Helping us make it through the night was Tammy, a bright, genuinely professional waitress. She not only memorized our complicated order but had tasted all the wines on the list and could describe them as articulately as a Wine Spectator columnist. Her description of the Lo Brujo Macabeo from Spain ("lively, dry, slightly spicy -- it goes very well with our cooking") and the "velvety" Laird Cabernet were right on the money. Wines are served in Reidel stemless glasses -- top-notch but informal glassware that's apt for a gastropub that takes atmosphere lightly and wine seriously.
The meal took an upturn again with the desserts: Butterscotch lent renewed interest to the creamy crème brulée. A bittersweet, nut-studded chocolate brownie was irreproachable, although its topping of vanilla Gelato Vera was more a distraction than an asset for chocoholics Samurai Jim and Michelle.
Michelle ordered coffee and was unimpressed enough to douse it with cream and sugar. Upon tasting my decaf espresso, I let out a loud "gaak!" worthy of Cathy, the comic strip neurotic. The others, masochistically curious to sample the substance that had provoked this passionate reaction, begged for sips. "Gaaks!" followed the demitasse around the table. "Tastes like used coffee grounds," said Jim. "Maybe the coffeemaker needs cleaning," said Michelle. I've been taking espresso black since age 14, but this was a desperate case. "Maybe if I add sugar, I can turn it into a café Cubano," I murmured, pouring in a packet of Domino. Still yecchh. I stirred in a packet of brown sugar and was poking around for a package of Splenda when Lynne said, "That coffee is going to turn into a solid." I gave it up. Later, it vengefully kept me up until 5:00 a.m., decaf or no.
The moral of the story: Jaynes is a charming neighborhood spot to sample interesting wines or brews and graze on appetizers until you're full -- or maybe have a burger if you're really hungry. What's good here is really good. But forget the pricey entrées for now and skip ahead to dessert. Above all, don't even think about espresso. If it doesn't make you wish your stomach were in your foot -- at the far end of your body from your mouth -- I'll make like an embarrassed gastropod and eat my shoe.
There is, indeed, a Jayne. Owner Jayne Battle is the devastating blonde who presides at the bar and serves some of the food at busy times. "I came here from San Francisco about three years ago, after I worked for a lot of different restaurants there as a server and a bartender. I eventually gravitated more toward the kitchen -- just really fell in love with food. It's an easy city to do that in.
"I relocated here to be back with my family and saw that San Diego could use more good restaurants. I'm originally from Liverpool, England, but we emigrated when I was eight years old, and my family settled here. The gastropub idea came from...I was back in London a few years ago, and I saw how the pubs had been redone -- instead of the usual steak and kidney pie, now they have really nice menus. And a lot of young couples were taking them over and redoing them this way, these great old spaces. It seemed like a good concept. I wanted something that felt casual, with a nice atmosphere, but I also wanted to pay attention to the quality of the food. My father's involved as well. He would have liked something more like a real pub. So we compromised on a gastropub.
"I had worked at Parallel 33, and I hired a chef from there, Daniel Manrique. He does the cooking from a menu I put together with him. I sometimes cook, but I'm more out on the floor nowadays. These are just dishes I love to cook at home. I want quality comfort food. We use Bread & Cie breads, Niman Ranch meats -- I fell in love with them when I was in the Bay Area -- and we try to support local businesses, like, we use Cafe Moto coffee, Gelato Vera for ice creams and sorbets, although we make all our other desserts in-house."
Jayne and her fiancé did most of the work to convert the premises from a run-down coffee shop with concrete floors to its current incarnation, including the Victorian floor tiling. "We wanted San Francisco charm. We put in the tiling, the tin ceilings." I asked her about the noise. "I've been reading up on it, and Paris brasseries put in tile floors deliberately to get a kind of lively sound level, but a lot of people have been asking us about it. We're thinking about getting something behind the mirrors and such to soften the noise a little. And we're going to be opening up the patio in a couple of weeks, with heaters, so that should become a nice option and spread it out a little and help with the noise, when a lot of the people are outside."
About the paragon waitress: "I used to work with Tammy at Parallel 33. She's a dream, so professional. I stole her from there -- I had to have her. She's just really into it, someone who has a passion. I always take her along when I'm doing wine tastings; she gives great input."