If Jacky Ko has groupies, I am definitely one of them; I’ve been following this successful restaurateur around Rhode Island for years as he opened Jacky’s Galaxie in North Providence, Cumberland and Bristol. He has finally landed in Providence, and he has outdone himself. All of his restaurants are beautiful, with clean modern lines and pops of vibrant color, but the brand new Jacky’s Waterplace and Sushi Bar is drop-dead gorgeous. It just might be the most visually stunning restaurant in the state – and the food is equally exciting.
The approach to this multi-million dollar glass-walled dining destination is simply grand. A left off of Exchange Street will deliver you to an ultramodern courtyard centered with a massive contemporary sculpture. Drive around the sculpture to reach the entrance to Jacky’s Waterplace, where free valet parking is offered. Once inside, prepare to be pleasantly confronted by an intensely red entrance with an amazing saltwater fish tank and the first of many wild, nest-like chandeliers. The staff will want to whisk you away to your table, but I recommend strolling slowly through this huge restaurant, from the sleek lounge area where the bar has an aquamarine aura, on past gardens and the glowing sushi bar that changes colors, into the main dining area, resplendent in shades of pistachio and lilac.
The astounding design is the work of Li Qi, who was at Judd Brown Designs at the time but has since moved on to start his own design firm. Li Qi says he wanted to give the audience a different take on traditional Asian design and aimed at a new interpretation of Eastern and Western design, which he calls “New Asia.” He accomplished this with his selection of natural materials: textured stone, white river rock, polished granite and metal, glass and acrylic countertops.
The best seats in the house are at tables next to the massive glass windows that offer an unparalleled view of Waterplace Park. One can only imagine how magical this must be on a WaterFire night. Outdoor seating is also available during nice weather. We were seated at one of those primo tables, next to a private, glass-enclosed dining room. Above us were the most unusual lights – they reminded me of massive fortune cookies. It took everything in me to focus on the menu, an impressive array of classic and contemporary Asian cuisine. I sipped on a tropical cocktail that I hadn’t tasted in years: a classic Mai Tai ($8), an icy blend of dark and light rums with triple sec and fruit juice.
We began with the Hot and Sour Soup ($5), a traditional Asian concoction of bamboo shoots, various exotic mushrooms and incredibly thin slices of tofu in a flavorful broth. Seasonings make the broth simultaneously spicy (thanks to the peppers) and sour (from the vinegar), but in a most agreeable way.
The Clams with Black Bean Sauce ($13) came in large bowl almost overflowing with plump and chewy littleneck clams still in their shells, stir-fried until they popped open, boasting the spicy flavors of green peppers, garlic, onions, jalapeno peppers and fermented black beans. The smoky and aromatic sauce is a delight to the senses, both in aroma and in taste.
The Assorted Vegetable Tempura ($8) was flawless, a generous serving of sliced sweet potato, broccoli and green pepper in a delicate tempura batter, lightly fried and served with small teardrop-shaped bowls of soy sauce.
I can never pass up sushi, so I ordered the classic Spider Crab Roll ($12). I often try new sushi rolls, but this is my all-time favorite and it is spot-on at Jacky’s Waterplace, with its key ingredients of soft shell crab tempura, avocado and just the right amount of wasabi.
For the main course, the Five Spice Roasted Duck Breast ($20) surpassed my expectations. The boneless duck was cooked to my specifications (well done), shingled across the plate and napped with a cognac citron sauce. The Chinese taro root that accompanied the duck failed to excite me – perhaps that is an acquired taste.
Brian was almost overwhelmed with the Stir Fried Beef Fillets ($20) but managed to consume all the tender meat on his plate, along with the stir-fried baby bok choy and sesame walnuts. We both had steamed brown rice on the side; I loved its nutty flavor and chewy texture, while Brian was wishing he had asked for fried rice.
Being a huge fan of lemongrass, I was excited to see Lemongrass Cheesecake on the dessert menu. Our waiter warned me that it did not have that strong a lemongrass flavor, and he was right. That is one dish that deserves to be improved – more lemongrass, please. That was the only small tarnish on this gem of a restaurant.
Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.