser, and if you are fortunate enough to have one of these, hang on to her pal, she's in demand.

I ordered my martini straight up, "just as dry as high school history and as cold as a banker's heart - a Republican banker." My waitress enquired as to the brand of gin; I specified Megellan if they had it, Bombay Sapphire if they didn't.

I'm happy to say that the bartender knows what he's doing. He chilled both the glass and the gin and rinsed the glass with a little dry vermouth before adding the gin. The waitress neglected my garnish, as neither olives nor twist was present. Well, at least she didn't spill any and she got the martini to the table before it started to get warm. By this time the ladies were ready to order their drinks, all of which escape me. One was a frothy pink concoction served up in a martini glass, and I think someone else ordered a light beer. Then it was time to order dinner.

Menu - Click to Enlarge
I didn't get a regular menu, as the place was so busy that they actually ran out of menus. Well, I suppose there are worse things. I ordered the Char-Grilled Steak Frites, substituting a wild mushroom side dish for the asparagus. The ladies ordered a half-dozen different appetizers and side dishes, intending to set up an impromptu smorgasbord.

Our food arrived in good time, even given the packed house. I ordered my steak medium, and was pleased with the result. I was served a good quality steak, the asparagus was replaced with a side dish of wild mushroom and cream sauce, but the french fries were absent. Our waitress vanished. A short while later the manager stopped by to ask if everything was alright, and I started explaining about the absent fries. The manager was silently joined by our waitress and an assistant manager (whose name I forgot to get, which is a huge mistake on my part. He's a young man, average height, mid twenties, dark hair and complexion, competent and enthusiastically helpful). Between the three of them the problem was fixed in short order. I consider this an important point, as what really counts is how the staff solves a problem.

One advantage to our seating was the proximity to the band. We could easily carry on a conversation while the band was playing, which was nice. The band, by the way, was excellent.

Eric Dickey ant the  Scott Potter Group
The band was very tight and played jazz standards all night. We stayed for two sets and I'd have liked to hear a third set, but Main Lady wanted to head home.

Eric has a lot of breath control and didn't overpower the other instruments or the room. One complaint I often have about live music is the volume. Some well meaning mental midget invariably cranks the volume on the amplifier up to ten, feeling the need to overpower everything in a 20 by 30 room packed with listeners. The result is that the music is blurred by a speaker being driven by an overpowered amplifier, and the audience is deafened. This band had the sense to keep the volume down so as to fill the room and no more.

Dog House Bass and Drums
The bass and the drummer synchronized nicely; few things are worse than a bass player and a drummer who are not on good speaking terms.

Dog House Bass
I didn't get the names of the musicians, which I regret. In particular, the bass player has an outstanding voice which I would have never guessed. But then, most of their repertoire is instrumental.

Main Room
I got this shot of the main room on my way out. As you can see, the place is packed. I'm glad to see that business is good, as I'd like to come back here again.

Chef and Manager
Here's the chef, Joseph Jacobsen,  and the general manager. Again, I neglected to get her name, for which I apologize. The chef is a somewhat taciturn man; obviously well-suited to the kitchen by the quality of the meals he prepares. The manager makes herself available to everyone and is the person you will want to speak to if you aren't satisfied with something.

The only negative comments I have about my dinner concern our server. Our waitress didn't stop by the table often enough, and although she tried hard to do a good job she lacked training and experience. If it weren't for her attitude, I'd have complained bitterly to the manager and gotten another waitress. Also, I note in their advertising for the Sunday brunch that Kids 6 and Under Eat Free! which I think is a mistake. The venue is not designed for children, even well-behaved children. If you welcome the little monsters in for brunch, they are liable to show up for dinner as well and ruin an otherwise excellent evening for the patrons who have the ill luck to sit at the adjacent tables.

The food is good. It isn't great, it isn't outstanding and it is not a discriminating gourmand's delight; the dinner is a good enough value for the price. I plan on making a return visit.

The ambiance is pleasant, quiet and comfortable. You won't see any ball caps or cut off jeans in the crowd, nor is a bar fight likely to break out. The worst thing I experienced was a big mouth woman at the table next to me who would occasionally interrupt everything in the room with her stentorian, braying laugh. 

In summary:

  • Ambiance: 8 (with entertainment)
  • Service: 5 (which I expect will improve)
  • Food: 7

Overall rating: 7

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