One of Austin’s Finest Restaurants
Juniper‘s greatness comes as no surprise. I sensed its potential long before it opened, when chef Nicholas Yanes hosted a pop-up preview dinner last summer and dazzled me with Italian-inspired dishes prepared in a borrowed kitchen. Fast-forward six months and the reality is as good as the tease. Juniper is open and it’s a stunner. As Austin overflows with Instagram-worthy chefs, few hit the high notes like Yanes.
To get the full experience at Juniper, dine at the stylish bar overlooking the open kitchen, a theatrical laboratory bustling with sous chefs, cooks, mixologists and sommeliers. Yanes is stationed up front, giving every dish a meticulous final inspection before it is whisked to diners. His technique-driven cuisine is like edible art. High in style but low in pretense, it’s accessible, approachable and wildly delicious. His varied background (stints at Uchi and travels to Italy) juxtaposes minimalist and comfort cuisine.
Most plates are meant for sharing, so we ordered with abandon. Presentation is half the fun at Juniper: raw half-shell oysters were nestled on a bed of sea salt atop a wooden plank, then dotted with basil and tomato seeds and a white balsamic “sea foam” that mimicked the ocean surf. Next came a delicious riff on the classic Caesar: a salad of wilted winter greens perched on a bed of fluffy eggs piped out of a pastry bag, and seasoned with cracked black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
We were tempted by the head-turning Little Lettuces salad: an entire head of Bibb lettuce stuffed with fresh herbs, drizzled with honey-shallot dressing, and sprinkled with crispy bits. And we drooled over the chicken liver, a creamy smear of pate scattered with candied grapefruit, cress and pistachios. But we opted instead for the Puffy Potatoes, glorified tater tots filled with Parmesan cheese and served with a whipped dijon dipping sauce. Even the obligatory bread course got special attention: soft homemade slices studded with poppy and coriander seeds and served with cultured butter dotted with adorable tiny herbs.
My Italian husband insisted on the risotto. Grated beets transformed the creamy rice into a vibrant purple hue, swirled with duck confit, mushrooms and a dollop of mascarpone cheese. I chose a lighter dish of ruby trout, poached in white wine with fennel and orange. Lastly, we had steak, a dish we’d previously enjoyed at the preview dinner. Silky cubes of ribeye sauced with tomato emulsion and a piquant chunky chimichurri — it was as good as we’d remembered.
With little room for dessert, we contemplated the amazing chocolate “dinner mint,” but chose the miniature cannoli filled with pistachio-citrus ricotta and served with dark chocolate sauce. Equally as good as Juniper’s food is its serious beverage program loaded with custom cocktails, craft beers and diverse wines.
We’re lucky to be living in Austin during these halcyon days of creative new restaurants. But few tick all the boxes — food, drink, service, ambience — like Juniper does. It’s the total package. Go. There. Now.