After nearly a year's worth of work, the long-anticipated restaurant by former Uchi and St. Philip chef Nicholas Yanes finally opened on October 13 near the east end of Cesar Chavez Street. We checked out this hotly anticipated newcomer on opening day.
One look at Juniper's ultra modern, industrial space justifies the long wait. The former midcentury warehouse has been transformed into a sleek, contemporary dining room with 18-foot ceilings with the original wood joists and concrete support beams. An open stainless-steel kitchen with a 12-seat chef’s counter shares space with the bar, creating one dynamic focal point. The dining room and lounge feature custom bamboo and wicker chairs, and a solid wood table for eight anchors a little nook at the back. A massive floor-to-ceiling glass and steel wall opens to the cozy courtyard, which should become a great people-watching spot while enjoying a craft libation.
The bar focuses on local and boutique spirits, offering cocktail creations based on the classics with personal touches. The wine list is small but carefully selected, including options in various price ranges. Servers are happy to let you sample wines available by the glass before making your choice. Strangely, we did not see any beer listed on the menu.
Cocktail in hand, we perched at the chef's counter to watch the action with Yanes overseeing every single plate before sending out. The menu is described as Northern Italian, but that invokes an image of abundant, rich dishes. Juniper's cuisine is dainty, technique-driven, and modern.
Items are divided into starters and mains although portions are similarly small. Prices range from $3 for an oyster with basil seeds, tomato, and white balsamic to $17 for a perfectly cooked rib eye with tomato emulsion and a chunky caperberry chimichurri — a dish that would have been beyond ethereal had the meat been a bit warmer (we'll chalk that up to first day jitters). We also enjoyed the red risotto with shredded beets, duck confit, and creamy mascarpone and the unusual chilled smoked squid with celery, sliced grapes, and grape pudding.
Be warned that, although everything is superbly tasty and gorgeously presented, the miniscule portions will add up to a hefty bill quickly. Juniper is a fun place to experiment and enjoy high-end cuisine, but those seeking a substantial, rib-sticking Italian dinner may be disappointed.
Do not overlook the dessert menu, although you may need to ask your server for clarification on the item descriptions. Award-winning pastry chef Kerstin Bellah has four creations on the opening menu, including a delicious frozen milk chocolate bar with a molten center, accompanied by fresh mint ice cream. She is also in charge of the house-made pastries served at brunch.
Juniper is open for daily dinner and drinks starting at 4 pm, with brunch service both Saturday and Sunday, and we are curious to see what these are like. As of day one, a few understandable tweaks are needed, but we're certain that Juniper will improve upon them — and then some.