I do not know about you, but all of the depressing daily news about our economy and the ludicrous spending bills that are being passed to help “fix” the problems have been enough to make me reach for boxes of samoas, tagalongs and frozen thin mints instead of getting myself motivated and going out for a delicious and healthier lunch. I have been in a bit of a funk since all of this began, and eating out has just not been as enjoyable as it once was. This was something that had to be rectified as soon as possible, but how was I going to escape this dark, sugary world? I decided to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants on the northshore, knowing that this would jolt me back to my senses.
From the moment I walked into Juniper I knew I picked the right place to help pull me up out of the Girl Scout cookie black hole into which I had fallen. The restaurant is located right across the street from Our Lady of the Lake Church inside a 100-year-old building that exudes a comfortable warmth and charm with its large beautiful windows and gorgeous old cypress floors. If you like al fresco dining they even have a lovely outdoor patio, for the few weeks out of the year that we can enjoy dining outside!
Because it had been so long since I had been out to a “good” lunch I could not make up my mind what to order. I asked if Chef Pete Kusiw would mind sending us a sample plate of whatever he still had from lunch. (We sort of showed up 5 minutes before lunch time ended!) He graciously said yes and out came some of the best tasting and creative dishes we have on the northshore.
First, let me state for the record that Chef Pete does not understand the term small portions. His plates are always generously filled, oftentimes with more than one could possibly eat at one meal. This lunch sampler was no exception. We started with one of my favorite salads, the Boston Blue Flower, which is a delicious combination of buttery Bibb lettuce and Stilton cheese vinaigrette topped with apple wood bacon, red onions and homemade croutons. But, my dining companion, Lori Marcus, could not stop raving about the Wasabi Tuna Salad. I have to admit, I liked it so much I went back the following week with my husband just so I could have a whole one for myself! The ahi tuna is pan seared and served over a large bed of fresh spring lettuce, tossed in a sesame ginger dressing and drizzled with the wasabi aioli. It is the perfect light lunch that will most assuredly become one of your favorites, too.
We also indulged in some of Chef Pete’s outstanding appetizers, including his paneed asparagus topped with lump crabmeat and satsuma hollandaise, and the always delectable crab and crawfish cakes. But, that was not the end of the meal. Oh, no we still had before us another crowd pleaser, the blackened brie with blueberry compote served with 3 large grilled shrimp and homemade crostinis. To finish off our lunch (and dinner for that day) was the eggplant pirogue. This is usually a dinner entrée, but he serves something similar for lunch. The flash fried eggplant is chock full of gulf shrimp, crawfish, and lump crabmeat sautéed in a garlic cream sauce. If seafood and scrumptious sauces are what you choose on a menu, you will love this dish.
After going to lunch at Juniper I’ll admit I started to feel much better, but I had to be sure that I was on my road to recovery. I decided to go back again that weekend for dinner. The only new appetizer that we tried was the deliciously different Louisiana Wonton which is a homemade wonton filled with a shrimp and crawfish coconut curry served with a side of spicy strawberry mango chutney.
Our main courses ranged from the incredibly filling pork osso bucco served with an oyster and andouille dressing to the Confit de Canard (Peking duck breast) drizzled with a raspberry demi glace. My husband ordered the local favorite, veal and crab which was served over capellini and finished with a béarnaise sauce. All of these entrees were excellent, and my only complaint was that even the hardiest of appetites would be hard-pressed to finish just one of them!
There are several other dishes that I recommend trying the next time you visit Juniper. The bouillabaisse, or the Sunday brunch special, grillades and grits are excellent, but don’t count on them always being on the menu. Chef Pete likes to keep his menu fresh by revolving items every few weeks, but no worries, you can always check the web site to see if they are available.
Juniper’s wine list is not overly extensive, but it you are a fan of California wines, especially Napa valley reds, you will be pleased with their selections.
I often get asked what makes one restaurant better than another. The obvious answer is the quality of the food, but it is also the attention to subtle details. Juniper is an unassuming place with a comfortable, casual charm that offers the patron an excellent dining experience. It combines the right mix of background music, lighting, good service and of course, a memorable meal. Chef Pete Kusiw and his progressive creole restaurant offer the northshore a rare opportunity to dine as if we were on the southshore, but without having to cross the bridge!
4 ½ pinecones
301 Lafitte Street
Mandeville, LA 70448
Lunch – Tuesday – Friday 11 - 2
Dinner – Tuesday – Thursday 5 - 9
Friday & Saturday – 5 - 10
Sunday Brunch – 10 -2