I had a birthday yesterday, so we decided to try out the new and (supposedly) improved Juniper at its new location at 19 Main St. in Hastings. We have enjoyed meals at Alex Sze’s other restaurants in Hastings and heard excellent things about Juniper’s former iteration, so we were hoping for a great meal.
The restaurant was empty except for one other table (they were finishing up) when we arrived at 8pm last night. I was a bit surprised by this, but then again, we’re in Westchester, not Manhattan! Anyway, the space itself is lovely, with a beautiful central bar, understated decor and fabulous light fixtures. Service was friendly and attentive throughout the meal. We started with cocktails (Obscure Reference and Saw the Cowgirls) from their very interesting cocktail menu - both delicious and complex, and not too sweet (overuse of simple syrup is one of my pet peeves on a cocktail menu, and I was pleased not to see it listed at all here).
Anyway, I hadn’t researched the food menu beforehand so I was prepared to spend a little time reading. As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary - the menu is quite small. However, it is also very poorly organized, in my opinion. Here’s a photo:
The three categories (Snacks, Small Plates and Standards) don’t really tell you much about what is contained in each category. The Standard category has a soup, two salads and a Brussels sprouts dish, all of which I would more typically think of as first course/appetizer items or small plates. The other three items are larger plates, but the only way to know that is to ask the waitperson or surmise it from the price point. The snacks could all easily fall into the small plate category as well - no idea why they were separated as snacks.
Anyway, they also had a short rib for two on special last night, so we went with that plus the three items from the snack menu (if I had been dining by myself I might have chosen differently, but these worked for both me and DH). The snacks (hush puppies, bao buns and lamb ribs) came out all at once. I apologize for the poor photos; the lighting was very dim and I realized after the fact that I should have removed the candle from our table because it was interfering with the flash and focus.
The clear (and only) winner among these was the lamb ribs - they were tender, fatty and delicious. The spice rub was simple and allowed the flavor of the meat to shine. Unfortunately, the hush puppies were dense and dry, and even the honey butter couldn’t save them. The bao buns were really disappointing, too - just a small piece of underseasoned chicken breast, breaded and fried, with a meager smear of tahini and a slice of cucumber. Very dry and completely uninteresting. I know that that menu says “chicken, tahini, cucumber,” but when I’m paying $8 for two buns, I expect the chef to actually DO something with the ingredients rather than just assemble them.
Next came the short rib, which was explained to us as a bo ssam type thing, served with lettuce wraps and some other vegetable accoutrements with a side of duck fat fried rice. That fried rice had caught my eye on the regular menu so I was very excited to try it!
Overall, this dish was also very disappointing. The beef was tasty enough, with a sweet-tangy glaze, but it hadn’t been cooked quite long enough (IMO), so it had the texture of pot roast rather than the fork-tender texture that I expect from short ribs. There was also a LOT of fat/connective tissue/gristle, which of course I expect from short ribs, but once that was all cut away there wasn’t really sufficient meat for an entree course meant to serve two people. Luckily for us, DH loves fat and other chewy bits, so he happily ate the stuff most people would discard. The vegetable garnishes were just plain cucumber and radish slices, a few sliced scallions and shallots, and a few lettuce leaves. I was dying for something vinegary, spicy or pickled to contrast with the sweet glaze on the beef, but alas, there was nothing. The rice was the real loser though - it was basically steamed white rice that had been thrown in a hot mini-cocotte and topped with crispy shallots. Not a hint of duck flavor (nor any other flavor; it was clearly not seasoned adequately during the steaming process), no soy sauce - quite honestly, I don’t think it had even been fried. Completely blah. Also, (not that it really mattered because it wasn’t good) a very small portion for two people - those mini-cocottes hold 8 oz and this one was no more than three-quarters full.
When the dessert menu came around, I wasn’t feeling any of the three choices (sticky toffee pudding, a semi-freddo and a salted chocolate caramel something), so I went back to the regular menu and ordered the foie gras (it had fruit, so that makes it dessert!). DH went with the sticky toffee pudding:
The foie gras was my favorite dish of the night, although I could have done without the persimmons (I ate a couple of pieces and left the rest behind - there was way too much of it and the pieces were far too large). The vin cotto and smoked dates added plenty of sweetness to contrast with the foie, which came as both a terrine and small pieces of seared foie. They had seasoned both with a flaky salt, which was a nice touch - little crunchy bursts of salt to offset the sweet and rich. The beverage director was at the bar and noticed that I had ordered meat for dessert, and kindly brought over a Madeira on the house, which did go very well with the foie.
DH’s sticky toffee pudding was moist and tasty, but relentlessly sweet - I had one bite and that was enough. The pistachio ice cream that came with it was really nice - I would order that by itself!
I never visited the previous iteration of Juniper but from reading other reviews online, it sounds as though they are trying to go in a new direction here. IMO, they have a great many kinks to work out in the kitchen. We won’t return until we see a major menu revamp at the very least. Organizing the menu into two categories (Small Plates and Large Plates) would be a good start, although I kind of feel like if you’re trying to do a small plates concept, you should just do small plates and be done with it. However, the food itself needed work as well - it just wasn’t interesting enough to justify the prices they are charging.