James is a casual neighborhood restaurant in Prospect Heights with a friendly vibe—a great place for weekday unwinding. In addition to well-priced sides and more spendy appetizers, James also has a menu of bar snacks, so we stopped by last week to see if it was possible to cobble together a meal of small plates.
We started with the bar snacks. Fried Chickpeas ($4) were not as spicy and flavorful as the ones at Al Di La, but they were much crispier, and made for a great snack to wash down with beer. Crispy Purses ($5) were filled with goat cheese, sesame paste and dates; the sesame and goat cheese were an unexpected combination but the flavors worked together.
Mushroom Risotto Arancini ($5) were also worth an order, with a crispy exterior and rich, creamy risotto innards. Best of all, they sat in a pile of grated pecorino romano cheese which formed a sort of crust on the bottom of the arancini, making them even more delicious.
Carrot Leek Salad ($5) was more a vegetable side than a salad, though it did taste very good—well-seasoned and buttered roasted carrots and leeks, nicely charred and served hot. The combination of purple, yellow, and orange carrots made it aesthetically pleasing as well. The Smoked Paprika Fries ($5) were a standout, perfectly crispy on the outside and soft within. They would have been fine without the pimenton, but as a confirmed pimenton addict I wasn't complaining.
We did eat a few appetizers with all of the bar snacks and sides. Spinach Salad ($11) with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized cippolini onions, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and balsamic vinaigrette was a simple but perfect creation.
Glazed Berkshire Pork Belly with Apple Ginger Chutney ($13) was tender on one side and crispy on the other. The chutney was what set this dish apart from every other restaurant's pork belly dish—it was sweet, but not cloyingly so, nearly upstaging the pork. These dishes, though perhaps not quite the value of the bar snacks and sides, were a cut above the other dishes we enjoyed.
James has something for everyone: bar snacks for those getting a drink after work, a good-looking burger and fries,* and fancier fare for those looking for a nice meal out. We ended up spending $48 for three people, just over our target price of $15/person. I left feeling jealous of the residents of Prospect Heights: we should all be so lucky to have a neighborhood restaurant like James.
*Of note to Apps Only readers (i.e. cheapskates), Mondays at James are half-price burger night.
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