Friday, November 7, 2014

Poison and Ivy: Juniper and Ivy Revisited

My first experience at Juniper and Ivy had been a positive one, so when my mom (also a Top Chef fan) came to town, I made sure to book a dinner at Chef Richard Blais’ place. I guess that’s why I was so surprised, when after making reservations two weeks in advance, we were led to a table in the bar instead of the dining room.  

The mismatched height of chair and tabletop immediately contorted me into the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which allowed me to enjoy our view overlooking the servers’ station brimming with crumpled receipts and broken, brown butter cookies (for some reason the cookies didn’t have the same appeal as my last visit, where they were served as a final goodbye…now they only offered a most unappetizing hello). I asked if they had anything in the dining room and there were two open tables that could accommodate us.  So…why weren’t we offered one of those first?

Strike one.

Also, it was so much louder this time (they were pretty much at full capacity), so loud that it was hard to carry on a conversation. The warehouse-style cement floors and high ceilings absorbed no sound. And for this Jersey girl, whose voice was set at volume 10 on the regular, if I wasn’t able to talk above the chatter, then it was pretty fucking loud.


Weiser Farm Potatoes: La Quercia Proscuitto/ Nitro Hollandaise/ Cured Egg Yolk

I was so excited to show my mom how Blais could bend the ordinary, but these basic fingerling potatoes didn’t turn the tricks that caught my attention last time with a similar dish, and although I liked the idea behind these spuds, they were lacking in most areas.

I apologize for the poor quality of most of the pictures, but it was hard to even shed light on the photos this visit ( also, the shadow on the potatoes give the illusion of more toppings than in reality - don't be fooled!).

Mainly, I would have just have loved a little more of everything - yolk, hollandaise, prosciutto – something besides fistfuls of fingerlings. Unfortunately, this plate of potatoes remained just that.

Corn Fritters: Old Bay Aioli

I fell for these fritters hook, line and sinker…as in dead weight, heavy as lead, cast iron sinkers. They were borderline undercooked, offering up a dense center that wasn't just dough heavy, but so heavy with garlic, it overrode every other flavor, especially the corn whose sweetness was masked completely.

Strike two.

Bacon Wrapped Rabbit: Stuffing/ Cranberry/ Mushroom Jus

This was the first item of the night that truly impressed me. The rabbit was sinfully salty from the crisped bacon wrapped around its sides, and it had the consistency of a succulent, juicy cut of pork. The stuffing was decent and cranberry relish was ok, but the rabbit was the prize.

I also adored the mushroom jus on the plate, but I was fighting a losing battle with the giant rounds of thick, seared sweet potatoes (not seen in the menu description), whose desperately dry centers sucked up all of my precious gravy.

Ahi Tuna: Mushroom Puree/ Huckleberry/ Carrot Top Salsa Verde

Does anyone else see PEPPER CRUSTED mentioned in the tuna’s preparation??!! Me neither and it was kind of a big deal since my mom had always been sensitive to spice. With her entrĂ©e course coated in pepper, it kind of put a damper on the main component of her meal. 

Even though it was served with an array of tasty sauces - the barely there huckleberry, the "carrot top salsa verde" (which was pretty much just carrot tops), the decadent, earthy mushroom puree - there was just no escaping the pepper's spray.  

Strike three.

Yodel: Devil’s Cake/ White Chocolate/ Hazelnut Brittle/ Hot Chocolate

We ordered the yodel for dessert, which I had raved about after my first visit, and like the last time, it was a home run. But it was already too late. Blais had lost the game. Sure, he was a real chef and didn’t just play one on TV, but while he was busy filming his new Food Network show, Hungry Games, a new season of Top Chef and running his other restaurants,  it seemed details were being missed in the kitchen.

No bread this time. No post-dinner cookies (and I knew they were around since I saw them while I sat hunched at my bar table). I realized that since Blais wasn’t always present (though he was in-house on my first visit, which was probably why it was so on point), his kitchen didn’t necessarily put out the same quality of food every night. My mom’s final word summed up the meal - “disappointing”.  Unfortunately, it was enough to convince me not venture back a third time because the price wasn’t worth the inconsistency.