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Aug 13, 2008 08:53 PM


Hey fellow eaters,

My bf and I are LA chowhounders. We just got back from a visit in Seattle and I absolutely had to write this post. We went to Cafe Juanita after reading so many favorable reviews, but we were sorely, miserably disappointed. Here's a run-down of the meal, dish by dish (We went w/ his family so we were able to get quite a few things)

1. Seared Foie Gras with Bing Cherries, Candied Ginger and Cocoa nibs
Tasty, but it's pretty hard to make foie gras taste bad. The bing cherries were just these lumps on the sides - they didn't complement the foie gras at all, and weren't delicious on their own.

2. Veal Sweetbreads with Fried Capers and Parsley, Ligurian Olive Oil 16.
Ok, but definitely not as creamy or tender as sweetbreads ought to be. Maybe it was over-sauteed? The capers were a bit bitter when fried. Again, I really didn't think they made a good accompaniment.

3. Carne Cruda of Wagyu Beef with Parmigiano Reggiano 14.
Our waiter was bragging about how the Wagyu Beef they used was 7/8 Wagyu strain, but honestly, it just tasted like a good but not delicious steak tartare. The cheese on top was a bit waxy for me.

4. House Made Trofie with Basil, Potato and Merv's Green Beans 14./24.
It was tasty, but I've made better pasta myself at home. Actually, the pesto sauce they used was a bit overpowering, which got in the way of my being able to enjoy the texture of the trofie.

5. Rabbit Raviolini with Sage Butter 13./22.
The raviolini were even smaller than I expected - so small, in fact, that I wasn't able to get a single intense bite of rabbit. The texture of the pasta itself was slightly rubbery.

6. Rabbit Braised in Arneis with Ligurian Chickpea Crepe, Pancetta and Porcini 30.
This is where the meal started getting truly disappointing. I think they were going for several preparations of rabbit on the same plate, which is a wonderful concept. However, the execution was mediocre at best. The rabbit breast was dried up; the rabbit leg was ok but tasted like chicken. In fact, all the pieces of rabbit tasted like chicken, truly devoid of the slight gaminess that we love in rabbit.

7. Fish of the Day - daily preparation
We had some sort of baked trout - it was bland, and nothing better than what we could do on a grill if we slapped down some trout and rubbed it with lemon.

8. Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek
This was probably the worst of them all. I think that they must have seriously overcooked this piece of meat, because it was nowhere near as tender or flavorful as a braise should be. Also, they were really heavy-handed with the salt - I had to drink mouthfuls of water in between bites! Finally, the sauce reduction for the meat was overly reduced - a syrupy unflavorful brown glaze that was again too salty.

9. Pralus Chocolate Truffle Cake with Ninety Farms Stracchiatelle Gelato and Cherry Vinegar Reduction10
What a long winded name for what was basically a flourless chocolate cake with a dollop of gelato that tasted like American ice cream.

10. Ninety Farms Raspberry Creme BruleƩ 8.
This was definitely messed up! They scorched the top of the creme brulee until was black all around, and it tasted of gas from the flame torch.

11. Gelato - coffee and almond
We got two kinds. The coffee gelato had small ice crystals in it! The waiter took extra care to tell us that they had their own fancy gelato machine and that the coffee gelato was the best he'd ever had in his life! I just about cried from frustration when I took my first bite. The almond gelato, on the other hand, was probably the saving grace of the meal. Dense, luscious, and intensely flavored, it was as good as the gelato I've had in Rome and Florence.

12. Plate of cookies
Yuck - the biscotti was not crispy; it tasted stale and chewy. I was really surprised at how bad it was, considering that the double-baking of the cookie makes it difficult to mess up. There were some decent meringues, and some tasty chocolates. But overall, really ordinary.

So, that's it. We were at dinner w/ my bf's parents and his little sister in order to celebrate her birthday, so I put on a happy face. But if my bf and I had been alone, we would've asked to speak with the owner because NOTHING lived up to their reputation or prices.

