Any restaurant reviewer worth their sea salt will admit (at least in private) that the guests they invite to help review make a world of difference in perspective and opinion. That was true the evening I spent at Juliet, Culver City’s charming new French restaurant by Rohan Talwar and team.
I had two guests: the first I’ll call The Cultured Palate. The second was The Picky Eater. Two diametrically opposed people who both came away saying they’d go back soon.
Talwar has said that Juliet is “an ode to the way Parisians are dining now.” So there are no snooty waiters or maître d’s, just a happy staff seeing to your every need. Designed by Jeremiah Brent, Juliet interior’s scalloped edges and soft colors — offset with deep reds, wood and marble — put patrons immediately at ease.
Cleverly, in addition to dinner, they offer breakfast and lunch in a neighborhood that was once a sleepy backwater but is now bustling with technocrats. The place is buzzing all day with a sophisticated crowd in both the dining room and spacious patio.
The Picky Eater’s dilemma began with the starters: He wouldn’t eat cheese; he would only eat chicken or fish; he couldn’t have dressing on salad; and there could be no butter and no soy. (Dessert, however, was a yes.) Our waitress was both sympathetic to The Picky Eater and excited by The Cultured Palate’s interest in the finer points of the cuisine.
Picky was terrified of the Mousse au Foie de Volaille ($18), a chicken liver tartlet with apple gelée but, coaxed into trying a bit, he liked it — though one bite was enough. Meanwhile, Palate savored the combination of rich mousse and spritely gelée. “Surprising and delicious” she declared.
Our next choice was the Carpaccio de Thon ($35), raw Bluefin tuna with olives. After Palate explained to Picky that, if he eats sushi — which he does — carpaccio is just raw fish presented differently, only one question remained: What were those white dots on the surface of the carpaccio? Picky thought it was cheese, but our gentle waitress was not the least taken aback by the question. She explained it was a kind of aioli, so he was safe. We all dug into this light dish.
(However, we were served two pieces of bread for a table of three. A bit chintzy, we thought, and we asked for more.)
With the starters, we drank glasses of champagne: Extra Brut Bérêche & Fils Cote ($30) and Extra Brut Rose Laherte Frères ($18). Both are dry sparklers with plenty of character.
Other wines by the glass are available in three serving sizes and priced accordingly, which is a nice touch if you want to try a number of wines. (The cocktails looked intriguing but that impressive wine list was calling.)
A nearby table full of celebrating friends toasted with bottles of Pol Roger Champagne ($638), and the electro pop play list was just loud enough to match the energy of the room. Everyone, young and old, was casually but well dressed, including relaxed fashionistas with tiny designer bags and Warby Parker glasses. Couples, seated at tables for two or four, hashed out the stock market, recent art fairs and gossiped, of course.
The Salade Classique ($20), with greens and the most perfect snap peas, was served before our entrees as well as an Aubergine Rôti ($22), one of the evening’s highlights. (Vegetables are truly the glory of spring.) Picky was delighted by his Poulet Rôti ($38) with black lentils and truffle jus (after he was assured he’d eaten lentils before). The delicate skin of the chicken was just crisp enough and the truffle jus added a touch of richness.
The Côtes d’Agneau ($55) — lamb chops with chickpea puree and olive tapenade — were perfectly medium rare with a bit of char. Chickpea puree doesn’t sound like much, but the silky puree was delightfully seasoned. The three small chops were enough for our table but a patron who’s really hungry might want to add another vegetable or pasta.
Daurade Royale ($48) — wild sea bream with ratatouille — is further evidence of the chef’s deft hand. The sear on the fish complimented the delicate flesh beneath and robust ratatouille brought a pungent addition. even before a pistou sauce was swept onto the plate.
The sommelier who helped us with our pre-dinner champagne recommended glasses of white, rosé and red to drink with our entrees. We liked all three: a Meursault, a Château Simone Rosé and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. She was infinitely patient, listening to our preferences and steering us to vintages we hadn’t tried.
For dessert, we had madeleines, the buttery cookies immortalized by Proust. A sweet hint to come back and relive the evening.
If a refined French restaurant can make a picky eater happy and please a cultured palate, it says something about the fine art of hospitality well executed.
8888 Washington Blvd.
Mon.-Sun. from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Reservations via Resy
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