Bailey’s Prime Plus: Chef Grant Morgan and Sommelier Jennifer Jaco Make Their Marks

raw bar selections

sommelier jennifer jaco is mixing it up at baileys

chestnut and mushroom ravioli

really good scallop

venison chops

A talented sommelier can turn a good meal into a great one. Conisder Jennifer Jaco, the new sommelier a at Bailey’s Prime Plus in Dallas. A recent transplant from Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, Jaco could make tofu sing. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to, because the food coming out of executive chef Grant Morgan’s kitchen makes it easy.

At their invitation, I popped by last week to taste some of the new dishes on the fall menu and learn about the direction Jaco was taking the wine department.

“We have roughly 300 selections on our current wine list,” Jaco told me. (Owner Ed) Bailey said he wants a Wine Spectator award and I should make whatever changes are necessary get us there.”

So she’s adding both breath and depth to the wine list, doubling the number of selections and adding verticals of a few key wines to make the list sparkle.

Since Morgan’s menu veers–careens–off course from the usual steakhouse roadmap, Jaco has a lot of latitude beyond the usual “Cabernet with steak” routine.

To pair with a  raw bar sampling of shrimp, oysters, crab claws, clams and lobster claws, for example, Jacob passed on the pedestrian choice of Sauvignon Blanc or bubbles and chose instead a glass of off-dry Masumi Arabashiri Jumai Ginjo sake.

To Morgan’s dense and unctuous chestnut and mushroom ravioli with sage-brown butter sauce and aged sherry vinegar, Jaco responded with a somewhat obscure Cotes du Rhone: a Bellaruche Blanc. To pair with seared scallops. roasted apple purée, butternut squash, and a drizzle of black truffle demi-glace, Jaco chose an earthy, flinty, aromatic Washington state Viognier from K Vintners.

Roasted duck breast with sweet potato gnocchi and cranberries? The moderately priced Fontanafreddo Barolo. Venison chop with turnips, carrots and black pepper? Prima Tempranillo, from Toro, Spain.

Cabernet’s days may not be numbered at Dallas steakhouses, but those bold Napa fruit bombs are steadily losing ground as skilled sommeliers introduce diners to less familiar grapes.

Pappas Bros. deep roster of certified sommeliers (they were awarded the city’s only Wine Spectator Grand Award) has long led the field in relative solitude. But talented somms like Jaco at Baileys and Scott Samsen at Del Frisco’s in Addison have heard the call–and are closing the gap.