Let me make this absolutely clear: it's not that we just had one or two bad things among many delicious things; rather, we didn't have a single delicious item! Some of the dishes were good, like the foie gras and the tartare, but nothing was excellent! Nothing! I'm still wincing at the thought. For 400 plus dollars, I wished we would've taken our money to Union, which we really liked.

Cafe Juanita was by far the worst "fancy/nice restaurant" experience of my life. I guess I'm looking for closure, now. Have you guys experienced the same level of mediocrity at Cafe Juanita, dressed up in the buzzwords of "seasonality" and the now chic "Northern Italian cuisine"? Or, did we just get screwed?

Fellow Chowhounders - speak up! And please, don't just say that you've eaten there and it was "delicious" or "divine." I want detailed descriptions of exactly why you found a particular dish to be good! If no one wants to defend the restaurant, then I hope this serves as a warning to those who are thinking of having a meal at Cafe Juanita.

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  1. Thanks for your honest feedback/downhill alert. What are your favorite places in LA land? TIA

    1. Have you tried Trellis? If so, how does it compare to Cafe Juanita in your opinion?

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. When I ate there three weeks ago I decided it was one of the best meals of my life. I had the octopus appetizer. I order octopus anytime I see it on a menu, and I was not disappointed in the least. The texture was wonderful, the chickpea puree was rich, and the herb sauce added a nice acidity.

          My partner had the quail with leek goat cheese tart and strawberries. She said it was one of the best dishes she's ever eaten and an unexpected, but wonderful, combination of ingredients.

          Next I had the risotto with squash blossoms and a poached egg. It was the best risotto I've ever tasted. It was incredibly rich and the texture was perfect. The others in my party shared the Tagliatelle with morels. They wished they'd ordered more than they did.

          Lastly, I had the rabbit. I did find it to be salty, but I also found it to be incredibly rich and a nice contrast of flavors. The leg was wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with porcini, while the tenderloin was simply grilled. I thought this dish was successful in that you got one half that was rich, fatty, smoky, and salty, and one preparation that was simply to expose the flavors of tender rabbit. I loved it.

          Perhaps I sound a bit enamored with the place, but in fact, I am. I went with a party of five, all of which absolutely loved it. Additionally, I'm going back with four more of my friends next month because I enjoyed it that much.

          It's not to say a kitchen can't have an off night - I'm certain it happens. Having said that, I do believe they deliver an exceptional experience with outstanding food.

          2 Replies
          1. re: dylinw

            Hi dylinw,

            Thanks for your reply. It's funny that in our Cafe Juanita experiences, there wasn't much overlap in what we ordered. I'd love to hear about your next dinner there if you get more of the dishes I had.

            1. re: panglosspig

              I have a food allergy, so my choices are usually more limited compared to others. Having said that, I think most people at my table ordered octopus, rabbit, and risotto/tagliatelle. One person had the soup and loved it...

              As I said earlier, I think kitchen's can have off nights, and it's clear to me that a) they were having an off night or b) ...I'm not sure...

              If I remember, I'll post back to this thread after eating there again, but it's not until Sept 13th.

          2. I have had the rabbit and it is my favorite dish. I was there just this past week and the risotto that one reviewer below accurately reviews as well as the goat cheese gnocchi with lamb sugo, which was out of this world. The lamb reduction could not have been more savory. The risotto was done to perfection with just the right texture and amount of liquid. My partner was thrilled with his crispy skinned branzino--mild yet rich.. The green beans with homemade pancetta were tasty. It was a birthday dinner, but I had not notified the restaurant of this. Our keen-eyed waiter must have seen birthday cards on the table, so when the truffle cake the complaining reviewer so denigrates came out for the birthday boy, it had a lit candle on top. My partner is a serious chocoholic and loved the cake. I'm not changing my mind that this is a destination restaurant and one of the best in our area. .