In Little Italy’s north end, in what used to be a sprawling roofing materials warehouse, now houses San Diego’s newest hotspot for foodies—Juniper & Ivy. This mammoth-sized restaurant features an open kitchen, outdoor and private dining perched above the main bar. It’s a new venture for Top Chef star Richard Blais.
My vacation, like so many others to San Diego, happened to fall during a full moon. I felt like a werewolf in heat and needed to spice up my evening with some amazing fare. My consort, Richard, picked me up at the hotel and blindfolded me saying, “I have a surprise for you this evening.” I told him I was starving and I hoped it would include food.
When we pulled up at our destination, he took off my black satin eye mask and escorted me inside. We sat at an intimate table for two, sandwiched between a pregnant woman with her husband and a couple celebrating their 44th anniversary. The acoustics were thin and we had to lean over to communicate. An ambitious cocktail menu kept us busy for the first few minutes.
We ordered two 15 Love cocktails, featuring Pimm’s No. 1 liquor. A little too much ice in the glass caused us to order two additional drinks. Tasty, but not economical. Our waitress took her time and finally brought us an Amuse-bouche of Gougeres, a puff of pate a choux pastry flavored with cheese (Gruyère). Immediately after tasting this dish, I revealed to our server, “I am reviewing this eatery. May I please have more?”
Finally, we feasted on appetizers and small plates, beginning with an order of blackened Baja shrimp toast with avocado, Japanese cucumber, and a taste of orange. Their small plate of small roasted beets with caramelized yogurt, white peacock kale, apricots and pistachio nuts disappeared within seconds.
Next came the bone marrow topped with crispy oysters, ranch dressing, and pickled celery. The rich bone marrow, an unctuous savory dish, evil and delicious at the same time.
From their Pasta Starter section, we ordered Corn Agnolotti, a tender ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and dressed with Huitlacoche (a corn fungus delicacy). The Carne Cruda Asada, affectionately called Meat Toast, featured beef tartar topped with a row of sunny side up quail eggs, cotija cheese and jalapeno. I hate raw meat, so I ate the three quail eggs and left the beef for Richard.
The full moon demanded that I complete the meal with a decadent confection. We order peaches on bourbon soaked pound cake with a pecan sorbet. A demi spoon feeding frenzy and a mini sword fight followed as we each tried to get the last bite.
We were pleasantly satiated, but not stuffed to the point of discomfort. There was plenty of room for a digestif, a Brandy Alexander. We toasted each other and Richard Blais, an executive chef actually working in his kitchen. Imagine that.