Long awaited Italian restaurant Juniper officially opens its East Austin doors this week. Originally slated to open this past summer, permitting headaches and construction delays kept our mouths watering for the highly anticipated restaurant. Despite this red tape, the Juniper team, led by longtime Austin chef Nicholas Yanes, turned lemons into lemoncello by hosting a series of pop up dinners throughout the spring and summer. During one such dinner at Barley Swine, the former Uchi chef gave a preview of Juniper’s northern Italy meets Texas cuisine over six delicious courses.
Our dinner started with Juniper’s take on one of my favorite Italian summer dishes, crispy zucchini blossoms stuffed with fontina and ricotta. Served with a flavorful sweet pepper sauce, it made for a fortuitous start to our preview dinner.
Arriving next was a beautifully composed plate of figs, San Daniele ham, and Brunet goat cheese drizzled with local honey vinegar. The rustic, classic dish was designed to let the ingredients shine, which was a consistent theme throughout the meal.
Next came one of the most surprising dishes of the evening featuring squid with grapes and smoked tomato served on top of a celery root puree. In lesser hands, this combination of ingredients could have easily been a bit of a mess, but instead the dish represented a subtle, harmonious balance of smoky and sweet flavors that married well the textures of the meaty squid and creamy celery root.
Because no Italian feast is complete without pasta, our fourth course of the evening was a spiral of al dente angel hair pasta served over a Parmesan cream sauce and topped with a sprinkle of chives and a generous heap of freshly grated Parmesan. Based on this dish, let’s just say one would be wise not to skip the pasta offerings at Juniper.
The final savory course of the evening was an expertly roasted duck, combined with a delicate balance of sweet peaches, pickled onions and marjoram. Once again, Juniper hit it out of the park with its judicious use of high quality, well thought out ingredients to create an unexpected and flavorful dish.
Finally, we rounded out the evening with a dessert of strawberry sorbet, pound cake, toasted merengue, rhubarb, basil and a hint of salt. Sweet and satisfying, it was the cherry on top of an excellent dinner.
From start to finish, the Juniper team delivered dishes that were innovative and at times ambitious, yet all the while staying true to the classic Italian cuisine that inspired them. Overall, the dinner made for a highly promising first glimpse of what is to come at the new Italian restaurant. And though scaling to a full size restaurant beyond the control of a small tasting room will likely present its own unique set of challenges, there is every reason to believe Juniper is ready for primetime.
Juniper Austin, 2400 East Caesar Chavez, Austin, TX 78702. 512.220.9421. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.