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[SEA] Cafe Juanita


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#1 Scorched Palate

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Posted 05 April 2005 - 07:42 PM

Cam and I recently had dinner at Cafe Juanita, and I have to admit to feeling a bit out of the loop: I don't really 'get' why this would be one of the Top 10 restaurants in the area. It was pricey for what we got and not terribly impressive. I also thought the lack of sufficient parking -- in a neighborhood where you can't park on nearby streets -- was unforgivable; we were almost late for our reservation as a result of this, but happened to find a spot up the block in a construction zone.

After having heard about their reknowned aperitif parings, perhaps my expectations were too high. Cam had a ginger martini, which came with cherry brik that was billed as having foie inside. He says "it was basically a potsticker". I had a pear brandy sidecar, which came with a delicate crostino topped with a whisper of cheese. Nice nibbles, but the cocktails were way off-balance and sloppily made; we didn't finish them.

For starters, I had a salad that sounded impressive but is now totally forgotten... something like shaved fennel and watermelon-radish dressed in Casa Brina olive oil. It was pretty, but too subtle. Cam had the most enormous plate of sweetbreads, which he said were very good; they had a fried-caper and fried-herb garnish.

My entree was pork cheeks braised in milk, served with "silk handkerchief" pasta. The pasta was cute (sage leaves embedded in it) but it was more of a garnish than a side -- I got the sense they really wanted to push you to order the separate sides -- which we didn't, even though they sounded good, because we weren't super-hungry. The cheeks were good, but there was twice as much meat as I could eat. And they weren't really anything I couldn't make at home on a weeknight.

Cam's main was impressive in its size: A whole roasted branzino that could have fed three people, garnished with a scattering of lentils (which looked like roe... very clever). The fish was tasty, but not thrilling. It was, after all, just a nice roasted fish. I wish we had ordered the ala carte sides, but then we would have had 3 times as much food as we needed... if you're going to have offer three-course dinner (really 4, with dessert) and the mains don't really include a starch, then IMHO the portions should be sized appropriately for people to really order that way. They weren't.

The service was good, with a few exceptions: Our waitress seemed shocked at how big the fish was, but then she made us feel bad for not ordering dessert. I was also a tiny bit annoyed at how our server fawned over the people at the next table who ordered cocktails, foie gras courses (they each had their own), salad or soup, AND a main course. "Very well-ordered!" she complimented, which made me feel like a bumpkin for ordering only 2 courses.

Our corner booth was nice and comfortable; I liked that they had a banquette surrounding the room. And I loved that they had Kiehl's soap in the ladies' room. :lol:

So overall, I was unimpressed. But, if someone said "hey, let's go to Cafe Juanita" I wouldn't say no -- I'm willing to give it another try, and hoping perhaps I was just in the wrong mood or ordered all the wrong things...

~A
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#2 ccrotty

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Posted 05 April 2005 - 09:25 PM

I agree with Anita. With the exception of the cocktails (mine was undrinkably sweet) everything was tasty but the portions were out of whack. My sweetbread appetizer was easily enough to be a main course, and the fish was ridiculous. I suppose that I'd go back, but I can't imagine being able to eat four courses there.

Top 10 in Seattle? Maybe if they're grading on a curve and adjusting for geography. The kitchen is competent, certainly, but it's not like they're breaking new ground.

c

#3 Scorched Palate

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Posted 05 April 2005 - 10:06 PM

A little follow-up:

Ginger Martini with Foie Gras Cherry Brik $12

Clear Creek Pear Brandy Sidecar with Chiabro d'Henry Crostini $12

Belgian Endive, Celery, Fennel and Watermelon Radish with Lemon $7

Crisp Veal Sweetbreads with Pantellarian Capers and Ligurian Olive Oil $13

Ligurian Silk Handkerchief with Korobuta Pork Cheeks Braised in Goat's Milk $20

Whole Roasted Branzino $29


After reviewing what I paid, now I am even less impressed...but I know there are plenty of folks who love this place. So tell me your stories.
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#4 malarkey

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Posted 08 April 2005 - 05:42 PM

I've eaten at Cafe Juanita twice in the past couple of years. The first time was before they were doing the small plate & cocktail thing. The food I had was very good, especially an appetizer that was a grilled radicchio thing (can't remember all the components but the flavor was ethereal) and the best entree on the table was a braised rabbit that was out of this world. can't remember if we had dessert or not. Second time, we did all appetizers, and that was good too, but definitely some dishes stood out amongst the crowd, and some were just ok. Service wasn't a problem either time that I recall. And, I don't remember portion size being an issue, but I do remember an entree that was steak with a hunk of foie on top and the flavor of the two together was over the top rich, a bit too rich IMO, but that's strictly personal opinion.

