Juni is a newcomer to NYC's fine dining scene, having opened just a few months ago. But its chef, Shaun Hergatt, is no stranger to NYC fine dining, having previously made a name for himself with his restaurant SHO, which got 2 Michelin stars and was one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in NYC even though it was in an awkward downtown location.
I'd read reviews about their lunch and prix fixe, but not much was out there about the tasting menu. We decided to give it a try, and were pleasantly surprised by how good it was, even though we'd already had great experiences at SHO. Honestly, I wish I'd taken notes as the menu descriptions don't do justice to all the elements that were on each plate.
Exceptional - With the increased focus on produce, the tasting menu at Juni had a more cohesive focus and coherent vision of flavors and textures than the menu Hergatt had at SHO. Many of the flavors were familiar and rooted in tradition, but brought to another level as the elements of the plate came together. The way that some elements were too strong on their own yet blended in harmony together as a composed dish reminded me of Corton.
Exquisite - In addition to strong flavors, there were also many delicate accents. I especially liked the way dishes were composed and painted onto the plate. Everything was visually appealing, and I felt that most of the plates presented a nice middle ground in between some dishes at Daniel which can be too cluttered and some dishes at Eleven Madison Park which can have too much negative space on the plate. The portions were also just right, as I'm not a big fan of tasting menus where every "course" is pretty much just one bite.
Expensive - While the price is on par with many of the top tier restaurants in NYC, it's about more than just the nominal cost of the meal. The tasting menu was $180 for 10 courses, but 3 of those courses were desserts, and the featured proteins were scallops, black cod, chicken skin, and lamb neck. There was no foie, no wagyu, no aged beef, not even turbot or squab. So in a way, it's the complete opposite of Brooklyn Fare, where practically every course was filled with expensive ingredients.
BREAD AND BUTTER, OLIVE TAPENADE
The meal began with a choice of regular and olive baguettes. This was pretty much the exact same bread service that EMP had before they began to make their own bread, and I wondered if it was from the same source. I was told that many (including me) who had dined at SHO had asked about the heavenly truffle butter they used to serve there. They don't do that here at Juni, but they do provide a delicious olive tapenade that's been cooked with garlic and chives.
Simple, bright, appetizing flavors. There was a beet tuile with goat cheese, some custard with foam, and pickled mushrooms.
This was both very pretty to look at and very fun to eat. There was a wide variety of tastes and textures. The dressing was fairly light, and helped to enhance the fresh feeling of all the vegetables on the plate. I vaguely remember the server saying that the salad had 30 different vegetables/components.
Many places do raw scallop dishes highlighting the sweetness of the scallops, but I liked how the meatiness of the scallops came through in this dish as well.
We had two supplements worth ($90 each) of white truffle with potato all served on one plate. The creamy and buttery potato puree was a great vessel for the white truffle, but it was the crunchy potato bits that really helped to keep it from being dull and heavy. Chef Hergatt personally came out to shave the truffles onto the dish.
The granola was used really well here for both texture contrast and as a strong enough flavor to stand up to the rich custard and flavorful mushroom foam. Serving it warm helped to enhance the comforting feeling produced by the earthy flavors.
This was a simple yet complex dish. The chive oil, which was plenty strong in itself, surrounded the creamy mustard and toned down its sharpness when eaten with the potatoes, resulting in a feeling of "from the ground" earthiness.
This chicken skin was super crispy, but I wasn't even sure if it was actually chicken skin. It felt more like chicken was cooked down and then made into a lavash. I found the sauce a little too sweet and over-reduced, but I loved the use of cooked azuki beans in a savory presentation, giving off only a slight sweetness and providing a great textural match with the onions.
The blood orange gastrique by itself seemed too sweet, making me wonder why anyone would serve it with a savory dish. Yet when I mixed it with the parsnip puree and put it on top of the fish, it worked beautifully. The sweetness was tempered and enveloped by the smooth parsnip puree, while serving to enhance the sweetness of the black cod. It all came together like one of those "Corton" moments I mentioned earlier. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, crisp on the outside with flaky flesh, and while I'm not big on basil seeds, I didn't mind them here. After we finished, Chef Hergatt came out to ask us how we liked the dish as it was brand new on the menu and we were the first ones to taste it. We told him he had a winner.
The final savory course was much more traditional in flavor, served with a rich, sticky, sweet braising jus. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the vegetable ribbons and purees worked to add in more textural contrasts.
For my friend who didn't care for lamb, they let us substitute a choice from the prix fixe menu.
We added one order of this dessert to share as it looked very interesting and had just been featured in some magazine. It was a stellar combination of sweet and savory. The cheddar tuile was, once again, too salty on its own, but when eaten with the sweet corn ice cream, it created an excellent umami sensation which was balanced by the acidity of the lime.
An interesting "cheese course" that featured sweet and tart flavors with a nice creamy finish.
Another great combination of sweet and tart and earthy, all brought together by the simple vanilla ice cream.
CHOCOLATE; SWEET POTATO - BAY LEAF
Another interesting combination, especially since each of the individual ingredients has a fairly strong and distinct flavor. I especially liked the very thin sweet potato crisps. Seeing the "Happy Birthday" written on the plate for SC, I actually compared it to an earlier photo from SHO to see if they just happened to use some sort of stencil. I would say that the two "Happy Birthday"s definitely come from different handwriting.
The petit fours selection was also interesting, with my favorite being fig beignets made to look like figs.
Atmosphere: The restaurant is split into two dining rooms, and was perhaps 1/3 full on the Tuesday night we were there. Compared to the red and black design of SHO, the slate-like coloring scheme was much more serene. While some might find it drab, I found it nice and soothing. I do think the room could use a bit more color, and without changing the coloring scheme, I would suggest that perhaps they use some brighter colored flowers for the serving station table that's right in the middle of the dining room.
Service: Service was good but could still be more polished for a restaurant of this ambition. I do like that their servers actually seemed very enthusiastic about the food, unlike the servers at SHO who just felt like generic hotel workers. There was one egregious error where they overcharged us an extra $180 tasting menu, and we almost didn't catch it!
Overall: I can easily see Hergatt reclaiming his two Michelin stars if he stays in the kitchen and continues to update his menu according to the seasons. It's expensive, but the food and presentation are of a very high quality. I also like how the food features inventive combinations while still being rooted in tradition, without the over-reliance on whimsy that I found at Atera.
12 E 31st St
Hotel Chandler, between 5th Ave & Madison Ave
Manhattan, NY 10016