I ATE THE STATE – Café Juanita, Kirkland WA

Greetings!

I’d like to take a quick break from my planned Whatcom County itinerary and tell you about an AMAZING dinner recently enjoyed at Café Juanita in Kirkland, WA.

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Café Juanita is nestled appropriately in the charming Juanita Beach area of Kirkland.  A creation of award-winning chef, Holly Smith (James Beard award, Best Chef Northwest 2008), Café Juanita has graced the NW palate since 2000.  Winner of many prestigious awards and nominations both locally and nationally, it has become a coveted destination for lovers of fine Northern Italian food and wine.  I’ve been wanting to visit Café Juanita for quite some time and am more than pleased to finally add it to my list of culinary experiences.  (Due in generous part to an awesome gift certificate!)

While although certainly an upscale dining establishment, Café Juanita manages to nicely balance elegance and classic presentation with the casual vibe of the Northwest.  Smart casual is the recommended attire, so don’t feel obligated to don the formal wear.  However, I think black-tie and little-black-dress would be equally at home with the casual set at Café Juanita.

My companions for the evening were my brother, Ryan and sister-in-law, Beth.  They are both ardent foodies and were quite looking forward to an evening of deliciousness.  They’d also been given a passionate recommendation to try the rabbit and were excited to comply.  I’d also received several glowing endorsements for various menu items and was quite ready to give as many a try as possible.   Suffice it to say we were in for quite an amazing culinary adventure.

MEAL HIGHLIGHTS

Starter – We began the evening with a lovely bottle of 2011 Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Evening Land.  Joining our wine was an enticing presentation of fresh bread and house-made artisan crackers.  I can honestly say the cheese crackers and olive crackers were by far the best crackers I’ve ever had – Flakey, buttery masterpieces.  Even my brother who is typically opposed to olives loved the olive crackers.  It’s often suggested that one ‘not fill up on bread’ and while although I do love bread, I often (begrudgingly) obey.  However, one should never heed such advice when dining at Café Juanita.  You’d be missing out on something truly wonderful.

First course – While enjoying our wine selection, our appetizer course arrived. We were a bit torn over what to order as we basically wanted everything on the list, but we agreed to at least share samples with one another.  (I won’t lie – it was insanely difficult to part with a single morsel of my smoked sablefish.)  My brother opted for the Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Smoked Bone Marrow, Green Sauce and Chickpea Purée, Beth went for the Grilled Asparagus with Local Organic Hen’s Egg and Parmigiano Reggiano and I lorded over the Smoked sablefish with English Pea Crema, Guanciale and Smoked Wild Steelhead Roe. 

The three of us are all big seafood fans and have tried octopus several different ways and in several different dishes.  We all agreed this preparation beat anything we’d ever had in a landslide victory – SO tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  And I’m still feeling a bit dreamy about the bone marrow… Positively fantastic.  Beth’s asparagus was grilled perfectly and was tender and garden-fresh and not only was my smoked sablefish ridiculously good, I’m not embarrassed to say I would’ve licked every bit of the English pea crema off of my plate. However, I’m sure my tablemates were happy I refrained.  Next time.

Second course – Well into our second glass of wine and only slightly regretting my bread indulgence, our second course made its way to the table.  My brother went classic with the Hearts of Romaine with Garlic Anchovy Vinaigrette and Toasted Bread Crumbs.  It was as expected, delicious.  I opted for the Roasted Beets and Burrata with Poppy and Sunflower Seeds, Citrus Blossom Honey and Thyme and it was, ummm, wonderful!  The beets were tender and delicious, but what absolutely made the dish amazing was the burrata cheese.  It was blended to creamy perfection with a very high quality olive oil and if I had my way, I’d eat it every day on everything.  EVERYTHING.  Beth embarked upon the pasta special of the evening, a Cuttlefish Ink Risotto.  It was rich, creamy, buttery and perfectly cooked with a delicate taste that didn’t remotely match its presentation.  Don’t get me wrong, the presentation was lovely and the dish looked incredible, but it resembled what might’ve been a hearty black bean dish.  I was so enamored of my sample I ordered it as part of my next course.