I do know that Holly has a baby now, maybe she's just not as vested in the restaurant as she once was. And I did hear that her entire kitchen turned over but that was awhile ago so I would think things would be smoothing out by now. It is a bit pricey for the experience to be that much off the mark, that's for sure.
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#5 schielke

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 07:35 PM

I recently went and had a great time. I have a feeling your trip was an off night.

I ordered the ginger martini and got a nicely balanced martini with a great light kick of fresh ginger flavor. The "potsticker" that I got was fantastic, the inside was oozing with melted foie. Yum.

I would agree that every so often there are a couple dishes that are just to subtle or even plain, but overall they turn out some great stuff.

I would really suggest another try. ;)

#6 Rail Paul

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 09:52 PM

Chef Holly Smith was on Iron Chef the other night, and performed quite well. She seemed to have a calm, tranquil style among the usual, contrived din.

I didn't notice whether the show was current, but she and her staff seemed to do an excellent job with grapes. Good work with the vacuum dryer, the nitrogen gun, and the various other tools. However, she burned something in the pressure cooker, and was able to recover and make it to the finish line.

Has anyone been to Cafe Juanita lately?

Thanks
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#7 tsquare

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 10:36 PM

That was a 2010 show - she recreated the meal for the showing; unfortunately, I was not there and have not been in some years.

#8 Lauren

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 05:39 PM

Paul and I had dinner at Cafe Juanita on Saturday. It was only my second time dining there, the first being a few years ago with my parents and cousins. This time we were free to order whatever we wanted.

We started with a standard cocktail, as they don't have a bartender. A negroni for me and a French 75 for Paul. Both were well made.

We asked for our servers advice when ordering. We said we wanted to try a lot of things and she guided us through it.

For the first few dishes, we ordered a half bottle of the Longshadows Poet's Leap.

To start off, we shared grilled octopus. The highlight of this dish was smoked bone marrow. OMG it was so good. The octopus was served on chickpea puree which was also really good. The larger pieces of octopus were a tad chewy but the rest was done well.

We each ordered a salad because I just HAD to have Burrata with peas and Paul really wanted the Kale salad with pickled cherries. We should have just had his salad. One of my favorite things about Burrata is cutting it open and having the insides ooze out. This had the consistency of a soft ricotta. The peas were undercooked and slightly chalky. Paul's salad was really good with an aged balsamic rounding it out.

For the mains we ordered a 2004 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona ‘Pianrosso’. She opened and decanted it at the beginning of the meal so it was ready for drinking when we were.

For the pasta, our server recommended the goat cheese gnocci with favas and morels. It was a perfectly fine dish.

For the mains, I had the braised rabbit and it did not disappoint. The sauce was totally swoon worthy. Paul had the saddle of lamb which came with this savory shortbread-type thing topped with grilled strawberries. He loved that. I was so full at this point that I had most of mine boxed to take home.

We were chatting with the table next to us and they highly recommended the panna cotta which was served with cardoon honey. We were too full for dessert but I was curious about the cardoon honey so our server brought us a little taste. It was interesting, minty. She said it's imported.

Total cost for our meal including cocktails and wine was $400.

Three adorably sophisticated young people sat on one side of us. One of them was turning 21. They were so open to trying anything - they asked our server to order for them and just bring it on. And she did. At one point they asked what type of mushroom did they just have. She said that wasn't a mushroom, that was foie gras. They didn't know what that was and asked her to elaborate. They loved it. Paul told them to feel lucky they weren't living in California.

Oh, and about the space. I liked it better this time that I was facing in to the restaurant, as opposed to facing out to the back side of the apartment building next door. The low ceilings made me feel a tad claustrophobic but they may have also helped the great acoustics. There was a nice vibe-y hum but we could still talk without shouting.
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#9 tighe

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 05:50 PM

I thought I'd posted about the meal Pat and I had last year. My summary, delicious, but a lot of $ for Italian food. Just my taste, but for that price, I want more technique involved in the dishes.
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#10 Really Nice!

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 01:48 AM

...She said that wasn't a mushroom, that was foie gras. They didn't know what that was...

WHAT THE FRICK!?!

#11 GourmetLight$

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 12:45 AM

liked it better this time that I was facing in to the restaurant, as opposed to facing out to the back side of the apartment building next door.


Too funny! I lived in those apartments when I first moved here in 1994!
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#12 Lauren

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 05:15 PM


liked it better this time that I was facing in to the restaurant, as opposed to facing out to the back side of the apartment building next door.


Too funny! I lived in those apartments when I first moved here in 1994!


You were truly stumbling distance then!
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