Sunday, January 18, 2015

2014 Restaurant of the Year - Juniper Restaurant

WDC Crab Salad Pennsylvania Angus Burger

I was fully prepared to anoint Juniper Restaurant at Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown DC Outlook's TOP restaurant of the year: After all, I experienced unrivaled, all-around excellence on two prior visits for breakfast and brunch. Trouble is, I'm a stickler for being fair; so I made a reservation for a third visit (lunch.) If you're going to rule the roost in the nation's capital, you better make a good burger. The final verdict? Mission accomplished. Juniper Restaurant is our choice for 2014 Restaurant of the Year.

Visit #3 began with a hug from my favorite (and top-rated) server in the area, Ms. Hanh, and a seat at my "usual" table (I'm Irish, I believe in good luck.) Luck however, has nothing to do with Juniper's success. I've eaten at Michelin-starred restaurants before; but I've never felt as comfortable in any other dining room in town. I give half the credit to Ms. Hanh, a quarter to management for sustaining such high standards and the final 25% to the food, which is... in three words, "decadent and delicious."

Maryland She Crab Bisque

It was the day before New Year's Eve; and I dodged a bullet by missing a full house for breakfast (I don't like crowds.) An early start (11:45) allowed me a chance to settle in before the lunch crowd, and take inventory of Juniper's simple but elegant menu. San Pellegrino water to start (with lemons and lime on a plate) followed by a tall glass of delicious, fresh squeezed pineapple juice. I ordered two small plates: Juniper's famous Rooftop Honey Wheat Walnut Bread ($6, served with house made honey butter) and a bowl of delectable Maryland She Crab Bisque ($12, served with creme fraiche and salmon roe.)

Rooftop Honey Wheat Walnut Bread

For the record, you could stop there and still call it a fantastic lunch. The bread lives up to its billing, thick and hearty with a yummy honey butter topped with black salt. I stopped at two slices (no easy task) because I couldn't afford to get filled up; but make sure to take the rest home, and enjoy it that night or the next morning. Timing between courses is spot-on; and the entire staff couldn't be nicer or more efficient.

M Street entrance

On to the bisque, which is lavish and loaded with thick chunks of flavorful crab. Honest to God, I've never seen so much fresh crabmeat in one bowl of soup before. The caviar is a nice touch; but I was even more impressed with the addition of crunchy celery, which adds texture to an already impressive lineup. Empty bowl = all I need to say.

View from my table

In between courses, Ms. Hanh checks in religiously to ensure I'm 100% happy. Try 200%. Her recommendation for the Bisque, followed my intentions of ordering the WDC Crab Salad Pennsylvania Angus Burger ($22, served on a toasted brioche bun with fried shallots, and hand cut hickory french fries.) I often feel a tad embarrassed (old girlfriend, long story) when I order a hamburger in an upscale restaurant; but Juniper's new executive chef dresses a nice plate with familiar favorites. Some folks might scoff at a $22 burger, but the fries alone warrant such a price. Perfect leaps to mind (I'm guessing double-fried) but scrumptiously seasoned and crisper than a gust of wind in downtown Chicago. The burger was naturally juicy, but the addition of crab salad and crispy shallots... OMG. As usual, Juniper wins you over in the details: This time, it was a pearl-topped toothpick... They don't miss a chance to impress.

Fresh squeezed Pineapple Juice

Lunch took a slightly naughty turn with one of Juniper's mean Bee-Tinis. I've heard about them; but I usually stick to wine (and at dinner only.) Trick is, it's easy to carried away at Juniper... Talk about getting swept away in the moment. Honey makes a great addition to alcohol, and it's yet another clever way to incorporate their rooftop honey sanctuary.


By now, any "sane" fellow would head for the door; but me... I'm a sucker for more. You guessed it: Dessert. Press me for an answer, and I'd tell you that my two favorite desserts are napoleons and apple pie. Guess who put them together? Picture sweet baked apple, tucked inside two deep fried wafers with a touch of apple mint granita for added punch, and a thin slice of dehydrated apple for good looks. All it needs now, is a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for texture. Pow! It does (of course.) At the time, I Tweeted, "Best Apple Pie EVER," and almost three weeks later (I'm way behind on reviews) it's still true.

Fried Apple Pie Napoleon

Rather than send me out into the cold, stark reality of downtown DC, Ms. Hanh suggested I stay a while (how could I refuse?) and have a cup of Cascade Organic Peppermint tea... one of several loose leaf teas served with honey on the side. A perfect end to a perfect meal. I wonder what it's like to stay at the Fairmont? Something tells me the perfection doesn't end inside the walls of Juniper.

Fancy "a spot of tea?"

I ate out at well over 250 cafes, diners, fast food joints and upscale restaurants this year; and none came close to Juniper for "a perfect meal," yet alone three. I couldn't afford to make a habit of eating here (although I wish, I wish) but every now and then, you have to pamper yourself. I can't think of anyone better than Ms. Hanh to do that, nor any other eatery than Juniper. Already home to our top Breakfast and Brunch in the DMV, add "Best Apple Pie EVER" and 2014 Restaurant of the Year to its ever-growing list of accolades. I can't wait to go back.