When it came time to freshen up the ambience of Juniper Restaurant & Martini Bar, chef-proprietor Justin Thompson took it a step further. He slanted the menu away from New American to modern French.
“I’ve had an itch to do this for a year or so,” he said. “I wanted to focus on what I do best and what Tim Slavin is best at doing, and that’s French.
“It’s not what I did when I was at The Brasserie. That was more bistro style, and this is more modern French with a more modern plating of the food.
“When we needed to close down for a week for the remodel, I thought that would be a good time to do it.”
Slavin is executive chef for Thompson’s JTR Group, which also includes Tavolo, Prhyme Downtown Steakhouse and 624 Kitchen & Catering.
A few of the most popular items from the former Juniper menu survived the change, and we had a mix of the old and new on a recent weeknight visit.
Among the entrees that most impressed around our table were seared sea bass meunière ($31), duck two ways ($27) and gnocchi ratatouille ($18).
The sea bass was a thick fillet with smoked olive oil, pistou (a cold sauce with a base of garlic, basil and olive oil) and preserved lemon. It had a fresh taste and came with a small side of ratatouille and herbed lentils.
Duck two ways included duck confit and warm apple salad with tarragon honey, and medium-rare to rare slices of duck breast with maple demiglace over butternut squash puree.
The shredded duck in the apple salad was a tasty combination, and the duck breast was tender and flavorful. A side of excellent brown-butter Brussels sprouts ($6) was a winning combination with the duck.
Gnocchi ratatouille was a vegetarian dish that delivered a lot of flavor with zucchini and yellow squash ribbons, roasted eggplant, roasted red bell peppers and lemon thyme cream.
Other dishes included a nice grilled tenderloin filet ($34) with Parisian potatoes, small, round balls of potatoes that are delicious and easy to make at home, as well. The steak was covered in smoked rosemary and shallot butter, with a heavy emphasis on the rosemary.
The bistro burger and frites ($15) was a whale of a burger, and at that price, it better be. A large pork belly-and-beef patty was paired with Brie cheese, caramelized onions, bibb lettuce, fried shallots and saffron aioli. The house-made fries were crisp and tasty.
One diner made a dinner out of a fromage (cheese) plate, which I didn’t get a good look at, and mais panzanella, a salad of heirloom cherry tomatoes, roasted corn, pickled shallots, creme fraiche and aleppo powder (medium-hot pepper). It was supposed to include brioche croutons, but we couldn’t locate any.
We also shared a bistro frisèe aux lardons salad ($10). The slightly bitter frisèe leaves were served with house-cured bacon, bleu cheese, julienned apples, toasted walnuts, sherry vinaigrette and the star of the dish, a poached egg.
Sweet corn soup ($6) had a generous amount of lump crab, chives and piment d’Espelette (mild pepper). The soup had a slightly sweet flavor and was barely tepid.
French toast bread pudding ($11) provided a stunning finish. It was topped with maple creme anglaise and plump, fresh berries, such as strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.
Juniper also offers five-course ($49 per person, $76 with wine) and seven-course ($63 per person, $98 with wine) prix-fixe dinners that give customers a wide sampling of the Juniper menu. Everyone at the table must order the prix-fixe dinners.
Juniper has added more French wines and offers full bar service. The incomparable Liz Taylor-Pounds is behind the bar most nights.
The dining room has a lighter, brighter look than it did previously with soothing white and cream walls. Decorations include new artwork from Allison Keim and Dustin Saied (also bar manager at Prhyme). Taylor Young will be adding more pieces.
“We’re also going to put in an alleyway garden for herbs, veggies and flowers,” Thompson said. “Grogg’s Green Barn will be doing that for us.
“This whole thing has been a lot of fun. I’ve really gotten excited about it.”