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Dining Review: Juniper & Ivy


Juniper & Ivy

It’s apt that a chef named Blais has opened a restaurant generating a firestorm of buzz. Former Top Chef All Stars champion-turned-restaurateur Richard Blais recently transplanted himself from Georgia to Del Mar. Upon doing so, he quickly realized how different Southern Californian’s regional cuisine and eating habits are from those of Southerners. In building Juniper & Ivy — a 260-seat eatery in the renovated Helix Wholesale Co. building on Kettner in Little Italy between — you guessed it — Juniper & Ivy, the modernist chef set out to present his sometimes whimsical, often fashionable, always flavorful take on SoCal staples. It’s called “left coast cookery,” and it’s divine.


An extensive menu of items — most unlike anything available throughout San Diego County — pays loose homage to local favorites including carnitas and carne asada, while incorporating delicacies including Baja yellowtail, uni, and Carlsbad oysters. The latter are dressed with tomatillo and dotted with horseradish ice cream amid a brilliant bayside presentation complete with smooth stones, fennel fronds, and dry-ice mist. The dish — a nod to Thomas Keller’s trademark “Oysters and Pearls” amuse — looks and tastes of local waters.


Juniper & Ivy’s “carne asada” is presented as highly seasoned, rare beef served spread with crème fraiche over toast and topped with a quartet of sunny-side-up quail eggs. Bold notes of black pepper accompany each bite and sync beautifully with crumbled cotija-style cheese crafted and shipped from Mexico by the father of one of the restaurant staffers. Other toasts, including one featuring grilled grapes, make for great shared starters. Ditto rich items like a well-made pate of small-farm lamb with whole pickled cherries and apricot toast, and a simple but addictively delectable biscuit (Blais’ lone Southern holdover) made interiorly perfect thanks to self-rising flour and bronzed courtesy of smoked butter.


Though a fan of handcrafting pasta, Blais was reluctant to break out the semolina and roller in Little Italy. Eventually, he followed his heart, placing a trio of delightfully al dente offerings on Juniper & Ivy’s menu, and the restaurant is all the better for it. Razor clam “linguni,” purposely misspelled to denote the addition of sea urchin in a rich butter dressing, is a rich and satisfying entrée on its own, but feel free to share if you can muster enough generosity to surrender a portion of this outstanding dish. Mellower but delicious in its meaty rusticity is pappardelle bathed in a ragout of lamb braised until tender over a 28-hour span and garnished with more familial cotija cheese.


With nearly 30 starters and small plates on the bill of fare, it can be difficult to save room for an entrée, but mains are substantial in size, so plan accordingly. Meats and seafood are cooked exceptionally well, with crispy skinned, deliciously moist halibut serving as a prime example and tasting great alongside roasted potatoes and a puree of purple cauliflower. And, if, somehow, adequate space remains for dessert (sharing helps), indulge in the “Yodel,” a hollow chocolate cylinder filled with white chocolate mousse and devil’s food cake, then laid over hazelnut brittle and bathed in hot chocolate, table-side.


Experiencing Blais’ extensive next-level menu requires multiple visits, but given the caliber of cuisine and creativity, as well as the fact Juniper & Ivy is beautiful in its modern interior appeal and boasts a lively atmosphere, one’s desire to return figures to rival only the yearning for another of those heavenly biscuits. (619.269.9036, www.juniperandivy.com)   BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ


San Diego Chicken: Chevre Tortelloni, Charred Onion Jus, Mushroom Chip, Summer Squash from Juniper & Ivy
San Diego Chicken: Chevre Tortelloni, Charred Onion Jus, Mushroom Chip, Summer Squash from Juniper & Ivy
Juniper & Ivy
Juniper & Ivy


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