Wound up going with Cafe Juanita for my wife's birthday dinner last night.
A quick reprise-
Roast beet and gorgonzola boccocini (fried blue cheese ball)- tasty, but one of the least successful dishes of the night. The beets were nicely done and play well with the blue cheese, yet this just didn't marry for me.
Grilled octopus- perfectly cooked with a salsa verde and a perfect hummus with an aggressive flavor of raw garlic- a wonderful and bold thing. The kitchen is clearly not afraid of strong flavors, and this was probably my favorite part of the dish. The octopus was tender and succulent, nicely done, but lacking the caramelization I've enjoyed when I've had the preparation in Greece (and which I've never had done satisfactorily elsewhere).
Tagliatelli and bolognese- fantastic- a rich bolognese with depth and complexity over delicate ephemeral pasta
Rabbit agnolotti- perfect- the finest version of this dish I've had. Tiny bundles of deep rich rabbit flavor wrapped in exquisitely delicate pasta, with brown butter and fried sage intermingled, providing wonderful textural contrast. Fried sage is often used as a garnish, here it played a more integral role, one it lived up to and deserves to be in more. (Ok, I could just snack on fried sage).
Chestnut and sweetbread stuffed young chicken- perfect chicken, can't say much about the stuffing, my wife got to it before I could really get a taste. The sauce was rife with chicken liver- lovely, and again, a bold flavor statement which I much appreciated.
Pork braised in goats milk- succulent, excellent local pork, caramelized while braising undisturbed, the sauce a creamy reduction of the braising liquid hit with a subtle complement of orange, all of which was cut by the ferric clean kale which accompanied it. This will, quite literally, haunt my dreams.
Roast cauliflower- cayenne, cumin, and some other spices plus butter and lime juice- very nicely done.
Hazelnut mousse- captured the taste and richness of hazelnuts. Too often when I have a mousse other than chocolate the flavor seems perfunctory, this seems an utterly natural and obvious fusion. So obvious I'd never had it elsewhere or thought of it myself. I'll be stealing this one, and I suspect many other will too.
Total tab with 2 glasses of wine, a double bourbon, and a pear brandy +tip- about $220- well worth it and far less then I've paid for much inferior meals.
Overall a wonderful experience. My one concern over Cafe Juanita is with regard to consistency, having read some negative comments here. I'm reassured as when I asked for a signed menu, I was told that only the chef de cuisine was in house (and unfortunately there were no loose menus to get signed, in any event, kind of a shame, as I don't much care if it's the chef or the sous who signs. I just want the memory and the autograph of the person who helped make a memorable meal). A kitchen functioning this well without the chef present, speaks well for the brigade and hopes of future consistency. Stylistically, I loved the cooking- it was inviting and heartwarming food, elegantly done and beautifully presented without being tortured into shape, very much to my taste. The service was friendly and attentive without being obsequious.
For the Angelenos:
My wife and I are recent arrivals from LA (among other places). Our favorites in LA were Grace, Craft, and Jar. Cafe Juanita is done no disservice by comparison to to any of those places which I find to be a great balance of delicious food, comfortably excellent service, and great consistency (on the last, the verdict is still out), and I would frankly much rather eat a meal at Cafe Juanita than Sona or Providence, and it could easily tempt me from Spago (unless we were talking about the tasting menu).
Thanks for your detailed review (and welcome to the PNW). Reviews like yours help us all to keep from getting too nearsighted, to calibrate our local food scene and to build a hit list for (if we're lucky) future travels-- please keep it up! PS i would tend to agree that (unlike Cafe Juanita) Sona and Providence are sometimes as much about scene as about food, and that Spago's tasting menu could definitely inspire local chefs to do more.
glad you liked it, and thanks for the welcome. Spago's tasting menu is pretty near perfection; barring a few temples of high cuisine, I think most would be inspired by it. So far, I'm extremely impressed with the food I've had up here. This is like the land of pie, as far as I can tell- we've gotten one miss and a bunch of fantastic sweet and savory pies from a variety of sources. The produce and local meat (esp pork) is fantastic, and the mid-range for dining, places where a couple can go for an impulse dinner for less than $100, has been remarkable.
I am another L.A. Chowhound who lived in L.A. for 15 years, 7 of which involved dividing my time between L.A. and Seattle, but now live in Seattle full-time. Cafe Juanita is, for the moment anyway, my favorite restaurant in the Seattle area, so it was great to get your report that reaffirms that it is still on top of its game. I do miss the food scene in Los Angeles though, and am at the moment experiencing intense craving for a Langer's pastrami sandwich.
We had dinner there on Friday night, Nov 14. I had rabbit liver and kidney on a bed of carmelized onion, the pear salad, and fish. The food was truly outstanding but I have to say it was perhaps a notch less perfect than I've experienced on other visits. I wondered that night if the chef were in the house (I did not ask). It really was a subtle difference that has to do with the exact temperature of the food when it arrives at the table and the complexity of flavor in the sauces. I think that a restaurant the quality of Cafe Juanita is a lot about one person's vision and drive. That's what makes it unique but also difficult to sustain evenly over time.