With our bottle of wine no more, we hit up our very knowledgeable and patient server, Karinfor suggestions.  After additional input from the resident sommelier, I embarked upon enjoying a glass of the 2010 Movia, Ribolla Gialla and Beth went with the 2012 Villa Remotti, Barbera d’Asti.  Just in time for the next course…

Main course – As I mentioned, it was recommended we try the rabbit.  My brother took up the gauntlet and went with the Rabbit Braised in Arneis with Chickpea Gnocchi, English Peas, Porcini and House Made Pancetta.  We had all tried rabbit in various preparations, but the Café Juanita presentation was on an elevated level all its own.  Tender, delicate, pulled back from the bone and filled with porcini mushrooms, it was truly exceptional. I entertained several “No way!  Look over there!” scenarios to take my brother’s eyes off of his plate so I could steal more samples, but I chose to be an adult.  NEXT TIME… Ryan also ordered the Roasted Spicy Cauliflower with Cumin, Lime and Pinenuts as an accompaniment to the rabbit.  The char of the roasted cauliflower mixed with the cumin and lime was fabulous.  It gave the cauliflower a slight crisp on the outside with the lime and cumin brought in a very nice and unexpected depth of flavor.

As an accompaniment to my Cuttlefish Ink Risotto, I opted to make the course a pasta combination and added the house-made Maltagliati with Lamb Ragu.  The Maltagliati pasta was delicious and the lamb ragu was rich without being overwhelming.  It was a great contrast to the risotto and the wine made for a delicious bridge between the two.

Beth was intrigued by the featured seafood course and ordered the Trevally.  It was grilled lightly in olive oil and served simply and elegantly.  As she was already somewhat full from the previous courses, it was a perfect and light addition to the meal.

Dessert course – Not to mince words, the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Cardoon Blossom Honey and Vanilla Saltwas one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.  Period.  Hands down.  It was light, silky, creamy, perfectly sweet and just plain extraordinary.  I would happily eat it every day for the rest of my life.  Arteries be damned.  We were also insanely full at this point, but I have no regrets regarding ordering dessert.  None.

Aperitif – While I enjoyed another glass of the Ribolla Gialla, Beth tried an Italian Amari (bitters) – I think it was Amaro Averna. (Recommended by our server)  A wonderful herby and somewhat soothing way to end the meal.

As we had taken full advantage of the menu and enjoyed our fair share of wine, it was time to go. I also couldn’t possibly have fit in another bite.  Well, unless it was the panna cotta… (My new philosophy: There’s always room for panna cotta.) To say my evening at Café Juanita was delicious would be an understatement.  In fact, I’m still searching for words to justly describe some of the dishes we sampled.  What I can say is my evening at Café Juanita was truly one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying.  I can’t wait to return.  Oh, and try the rabbit…

Cheers!

I Ate the State – Kirkland, WA

Greetings and salivations!

Hitting much closer to home, this entry will highlight the Deru Market in Kirkland, Washington.  Tucked back into a cozy neighborhood off of NE 85th Street in Kirkland, you might start to question if you’ve taken a wrong turn as you drive further into the residential area.  Ignore your instincts to turn around and keep going towards the end of the street – and there it is! 

Upon receiving a glowing review and recommendation from a coworker, I was excited to make a visit. Not only do they have in-house café dining (just added this fall!), they also offer full-service catering and cooking classes.  As I regularly plan events as part of my day job, I’m always looking for quality local restaurants to support.  I can honestly say I was hooked after my first visit and now that I’ve gone back a few times and have also used their catering services, I’m looking forward to a long and delicious partnership.

