I've been super excited to return to Julian's as an excuse to blog about it. Well, who am I kidding, Julian's is one of our favorites and it's only been a matter of time before we went back! They came out with their new spring menu just a few weeks ago and this was the first chance we had to get there to try it. When we were ordering, we found out some interesting information which I will share at the beginning of the blog, as we felt it might have impacted the experience. The kitchen has recently switch chefs! The current menu was developed by the previous chef, and next week they will be coming out with a menu developed by the new/current chef. Now, what that tells me is that this new chef is cooking another chef's ideas, so while he/she did great and we were disappointed at all with the food, we could certainly tell the difference between the specials that the current chef developed and the menu items that had been developed by the predecessor. We are super excited to go back again and taste the new menu!
We love the atmosphere at Julian's - it's a casual feeling with comfortable booths, but not too casual. The elegant white table clothes lend class, along with the fresh flowers on every table. When I walk in, I know I'm in a good restaurant, but it's not intimidating. It's a jeans and a nice sweater to business casual attire kind of place. The attitude is a bit more formal on special occasions and we've enjoyed the special menus they develop for New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day. Be aware that they also serve Sunday brunch which we're enjoyed several times - I'll try to do an individual review on that meal in the next few weeks as well. Reservations are recommended on busy nights and holidays, but we've never had a hard time getting a table on regular week nights. I think this was the first time we were there on a Friday night, and it was definitely busier than we've seen previously, but we got a table without a problem. Our waitresses are always pleasant and happy to make suggestions when trying to decide between meal options.
We are always excited for the bread before the meal. Generally it is a crusty italian bread and served with an herbed butter and pesto. The pesto is my favorite as it is full of bright flavor from the parsely and garlic (bring on the garlic for this girl), and my fiance loves the butter. We found out today that they normally get their bread from the Potsdam Food co-op, although this day they got a basic white bread, which we were a bit disappointed in. It was a dry, crumbly bread and didn't hold the oil of the pesto well. We were told that there is a possibility the new chef might start making his own bread, and we are very excited at that prospect.
We started out with 3 appetizers. I could have had an entire meal from the appetizer options alone, they all sounded so good!! I did find an entree option I wasn't willing to pass up though, so we only chose 3 to share. Only! I went with the pork wantons which were homemade and served with a sweet chili sauce. On first impression, I thought the wantons were a bit small, but let us remember that as Americans I think we have a warped perception on what a true portion is! The wantons were hand made and beautiful little purses of flavor. I was a bit disappointed that they were fried and not steamed, but I think that is a lot of personal preference, and I do very much try to avoid friend food. They were crispy on the outside and the wrapper was nice and tender. The filling was moist with good pork flavor, although I do think it was missing a bit of pop - maybe some ginger or scallions. I do think the sweet chili sauce did add the pop I was looking for though! It started off as a sweet tang and then about 15 seconds later hit you with the heat as a little surprise. I liked the sauce so much, I actually dipped the little greens which were on the plate as a garnish into it!
We also ordered the Soup Du Jour - Bean and Bacon soup. Now, my fiance was super excited to see this as a special. I'd never heard of it or had it before, so I think it might be a North Country thing, although considering the ingredients, I'm surprised I never encountered this is Boston. Now, I was informed before I tried this that it is an acquired taste, so I don't know if it is something that would grow on me in time, but it wasn't something I was head over heels for. It had good bacon flavor and tasted like it was in a white or cannellini bean base. The bean base did give it a nice creaminess that was homey and comforting. My fiance enjoyed it but he also wasn't blown away. I guess this was one we could had one without in exchange for another one of the appetizers.
The third appetizer we ordered was Grilled shrimp with a black bean and corn salsa with a lime-tequila vinaigrette. Now, I think one of the biggest faux pas that restaurants commit is overcooking seafood. I've probably had more overcooked lobster, shrimp and fish than I care to even remember. These shrimp were succulent and tender, the way nature intended. And the slight char from the grill added that smokey, early flavor that pairs so well with those tex-mex flavors. The salsa was good, fresh and provided nice texture, but we were missing the tequila lime flavor in the vegetables. They were really crying for some acidity and freshness/brightness. Maybe next time we would ask for more of the dressing on the side and that way we could control the flavor a bit more.
