There have been eager whispers about the new upstart that could change the landscape for fine dining in downtown. All the ingredients for a sensational restaurant are present -- a well-respected, talented chef-about-town, a great location and a farm-to-table concept that is executed masterfully.
Juniper Restaurant and Martini Lounge, 324 E. 3rd St., has become downtown's answer to high-end fare and is already bustling with blissful diners.
Even on a Wednesday evening the place was buzzing with guests and I was glad I had made reservations. The front entrance led into an open and cozy layout, with a gorgeous, well-appointed bar to the left, seating spread over two levels and a view right into the kitchen. There was something intriguing about being able to see into the kitchen and it set the tone for the rest of the evening.
One can't go to a martini lounge without having a martini, and Juniper had a great selection of eclectic cocktails. I was drawn to the rosemary lemon drop, with fresh lemon juice, organic vodka and rosemary-infused simple syrup.
My lucky dining guest went for the Warm Autumn Night, an apple cinnamon infused bourbon. They were both unique and packed a fresh punch. Each cocktail was only $10, and this included tax. This was a running theme throughout the menus, with tax already included, so there are no surprises when the check arrives. If martinis aren't your speed, Juniper also offers a number of rare Oklahoma beers.
Admittedly I had been drooling over Juniper's menu since it opened about a month ago. Juniper serves lunch with a well-rounded list of options that includes some items from their dinner menu, but features sandwiches as well. A lunch menu like this makes me long to be a downtown worker again. The dinner menu could be interpreted as a tad ostentatious, but if it lived up to its line-up, it could be nothing short of an amazing dinner experience.
We began with the sweet carrot soup ($6, $9) which proved to be the most delicately flavored and sumptuously textured soup we had ever tried. The carrots were understated, the cognac cream perfect and, behold, a cloud of decadent lobster lying atop. At our table it even transformed from a soup to a sauce for the bread and contemplated whether the social faux pas of licking the bowl was worth obtaining every last bite.
The mushroom fritto ($8) came to our rescue in a big way. A little lesson here, if something says "fritto" in the description, it is not referring to those little corn chips; it means "fried". In other words, go with it.
We've all been to establishments that are famous for their fried mushrooms. Those establishments should be very afraid. Juniper's mushrooms come mounded on a plate, enough for the whole table to enjoy. Delicious fresh mushrooms are surrounded by a lovely batter and the sage aioli for dipping is nothing short of addictive. We thought there would be no way of completing that entire serving of mushrooms. We were wrong.
The next indulgence to hit the table was the natural farms maple glazed pork belly ($9). Pork belly is a lot like the forbidden part of the pork chop, the 'fatty' part that you aren't supposed to eat even though it's heavenly. That is basically what pork belly is, but without the guilt. Juniper's preparation was divine, with several hulky pieces of pork belly, a dainty piece of brioche and a green apple slaw. Building a bite combining each element was a sleek combination of flavors that allowed the pork belly to shine.
The romaine heart Caesar ($7) has to be one of the most creative Caesar salads I've ever encountered. A nice portion of un-separated romaine heart is drizzled with a light, creamy aioli and dotted with parmesan crisps. The highlight is the anchovies, which are whole anchovies deep fried and scattered about the salad. This combination of flavors was topped off with fragrant shaved onion and was a playful take on a classic.
I must admit, I've never had duck terrine until Juniper, so I don't have a comparison. I can say, though, with absolute certainty that the Juniper duck terrine ($11) was fantastic. Originating as a hearty meal for French laborers, it is a serving of ground meat, reminiscent of a meatloaf, chocked full of lovely duck, herbs and many other ingredients a chef can use to personalize it.
Juniper's duck terrine was a delightful serving with two large pieces creating bookends for the herb salad and was served with lavender crisps, which were just heavenly on their own.
The pièce de résistance was the rack of Oklahoma lamb ($28), served with delicious morsels of pork belly, fennel confit and a mustard cream sauce that brought it all together. The lamb was cooked perfectly, with a blushing cherry red center and the mustard cream sauce was more than just an afterthought, as it added a nice kick to the conservatively seasoned meat.
I had my heart set on the duck two ways ($26) with duck confit and seared breast, butternut squash puree and apple salad. My heart would have to wait, however, because this evening the popular dish was no longer available. This speaks volumes about its excellence and gives me an excuse to make another reservation soon. Other menu features include an herbed gnocchi and market fresh vegetables with pesto cream ($16) or a prime tenderloin filet or rib-eye steak, with a coffee rub ($29). It is nice when a restaurant offers so many items at a reasonable price so diners have an option to make it an extravagant experience or just enjoy a beautifully crafted meal without breaking the bank.
Not one to eschew extravagance, I succumbed to the dessert menu, and with selections like grand marnier mousse ($8), chocolate bread pudding ($9) and the seasonal cobbler for two ($12), how could I resist? The seasonal cobbler accompanied us home for a late-night snack and was absolutely divine. The crust was more of a shortbread consistency that covered succulent blueberries and blackberries, and was paired with a side of vanilla bean ice cream that had a perfect drizzle of maple cinnamon glaze.
Over and over again, each dish was a testament to the masterful ability of the chef to combine flavors that blend and complement, without ever overpowering the harmony of taste. The menu is almost a reflection of the restaurant itself; from the bright and lovely décor, to the artisan-crafted cocktails, guests can tell that every detail is carefully considered.
The thought and attention that went into this menu alone foretells amazing things for the next iteration of Juniper's ever-changing menu. The future is bright for this new kid on the Blue Dome block, so reservations will always be a good idea, especially if you are looking to have an extraordinary dining experience while enjoying everything that downtown Tulsa has to offer.
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