Those of you who were saddened to see the passing of the French restaurant, Tradition by Pascal, take heart: A delightful new bistro has taken its place.
Juliette Kitchen and Bar features contemporary California cuisine in an attractive, airy, more casual setting. Repurposed gray barn wood on tables, walls and flooring set the scene. Chocolate leather booths and banquettes, plus wooden Restoration Hardware chairs, complete the picture. A formal crystal chandelier that owner Juliette Chung moved to the restaurant from her own living room creates an ironic final touch.
Chef Daniel Hyatt ably heads the kitchen and presents an inventive take on some classic dishes, as well as some creative and delicious dishes of his own.
You can certainly make an interesting meal from a selection of cheeses, which are served with house-made fig jam, raisins on the vine and grilled baguette, "charcuterie," served with marinated olives and spiced almonds or small plates, as well as traditional dinners.
Our first small plate set the bar high for the rest of the meal: pan-grilled, tender gnocchi was tossed with baby artichoke hearts, slivers of radicchio, shreds of flavorful duck confit and toasted pecans in an arugula and basil pesto. Wow!
Roasted fennel was unlike any we had ever tasted before. The bulbs were roasted in butter with shallots until they were incredibly tender and rich. A slightly spicy ancho chili yogurt sauce was painted on the vegetable, then the dish was sprinkled with pieces of a pistachio and fennel seed brittle. The unctuous fennel, the sweet crunchy brittle and the hint of creamy spiciness made for an outstanding dish.
A bed of slightly chewy farro, a wheat grain that looks like barley, was prepared like a buttery risotto but was even better because of the wonderful texture of the grain. Pickled cucumbers, apricots and roasted shallots added delicious complexity to this accompaniment for three perfectly seared, moist, juicy scallops.
These small plates were actually not small so they were great for sharing. Next time we will try the tuna crudo with jalapeno-mango sorbet and the beer-braised octopus or maybe the tamarind-flavored pork belly with dried cherries, turnips, roasted tomatoes, pickled radish and pistachios.
Scallops reappeared luxuriating in the luscious broth of Juliette's fish stew, which transformed them into pillows of intense flavor.
Along with the scallops were sweet mussels, delicate white fish and a particularly tasty giant prawn, all contributing juices to make this a spectacular liquid, accented by tomatoes and smoked paprika. Hyatt added baby turnips instead of the more traditional, and heavier, potatoes.
The stew was served with two long thin garlic toasts, which we quickly polished off, soaking up the soup. They were highly inadequate to do the job and bread is not served. If you order this dish, you will definitely want to order some extra toasts. We were forced to scoop up the rest with spoons or mussel shells.
Previously, Chung, with husband John Hughes, owned a diner called the Filling Station in Orange, and she was reputed to make the best pies in Orange County. So, we eagerly anticipated dessert. Dessert Chef Erica Choi serves up six of them and they all sound great; from salted caramel pot de crème with spiced pepita brittle to chocolate soufflé with Bing cherry compote.
With peaches in season, we went for the "galette" with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream. This free form pie can be made with various types of dough but our favorite is short butter crust, which Choi makes.
We suspect that the dough is baked separately from the fruit and then combined and warmed before serving. This results in a perfect, crispy, cookie-like crust. The peaches were intensely flavored and delicious without being overly sweet.
We happily welcome Juliette as an exciting new addition to the local dining scene.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Juliette Kitchen and Bar
Contact: (949) 752-5854 or juliettenb.com
Where: 1000 Bristol Street North, Suite 11, Newport Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cheese and charcuterie plates: $15 for choice of three or $25 for all five
Small plates: $9 to $15
Entrées: $21 to $28
Glass: 3 ounces $5 to $12; 6 ounces $7 to $23
Bottle: $20 to $1,950