[Photos: S. Pratt; Cafe Juanita/Facebook]
Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero awards 3.5 stars to Cafe Juanita, Holly Smith's almost 35-year-old Italian restaurant in Kirkland. Only seven other restaurants have earned a near perfect rating from the critic, including Canlis and The Whale Wins. Here's what Cicero says makes the place so good: Smith herself. She took over the keys for the space 20 years back and spent time, "gaining confidence as a proprietor and maturing as a chef." The 2008 James Beard Best Chef Northwest winner also earned a 3.5 star review from Nancy Leson when she was still at The Seattle Times.
Also, the menu with food that "tracks the seasons," starring fresh pasta, "heavily marbled" Australian wagyu carne cruda, and risotto infused with squash blossoms. Plus, a front of house crew, "who work with practiced synchrony." After an upcoming remodel to Cafe Juanita's more than 60-year-old building, Cicero says, "a fourth star should be within reach."
Over on Capitol Hill, Bethany Jean Clement takes a seat at the just opened bar at Monsoon. Although, "there was nothing wrong with the restaurant before," Clement calls the new addition "absolutely gorgeous." There's no kids allowed in the new portion of the restaurant, and owner Eric Banh tells Clement that's intentional. "It's a very serious bar, and I just don't want kids running around while people are having a sip of Pappy Van Winkle."
On to the food: It's "good as ever," especially the pumpkin-colored Saigon yellow curry with "big, luscious, wild-caught prawns" and "fully delicious" Anderson Valley lamb. She also likes the drinks, including the "Big-Ass Mustache" that's "so compellingly sweet-and-sour that you might actually gulp it, ending up with some of its big, foamy, amaro-scented head on your upper lip."
· Cafe Juanita: Northern Italian Doesn't get Better Than This [ST]
· Monsoon's New Room Is for Adults Only [The Stranger]