My plane landed in New York City on Valentine’s Day around the same time all the men were picking up bouquets of roses and rushing down the street to meet their dates. All of them were happily smiling, even those not yet with their lady friends, but maybe that’s because it finally stopped snowing.
My cab driver couldn’t believe I was on vacation alone, let alone dining by myself on the biggest date night of the year. When I explained that I was excited to see how people reacted to my solitariness, he suggested he and his wife tag along with me. Little did he know my passion for food probably surpasses that of most couples’ for each other, so dining alone on Valentine’s Day was a declaration of my love of culinary wonderments.
After changing into a little black dress (it was Valentine’s Day, after all), I arrived at Juni, the modern American restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood tucked underneath the Hotel Chandler. Executive Chef (and co-owner) Shaun Hergatt’s impressive resume includes numerous awards from around the world, most notably two Michelin stars at his previous restaurant, Sho Shaun Hergatt, where I experienced his culinary skills in 2012.
Barely opened in the fall, Juni is already causing a stir in New York City’s food scene, wearing the banner of Best New Restaurant by Esquire and making Zagat’s list of 10 Sexiest Restaurants in New York. For Valentine’s Day, the restaurant offered a five-course tasting menu with two options for each course for $175/person.
After starting with several amuse bouches, the first course was a trio of oysters with citrus blossoms and yuzu reduction, a refreshing start to the meal. I loved how the taste of the citrus blossoms lingered after each oyster.
The second course took on a heavier route with veal tongue, polenta, pine nuts, pesto and a quail egg. Intensely savory, the dish played the comfort chord well, using the polenta to balance the almost awkward texture of tongue. The course was a striking contrast to the oysters and may have been better placed later in the meal. (This dish is currently on Juni’s regular dinner menu, unlike some others I had throughout the night.)
Next came the Nova Scotia Lobster topped with sea urchin in uni broth with apple puree. As expected, it was richness topped with richness, but done tastefully (pun intended) with the contrasts of tartness thanks to the apples. Definitely my favorite course of the night.
The New York Squab with rose petals and lovage followed. I’m a huge fan of squab for its juiciness and the crispy skin on this dish added a nice touch. The squab jus had a touch of foie gras, upping the richness factor, but I never would have guessed it if the server didn’t tell me. (This is also on Juni’s dinner menu.)
I ended with the Beet Spongecake with rosemilk ice cream and chocolate. The beet and rosemilk ice cream were lovely together, their light flavors kept the dish from being too much, while the chocolate boldly enhanced the overall dessert feel. I loved the unique flavors and textures of the dish.
The attention to detail at Juni was impressive. Each course was presented beautifully, the service was spot-on and they even had a little stool for my purse so it didn’t touch the floor. (Something I adored about restaurants in Japan but haven’t seen anywhere else!) Chef Hergatt came to my table to ask how my dinner was, astonishing on a night as busy as Valentine’s day! Their website calls Juni “a personal affair between the guest and the chef” and I left truly feeling that was the case.
Go to Juni for :: an exquisite tasting menu showcasing the combination of simple, yet innovative flavors. Notes :: Open for lunch Monday-Friday 12-2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-10:30 p.m. (4 courses/$90, 6 courses/$120 or a la carte); and breakfast Monday-Friday 7-10 a.m. and weekends 8-11 a.m. Reservations are available online here. Friend Juni on facebook here or follow them on twitter here.