Now on to the entrees. As you might know from my previous post about making duck for a birthday, I love love love duck! They had a pan seared duck breast on the menu with a side of spring vegetables and mashed potatoes. Needless to say, this was far superior to my attempt at duck breast - although I don't think the playing field was level in the ingredients used. The duck breast was glazed in a citrus sauce - very light but a bright flavor. The skin was crispy but luscious and succulent with the yummy fat layer underneath, almost luxurious with how it felt in your mouth. The meat itself was tender and juicy, cooked perfectly to medium! It was the perfect marriage of the earthy meat, the bright citrus glaze and the decadence of the fat. The potatoes were also excellent. They were smooth and creamy, just perfect the way you want every set of mashed potatoes to be. And pairing them with the duck just made both things better. I am not a gravy person, I don't normally like my foods touching (if you know me, you are probably not surprised by this revelation), but this was one instance of when mixing foods resulted in synergy - the sum was better than the parts!
I also got the taste the rack of lamb that my fiance ordered. He actually attempted to combine 2 of the specials into a meal. He got the rack of lamb, but there was also a special of crab legs on top of a israeli couscous salad. He's had israeli couscous before when I've made it, which isn't often as I haven't found it around here lately, but stock up when we've gone to New Jersey to visit my aunt and uncle (shout out to Whole Foods). I make it into a warm salad with veggies and shrimp which is an easy quick cooking meal. This was with more Mediterranean flavors - red onions, peppers, some cheese (I think it was feta), but we were slightly disappointed with the temperature of it. We had asked the waitress if it was a warm salad, and she had said yes. And to her credit, the outside was warm and the inside was still room temperature. I have a feeling it was a room temperature salad that sat under the warming light and the exterior layer got warm. Now, on to the lamb... Let me just say there were only bones left on the plate at the end of the meal. When someone uses the phrase finger licking good, that applies to this, but it was bone licking good. Just like the duck, the lamb was perfectly cooked, seasoned well and tender and juicy. We were blown away. I am a huge fan of simple cooking and letting the natural flavor of the food shine through, and this was the perfect example. This lamb didn't need any rubs or mint jelly, all it needed was salt and pepper and the lamb just sung.
Now on to dessert. Julian's hasn't always had a large dessert menu - they have a standard chocolate mousse, in winter had a spice cake and has a creme brulee that I love and whose flavor changes based on holidays/seasons. All these were still on the menu, but we are seeing an expansion of the dessert menu with this new chef! We got a pecan maple pie and a apple pear cobbler. I got the fruit and the fiance got the pecan pie - and while we were nice and gave each other a taste, we were so pleased with our choices that we didn't share more than that! The cobbler was very different from what I expected. I was picturing the fruit almost falling apart in a moist ooey gooey pot of warmth and sugar topped with a crumble. This was almost pie like with large pieces or pear and apple which were soft but not mushy, and I don't think a lot of additional sugar was added as the natural sugars of the fruit seemed to be enough. The topping was so light and airy! I don't know what it was! It was reminiscent of puff pastry with lightness and some crunch and flakiness, but was almost cake like in texture, giving you something to sink your teeth into. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side gave a good temperature contrast along with the dairy creaminess I love :)
The pecan pie was very well done, I do think the maple syrup just added more sweetness and I am not sure I could have been able to eat a whole piece - who am I kidding? I could have eaten the piece, just maybe not the whole pie in one sitting. It was full of pecans and all about the nut and the maple. I don't really like pecan pies that are full of the sweet filling with only a layer of pecans on top, and this pie did not make that mistake. I can't really comment on the crust. I do think the fact that I wasn't offered any to be a testament to how good it most likely was :)
We look forward to how the menu develops as this new chef becomes comfortable at Julian's. We hope others try it and love it as much as we do!