Jax’s Sheila Lucero talks oyster stout, crab cakes and the wonders of FedEx

Lucero is ready to introduce Jax to Kansas City.

Lucero is ready to introduce Jax to Kansas City.

Things are about to get a little raw on the Plaza. Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (4814 Roanoke Parkway), a Colorado import, opens today at 4 p.m.

“We want to welcome people to the party every night and that starts with the raw bar,” executive chef Sheila Lucero says.

The raw bar, with huge steamer pots and oyster shuckers that will provide the show during happy hour, is just inside the entrance. The dining room to the right is oriented toward the open, white-tiled kitchen. It’s there that you’ll find Lucero, who has spent the past two months getting the Kansas City restaurant up and running.

Lucero, a former semi-pro soccer player, found the fuel for her competitive drive in the kitchen. After graduating from the Art Institute of Colorado in 1997, she went to work for Jax in downtown Denver.

“They were talking about food and cookbooks,” Lucero says. “There was a culture of food that made me say, ‘this is the place.’”

She’s been the executive chef since 2010 and this is the fifth Jax Fish House location for the Colorado-based Big Red F Restaurant Group. The first opened in Boulder, Colorado, in 1994. While Lucero is overseeing the launch, Bobby Bowman will be the chef in Kansas City (The Pitch broke that story last month). As for the bar, Kenny Cohrs has moved just down the street from Rosso in the Hotel Sorella, and will head up the cocktail program.

“I still want that excitement in kitchens, when I’m so excited to walk into the back door,” Lucero says. “We get to play with food and enjoy food and that’s a huge part of Jax.”

We sat down with Lucero recently to learn more about the fish house and oyster bar.

Is seafood a tough sell in the Midwest? There’s not a whole lot of seafood here and we have dealt with the land-locked question for 20 years. But I had oysters FedEx’ed to my house the other day. You can track the package. When people ask how you get seafood to a land-locked state, I’m like, ‘man, you fly, right?’

There’s technology and so many connections on both coasts. It’s a phone call any more. You can talk to the fisherman on boats who have a smartphone and you can know the name of the boat and exactly where it was caught.

Lucero shucks an oyster.

Lucero shucks an oyster.

What is Jax known for in Denver? The first thing you see is our raw bar. The bar is so much fun, you can watch the shuckers and see these big steamer pots with mussels and chowder.

The crab cakes are our signature. We procure jumbo lump crab from Venezuela and then make one big crab cake with egg, mayo, a tiny bit of breadcrumbs, lemon zest and a little dash of Old Bay. We just give that cake a nice sear.

What have you got planned for the seafood on the menu? We have an octopus dish with two variations. There’s a whole Spanish octopus that we braise and then put in a terrine mold. We dice up the heads and take the gelatin and compress it. Then we slice it very thin like headcheese.

We also take baby octopus, sous vide them so they’re really soft, then toss them in rice flour and flash fry them. They’re super crispy, but melt in your mouth. Our calamari comes with our mango mojo sauce, which has mango, chili, veingar and sugar. You get some sweet and heat, and then our lime aioli is creamy and cools you down.

We’ll do a tuna dish with a coriander crust. We get in whole tuna and then we sear it. We put black garlic aioli and marble potato hash on the plate.

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Lucero recommends Meathooks with the Emersum oysters.

You have a brewpub in the restaurant group – The Post Brewing Company. And that beer will be on tap at Jax in Kansas City. What would pair well with some of the Post brews? The Post just opened in January, it’s a brewery inside of a fried chicken joint. Howdy Beer is a crisp, clean American pilsner that’s citrusy. And Meathooks – a dark mild ale – is caramel and toasty and goes well with Emersums.

A few years back we had O’Dell brew us an oyster stout with Emersums. And this year, Post did one. It was a classic oyster stout. We added shucked oysters in with the malt and then after the wort was boiled, we introduced whole oysters in the shell. It was more about mouthfeel, there was maybe a bit of minerality. Maybe we could get someone like Boulevard to brew us an oyster stout?

What’s surprised you about Kansas City? I love the people here. It’s a lot like Colorado, it has the same kind of feel. Everybody makes eye contact. The restaurant scene is really popping in KC, I’m stoked to be part of it.

Where have you been out to eat in KC? I try to go once a week to Manifesto, I like their cocktails a lot. I fell in love with Novel. We had a big group of us so we went nuts. Those duck neck dumplings are killer. And I loved the scallops.

Who has the best barbecue in Kansas City? It depends on what you want. For me, I have two favorites so far, but I haven’t had everything yet. Oklahoma Joes, you stand in line for an hour and a half. The briskets and beans were killer and I ate a ton of fries. I’d stand in that line again. I haven’t been to Gates, but I had Gates brought to me. The pulled pork on white bread was delicious.

Who’s on your bucket list of diners? There are so many. I’d love to cook for Eric Ripert. He’s a seafood guy with the best seafood restaurant in the world. He’s got a nice demeanor about him, I’d love to just sit down and talk food.

What’s your dream eating destination? For a long time, it was El Bulli in Spain. But now it’s sushi in Tokyo at Jiro’s spot. It’s a little subway spot, but his respect for seafood and the way he does it…to have 10 seats at a bar in a subway and have Michelin stars. He’s 80 and doing it the same way. It reminds me of my dad, who would cook traditional dishes with lots of green chiles. It was the same food my grandmother would cook. She passed it down and he stayed the course.

Jax is open from 4 t0 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 816-437-7940.

Jonathan Bender

Jonathan Bender is the founder of The Recommended Daily.

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