I'm a big fan of Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga and his eponymous restaurant at the Symphony House - Sbraga. So it's a no-brainer that the GF and I would check out Juniper Commons, his 80's themed outpost across the street. The GF loves any themed concept, but I'm down with any Chef that can turn out a deliciously decadent foie gras soup.
We pushed past all the negativity surrounding the supposedly regressive concept and decided to stop by for a pre-theater dinner. Apparently we were just in time based on this statement that was just released, indicating its unfortunate demise. Some say the 1980s was one of the ugliest decades for decor, but the design here was still sleek and open. They even have a fire pit in the open kitchen - perfect to roast a prime rib or a 32 oz. steak.
Service started off with some zucchini bread, provided with a pat of butter topped with sea salt. Moist and studded with raisins and walnuts, this was a delicious, yet surprisingly sweet start to the meal.
Pimms, lemon, cucumber, strawberry
The GF can't be denied her Pimm's Cup and Juniper Commons' iteration was appropriately fruity, light, and refreshing.
Point Breeze [$12]
Bluecoat gin, grapefruit, rose
Considering the name of the restaurant and the theme, you'd expect a great gin program which Juniper Commons has in spades. This tipple featured Philly-based Bluecoat. The floral notes were rendered more complex with the addition of grapefruit and rose. Himalayan pink salt studded the rim.
Peel n' Eat Shrimp Cocktail [$15]
Cocktail sauce, lemon
These Florida Sun shrimp were nicely poached, shell-on. The GF wasn't a fan of working for her food, but we both enjoyed these substantial and snappy crustaceans nonetheless. The accompanying cocktail sauce was sweet, with a nice horseradish kick.
Chili pepper aioli, lemon
While not exactly this year's pork belly, you do see fried smelts gaining ground. And why not? It's the perfect salty bar snack for those who enjoy fish. Head-on, these fishy fries were aggressively seasoned and had a thin, crisp batter, with the bones within offering even more texture. The chili pepper aioli had some acid and kick to balance out the weight of the flaky and meaty fish.
Eggplant Fritters [$16]
Eggplant relish, mozzarella curds, pomodoro sauce
This dish was definitely redolent with the components of eggplant parm. The pomodoro sauce was well developed with the fresh herbs providing additional flavor. The mozzarella curds were chewy nuggets of gold. Still, the eggplant was inconsistently cooked. The relish was great - well roasted and packed with seasoning. But a few of the crispy fritters showcased eggplant that was extremely chewy and gummy, rather than tender. A decent dish that could have been better executed.
Mayo, celery salt, drawn butter, chives, potato roll
On the other hand, the GF's lobster roll was top notch. It doesn't get better than a perfectly buttered and toasted potato roll, packed with huge chunks of sweet lobster with minimal dressing. A pat of pickled veggies provided some balance between bites. Almost overshadowing the lobster roll were the beef fat fries. Thick-cut and properly fried, each bite was lightly crisp, yet melted upon mastication. In fact, one of the servers who stopped by to chat described them as being seductive. Considered me seduced.
Pinot Noir Wine Cooler [$9]
Apple brandy, blackberry
There wasn't a dessert menu on hand, but of the few offerings rattled off by our server, none seemed to surpass our need for a Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream next door. Still, I had to end the meal with one of Juniper Commons' wine coolers - bottled in-house, sparkling, and slightly chilled. This was easy drinking - light fruit with a brandy buttress.
I assume our main server was not the most engaging due to the fact that Juniper Commons was set to close at the end of the week. Yet, I was still impressed by the overall service - from the friendly hostess to the manager that stopped by mid-meal. In fact, another server even stopped by to chat at length about the fried smelts and fries. Clearly it's about teamwork at Sbraga Dining and I'm sure the next endeavor will benefit from redoubled efforts. While there were some inconsistencies in the eggplant dish, everything else was well-executed and delicious. For the naysayers, I don't think the point was to blow you away with creative twists on classics. They're classics for a reason. The lobster rolls were done right and their raw bar was fresh. And the beef-fat fries? I hope they survive the next act from Chef Sbraga.