Juniper & Ivy is quarterbacked by Richard Blais, winner of Top Chef All-Stars, and when he is in-house, as he was during our visit, it is a fact not to be forgotten. It wasn’t even his doing; the staff was acting a little goofy about it, though that was probably just their reaction to the stalker like behavior of patrons who came simply to lay eyes upon Blais, giving zero shits about the actual food being served, and you know, let’s all relax, dude is a chef not Lady Gaga. Though if I’m honest with myself, I prefer his talents to hers, so.
J&I is located in Little Italy which is apparently SD’s popping & snapping, up and coming, restaurant ‘hood. It’s a newish release, having opened sometime in early 2014; a pretty penny, or a million pretty pennies, were clearly dropped on the metropolitan design, with a center quad of Pottery Barn-esque sloping pendant lights poised over slope backed booths, exposed rafters, an enormous open kitchen, modern art, and a few large tables outfitted with privacy curtains
Up front, a snazzy, night clubby bar, with some seriously comfy bar stools that must have run them a good three benji’s per
Our night commenced with a round of specialty cocktails, selected from a menu of unique and thoughtful options; the one that wakes me up at 3AM with a mixture of PTSD and awestruck wonder was Randi’s order, which was topped with a whipped cream/foam so sweet that one lick of the stuff literally hurt my tongue. I can’t recall the name, and looking at the cocktail menu now, it’s not there, which means the bar offerings are as seasonal and serious as the kitchen’s, which is, in one word, fantastic.
We were soon seated in one of the four cushy, full backed, half-moon booths; an order of biscuits appeared, biscuits that don’t deserve the lowly billing of complimentary bread, but more accurately, an amuse
with a hot, crisp crust, encasing a soft, almost custard like dough flecked with green onions and, it would seem, cheese.
The menu starts with snacks, then moves into raw options, pasta, toast, small plates, and entrée’s. We got things going with an order of BBQ Octopus from the snack selections, with a firm, steaky texture, a sweet eel sauce glaze, and a refreshing hit of light and tangy papaya “noodles”
Second pick , the country biscuit with foie gras butter, which arrived in a covered mini cast iron. Our server dramatically removed the lid and proceeded to waft campfire scented smoke about the table, in each of our respective faces. Yeah that’s schticky, and yeah, I personally gestured and wafted into my own face, because I found the whole bit of theater enchanting and better yet, it really wasn’t just for show, as the biscuit was completely infused with smoke.
The disc of foie butter on top was lavishly portioned, enough so that all five of us were able to get a full taste, complimented by a smattering of sea salt.
From the toast category, (why doesn’t every menu have a collection of toasts?) we opted for a crusty, malty, loose crumb delight, topped with burrata, garlic scape (the flower stalk portion of a hardneck garlic plant, it turns out), pickled ramps, and baby tomatoes.
It was a genius mound of things on bread, full of earthy, deep, morel flavor, piquant ramps, salty cheese, and sweet tomato juice.
Our large plate pick was the rabbit leg cacciatore with gnocchi, which was both refined and hearty at once, with satisfying pieces of succulent rabbit, fluffy gnocchi, mushrooms, nutty, toasted, bread crumbs, and a light, loose, almost broth like tomato sauce.
Of the three pastas offered, we elected the linguine and clams with uni butter and brioche crouton as our carb of choice
The uni butter/pasta sauce was a little thin, weak, and under seasoned to my taste, though it did wake up with a hit of salt, and the brioche croutons were a nice butter soaking vehicle, but I just felt this one was a bit of a fizzle.
I did myself no favors with the dessert in that I did not write down what it was. I know it was a coffee cake with ice cream and nuts, and I know it was decadently delicious, but that’s all I got.
Outside, as we waited for our Uber, we were subject to a proclamation by the valet to arriving diners that chef was, indeed, in tonight.
Juniper & Ivy
2228 Kettner Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101