On my first visit, they hadn’t yet added their indoor dining area so I made my order to go.  Right away I was drawn in by the delicious smells coming from the kitchen.  Then as now, the kitchen area is viewable to the public and I was happy to play foodie voyeur as I waited for my order.  I surmised that some of the amazing smells must be coming from the large, brick pizza oven perched just inside the kitchen.  I’m sure the large trays of handmade focaccia cooling on the counters were also contributing to the mouthwatering aroma.  The more I breathed in, the harder the wait became.

While anticipating the tastes these smells would accompany, I had the chance to scope out the kitchen layout and design.  It’s a large, open area with high ceilings and several long, artistically arranged counters and tabletops.  While although the staff was abuzz with activity, the well-organized, open feel of the kitchen lent an unexpected sense of tranquility to the scene.  It was also great to see the two co-owner/chefs personally preparing the dishes.  Chefs Jamie Cassady and Jordan Cooper are graduates of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York and it certainly shows in the manner in which they present themselves in the kitchen.  Alas, if I had only half of their knife skills, my kitchen would be a much more productive place indeed…

As I admired the kitchen scene, I was also drawn to the well-stocked deli-case and counter at the front of the shop.  Loaded with rustic salads and stacked with freshly made bakery goods on the counter, I desperately searched for a justification to try each and every one of them.  And then it dawned on me… Catering! I vowed if I made it out of the shop with only my lunch order, they’d be hearing from me the very next time I was in need of a caterer.  (And a happy ending it was!  I only ordered enough for one that day, but did indeed get to try SO much more when I procured their catering services a few weeks later. I win!  And as I received rave reviews from the recipients of said catering, I’d say everyone was a winner!)

 

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Smoked brisket on house-made focaccia.

 

Of the delicious Deru Market items I’ve tried, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Smoked Brisket Sandwich (w/Beecher’s cheddar, arugula and aioli) – Tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket on house-made focaccia.  I would eat this sandwich every day if I could.  Come to think of it, why can’t I??  (Except on Sunday. They’re closed Sundays. Sigh…)
  • Sardine & Herb Pesto Sandwich (w/aioli, arugula, lemon and pickled red onion) – Not made with the canned, oily sardine variety, this sandwich features delicate fillets on house-made focaccia.  The creaminess of the aioli with the bitterness of the arugula and tang of the onion is a perfect mix of flavors.
  • Kale Caesar Salad – Fresh baby kale with house-made anchovy vinaigrette and Parmesan.  Simple and delicious.
  • Celeriac Soup – This wasn’t on the menu the last time I went in and I hope they bring it back soon!  A satisfying blend of cream and comfort, but still very light and refreshing.
  • Marinated Beet Salad (w/pistachio, goat cheese and frissee) – Perfectly marinated beets tossed with frissee and pistachio encrusted dollops of goat cheese.  SO good!
  • Orzo & Cauliflower Pesto Salad – Orzo pasta tossed with pesto, walnuts, garlic, lemon and Parmesan. This salad is a wonderful side, but could easily stand on its own as a main dish.
  • Salted Peanut Butter Cookie – All of their baked goods have been delicious, but I have a special place in my heart for their salted peanut butter cookies. 
  • Any of their coffee drinks (w/house-made syrups!) – Did I mention they make their own syrups??
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I was able to snap one more photo before diving into the sandwich… It was a difficult task, indeed. 

There are several other items I could list, but at the risk of typing out their entire menu, I’ll leave some of that list for you to explore on your own.  You won’t be sorry.  But if you happen to grab the last brisket sandwich or salted peanut butter cookie, I’ll be comin’ for ya… To very politely ask you for a bite, of course. 

 

Deru Market

723 9th Ave – Norkirk Neighborhood

Kirkland, WA 98033

(425) 298-0268

 

M-F:  11am – 9pm

Sat:  9am – 9pm

Sun:  Closed

 

 

Next up:  Kalaloch / La Push / Forks

 

 

Happy New Year!!