My sister and I went to Juanita & Maude last night, which has only been open for about 2.5 weeks. It took the place of old-timer Nizza La Bella, which, for us, had gone downhill over the last at least 10 yrs. We split starters and firsts, no entrees.
Started out with cauli cheese croquetas over schug - fantastic!
My sister hated croquetas when we we were in Spain and I kind of agreed. It took Lisbon to turn me into a fan. These were light, crispy, and creamy inside. Schug turns out to be a chimichurri-type sauce but with jalapenos or serranos, although this one had no real heat.
Then, crostone of liverwurst & silky mortadella on house-made pugliese with picked veg.
The veggies were slightly sweet, not too tart, and the whole thing worked really well. I just found the combo of the charcuterie and the creamy liver, with the crunchy veg, very special. Plus the bread was so soft.
Next, a salad of grilled squid, amazing sweet cherry toms, chilies, ginger (not very discernible) and avocado.
The squid was perfectly smoky, a really great dish.
And then we had another salad but it was rather boring - endive (which i love), Roquefort, radish, broccoli, and a soft boiled egg.
The problem was that it was all bitterness with no real contrast, and all crunch (the broccoli was raw). It really could have used lardons. The egg was cooked perfectly, at least. We didn’t finish it, and the server didn’t make any mention of that when he picked up the dish.
Since that was going to be our last bite, we had to split a dessert.
Walnut cake with poached apples. It turned out to be more like a cupcake, which I dislike, but it fortunately wasn’t too sweet, pleasantly tender, with some buttery something on the plate and sweet/salty toasted walnuts on the side. The apple was fine but that cake was crying out for ice cream. Still, we really liked it.
The have some good cocktails (full bar)and a nice little diverse wine list; beer too. The server told us that Juanita & Maude were chef Scott Eastman’s (formerly of Corso in Berkeley) grandmother and mother, from who he draws his cooking inspiration. The decor is rather spare, and they got rid of the wooden booths that Nizza La Bella had. It feels a little cold in that room now to me, so maybe they’ll add some artwork. Juanita & Maude’s pictures are on one wall, but off to the side on the way to the kitchen.
Service was prompt and friendly, on a slow Tuesday night. They said they will be changing up the menu quite often, which is always a good sign, and in my opinion, why Nizza faltered, after so many years of doing the same thing every day, even though some of their dishes were favorites of ours.
We will definitely be back.