5493 Sheridan Dr., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Jojo Bistro & Wine Bar
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American Drinks French Williamsville Wine
"There's a lot to like about Jojo, ranging from its location to its look and pricing, but the food quality was so inconsistent that our initial enthusiasm had dimmed by the time we left."
If you're the sort of person who is won over to a restaurant based more on its decor than its culinary merits, Jojo Bistro - a lower-priced sister restaurant to its immediate Sheridan Drive neighbor Black & Blue - is going to hook you on first sight. Though there's little hint outside of what's to come when you walk through the doors, Jojo's interior has all of its brother's impressive attention to style: chandeliers with prominent filaments in the lightbulbs, tables that have been laser-branded with the restaurant's logo, and a balanced use of wood and stone that evokes all the right classic and modern design sensibilities. Yes, the venue has been under construction for almost all of the three and a half months since we previewed the menu at this year's Taste of Williamsville, and it's obvious that the time was used to polish the location's aesthetics to perfection. But what about the menu? The service? The food quality? Read on for all the details. Updated January 14, 2010 with a rating and more.
Hip Looks, Simple Menu. With a bar and waiting area off to its left and a dining room on the right, Jojo distills the essence of the larger Black & Blue into a less formal, less expensive, and less meat-focused experience. A one-page paper menu lists all of the appetizers and entrees - four pasta dishes, four salads, four artisanal cheese and deli meat options, six wood-fired pizzas, and so on - while a second single sheet lists the wines. Expect your meal to run around $30 per person before drinks, unless you order aggressively or lightly.
Start With The Bread. Every table receives a hot baguette in a white paper wrapper - again, marked with the Jojo logo - as the server instructs you to tear off pieces on your own; butter and a butter knife are offered on a separate plate. The core of our loaf was cold in only one place - it didn't taste as if it was just fresh out of the oven - but it was otherwise warm to hot all over, and struck us as a generous way to present bread.
Fancy French Fries. Though Jojo's Taste of Williamsville preview left us expecting French cafe cuisine, the single-page menu shows only modest French influences. A carry over from the preview, the $6 White Truffle and Parmesan Pommes Frites were a little lighter on the truffle oil and heavier on the parmesan cheese than the ones at Taste of Williamsville; one of us liked the new balance and the other found it to be too cheesy.
Undercooking and Overcooking. The single biggest issue we noticed from dish to dish was inconsistent preparation, as some elements of dishes tasted a little too cooked, while others were not cooked enough. This stuffed "Pablano Pepper" ($9 - actually Poblano) was not fully cooked through, but its stuffing of cheddar, sausage, and bread crumbs, sauced with tomato coulis and a few black beans, was otherwise really nice - the breading gave each bite a crisp texture rather than the soggy stuffing of so many peppers, and the mix of tomato, cheese, and sausage created a savory, meaty flavor for each bite. Again, one of us liked this dish, the other didn't, citing the undercooked pepper.
"Squid," or Calamari, A Bit Off The Mark. One of the menu's charms is its simple titling: there's only one squid dish, and it's called "Squid" ($7) rather than "Calamari," served here with a cornmeal breading. Cornmeal has its time and place; in recent years we've been seeing it used (and overused) as a coating for all sorts of fried dishes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and here it didn't. The squid tasted a little undercooked, masked only slightly by the cornmeal, which added a crispy, sandy texture - a shame because the portion size and look of the squid were spot-on for the price. A traditional batter would have worked better, along with a non-creamy dipping sauce. The Coconut Crusted Prawns ($11) shown at the top of this article were similarly unimpressive; the shrimp didn't taste fresh, and the coconut flavor was all but absent, the coconut breading ground down too much to have any interesting texture. This dish was again served with a bland cream sauce.
Wine By The Rack. Wines are part of the draw at Jojo, and as at Black & Blue, the owners aren't shy about showing them off: a huge rack sits at one end of the bar, and a brief excerpt from the one-page wine menu hangs on the wall of the wood and stone bar area. Glasses range from $5 to $12, and flights are offered; tables received handsome multi-glass mini-racks with assistance on tasting the wines in order of strength of flavor.
An Entree From A Menu Focused on Small Dishes. Jojo's menu focuses your attention on a long list of small "Fare To Share" dishes ranging from $5 to $11 in price; only four "Larger Fare" entrees are offered from $16-$18. Our opinions were split on the Braised Shortrib ($18), a reasonably prepared, soft-but-not-overly soft beef rib presented in the center of a creamy, mashed potato-like polenta with a sour cream flavor. One of us liked both the meat and the polenta; the other found the sourness of the polenta to be a distraction from the porcini cream topping on the short rib, and the rib to be overcooked.
Five Desserts. Located right at the bottom of the menu, the quick list of desserts lets you choose - as we did - to save space for something sweet. We went with the Bourbon Carrot Cake ($8), which broke from tradition by using a chocolate cream cheese icing and further drizzles of chocolate on top. Whatever carrot or bourbon flavor was in the cake - not much, we ascertained - was again obscured here, as the chocolate masked what tasted like weak flavors in a less than totally fresh piece of cake. This dessert was recommended to patrons at another table; we'd pass on it next time.
Jojo's Bistro isn't yet a month old, so we're holding off on issuing it a final star rating, but our initial impressions are decidedly mixed. The venue is beautiful, the menu is an interesting study in offering few but smart choices, and the service - rendered exclusively by a team of blonde-haired women, save for male and female maitre d's - was pretty good, compromised largely by the fact that the restaurant was filled to capacity. There's a lot to like about Jojo, ranging from its location to its look and pricing, but the food quality was so inconsistent that our initial enthusiasm had dimmed significantly by the time we left. It deserves a little more time to settle before we issue a final opinion; for now, we'll say that it's more appealing on looks and drinks than on food.
Updated January 14, 2010. The verdict is in on Jojo Bistro, and it's unfortunately not very positive: our follow-up meal regrettably found no improvement from the original, as dishes arrived under- and over-cooked, then in some cases just not tasty, which led us to abandon unfinished plates and leave the place without dessert. Our view is that the highlight of Jojo is its wine bar, which offers various affordable sampling flights, and provides a more compelling experience than actually eating a meal at the restaurant.
Problems are clearly traceable to the kitchen: after another tear-it-yourself baguette that was almost completely dried out, the literally burnt, dried-out cauliflower and broccoli accompanying a completely boring Pork Chop should never have been served, while the "roasted" garlic served as an appetizer plate was green and bland, mixing poorly with thin included crackers. Though a Beet Salad was decent - nicer looking than it tasted, but fine in both regards - a Margherita Pizza was one of the sorriest attempts at such a thing we've yet seen, a mess of half-rubbery, half cracker-like dough with too little sauce, dried-out basil leaves, and a thin layer of goopy cheese on top. The highlight of the meal was a French nacho-like plate of homemade potato chips with Gruyere and Bleu cheeses; the chips tasted quite nice, and the cheeses were pretty good. Opinions ranged from 1.75 to 2.25 stars before we agreed that a 2-star rating was appropriate; unless something dramatic changes in the kitchen, we would not go back.