San Diego has no shortage of places to dine, but Juniper and Ivy is a true fine dining destination in San Diego.
After walking around Little Italy for hours until our reservation time, we built up enough in anticipation for the fine dining experience. The icing on the cake was when the hostess offered to seat us at the chef's table because we arrived a little early and our table wasn't ready. Turns out, that was a fine decision.
Top Chef All Star winner Richard Blais is the leader behind the menu, which focuses on highlighting local ingredients and west coast style of fine dining. I've always revered Chef Blais for his spin on gastronomy and is inventive style on Top Chef. But to have an opportunity to sit at the chef's table at one of his restaurants - I was over the moon.
I've been to Juniper and Ivy before - but never have I allowed myself to splurge (it was a birthday celebration). Their menu changes daily, but the current set up is: bites (literally 1 big bite), sharable small plates, mains and desserts. While we were contemplating, we got an amuse each - chef's welcome bite - which was a "deviled egg" with creamy yolk that sat on the egg white, which was a melt-in-your-mouth meringue. It was a dreamy bite. The Sommelier came over after to help us pick out our bottle of wine. I've been to restaurants where the Somms are a bit "pushy", but he was so natural at blending a bit of conversation, drawing on his own experience, and guiding us to pick out something we've never tried before. With that, we went with a bottle of 2014 Syrah from Gonzales Wine Company (read about the winemaker here).
Our server, Matt, was great at making recommendations that we felt comfortable with - we started with 3 bites, a couple of small plates, and our main course - buffalo steak with bone marrow. Every single thing on the menu was fantastic, but since they do have a daily rotating menu, it wouldn't be helpful to describe each dish. Instead, what I took away was the whole experience. There are a number of restaurants in San Diego that would classify as fine dining, and a price tag to match for it. But, what stands out at Juniper and Ivy is the trifecta of food, service, and ambiance. It's the whole package. Everyone who I've observed working there are dedicated and experts at what they are doing - it's the servers who know exactly what's in each dish and what makes it special, it's the somm who can help you go outside of your comfort zone of always ordering a cab, it's the busser who meticulously tidies your table, and the best for me, the kitchen staff.
Sitting at the chef's table meant I could see the entire operation, from end to end. With years of watching the Food Network under my belt, I immediately saw the hot station: grill, saute, fry; the cold station: prep, salads, and appetizers, and the best of all, I saw the head chefs expediting and finishing up each plate before they went out to the tables. It might just be an every day thing for someone who works in the industry, but for me, who is so extremely passionate about food, seeing this in real life was a dream come true. Matt saw how entranced I was at the opportunity to be so close to the kitchen, and I am pretty sure he made this happen, but when we were done with dinner, chef Joe came over to us and invited us on a brief tour of the kitchen. My heart jolted with joy and excitement. OMG. He took us to the prep / mis-en-place area, their immaculate and well organized walk in cooler (they age their own meat... they source their uni from a local fisherman from La Jolla... ) to their pastry station at the far end of the kitchen. It was a short tour but they have no idea what it means to me to have been invited to the kitchen area.
The meal ended with a dessert course + an ice cream cookie sandwich courtesy of the restaurant with a candle for me to blow out for my birthday wishes. I was glowing even when we were walking out from the restaurant at this whole experience - Juniper and Ivy earned the "fine" in fine dining from me. Thank you all @Juniper and Ivy for this memorable experience.