Less Is More

A simple, BYOB in Hastings serves elegant, American-tinged French creations.



Photo by Cathy Pinsky

Juniper’s minimalist ethos is also present in its decor.

 

Clean is a word that chefs use often, meaning everything from tight technique to focused flavors. It’s a high compliment in kitchens, where economy of movement and raw ingredients is a guiding ethos. A chef whose cooking is “clean” offers food with no wasted clutter; the flavors of his ingredients are fully articulated while his plates are irreducibly complete. At Juniper, the kitchen word “clean” also can apply to its food, service, and décor.

Juniper’s small (fewer than 30 seats) storefront is as spare as it is brightly lit (even at night), with unclothed, dark wood tables topped with woven Chilewich-style mats. Swoopy, modernist cutlery lends chic, while bone and blue walls provide Restoration Hardware-style tastefulness. T-pins tack unframed photos to the walls, while cookbooks cram a bookcase and windowsill for easy perusal. Juniper is a pleasant, welcoming restaurant that manages to feel both stylish and unstyled at once.

Better yet, its open kitchen prepares stunning, cheap lunches, offering a hearty, three-course meal for less than $20, tip included. A recent afternoon found an irresistible fried-egg sandwich that beckoned to nearly every other customer that day. (I know this because Juniper’s sous chef, when not whistling Black Sabbath, mentioned it to chef/owner Alex Sze in the open kitchen.) Admittedly, I am weak for fried-egg sandwiches, but Sze’s open-faced sandwich was the most delicious I’ve ever eaten. Imagine a plank of grilled bread topped with a slightly garlicky aioli, on which thick tongues of bacon supported skinny, spring asparagus. The whole was topped with a crisp-edged, sunny-side-up egg, and, alone, it would have been outstanding. Luckily, I also opted for a bowl of soulful pork-and-kale soup, whose flavor-rich broth held nuggets of succulent pork. This lunch was simple, straightforward, perfect—clean; just what I wanted on that spring day.

The same could be said of an elegant, citrusy carrot soup at dinner, whose first sip spoke of bright new spring, yet it finished with all the powerful seduction that cream, olive oil, and crème fraîche can provide. Sze dresses his eggs for evening by soft-boiling, breading, then deep-frying the orbs. The resulting starter is a crisp-shelled egg that yields lushly flowing yolk when opened.

Juniper’s swelling popularity can sometimes stress its kitchen. A recent Thursday night found hopeful diners still clamoring for tables at 10 pm, though Juniper’s posted closing time is 9 pm. On this occasion, a beef brisket burger—though ordered medium rare—arrived well done. This situation was not aided by a too-large roll that swallowed the patty with an inch to spare. Happily, the brisket’s inherent richness—and gooey, flavorful toppings of Gruyère, griddled onion, and roasted tomato—saved this burger from disaster. Plus, a small, sane portion of accompanying frites ensured that each was snapped up while still crisp, hot, and delicious.

Photo by Cathy Pinsky

Juniper’s charcuterie starter comes with chicken liver mousse, pork rillette, pig trotter terrine, and housemade pickles.

Sane portions at Juniper occasionally slip into stingy, like the $22 square of striped bass (Juniper’s most expensive dish), whose crisp skin and creamy flesh made us crave just one more bite. The dish’s scant swipe of haunting puréed celeriac also left us pining, yet our companion’s roomy main of perfect, coral-fleshed salmon felt well-sized for dinner. The last arrived with an incredibly buttery English pea risotto, whose al dente grains had been expertly teased of their starch. Meanwhile, juicy roasted pork sandwiches offered lusty bites refined by sweet/tart house-pickled onions.

Desserts are this restaurant’s weakest link, and, on a recent visit, Juniper offered only two choices (though, to be fair, this is a focused menu with only five starters and six mains, and no room for pasta or even a vegetarian entrée). A molten chocolate cake tasted fine, though the dish has become a restaurant cliché, while a dense strawberry-rhubarb panna cotta lacked fragility, and its macerated berries were an unappealing gray. The dish’s few bites of rhubarb were delicious, however, and the house-made cookies from lunch—like addictive, chewy oatmeal-raisin—are available.
Juniper’s service manages the delicate balance, offering warm smiles and no-fuss efficiency; waiters appear just when required, then vanish when unwanted. And Juniper’s BYOB status is a boon for diners, who can avoid stiff restaurant markups by simply bringing their own. This keeps Juniper’s tabs low. According to Sze, Juniper’s wine service will have to wait until the restaurant can extend rearward to construct an additional bathroom. Eating at Juniper right now—with its BYOB, modest décor, low tabs, and single bathroom—feels like an opportunity to say, “I knew Juniper way back when…."

Juniper ★★★

575 Warburton Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson
(914) 478-2542
Hours: lunch, Tues to Fri 11 am–4 pm; dinner Thurs to Sat 6 pm-9 pm; brunch Sat and Sun 10 am–4 pm.
Appetizers: $7-$9; entrées: $18-$22; desserts: $6.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
★★—Good ★—Fair


 

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