After closing for almost half a year to renovate (and making a blessed trip into Seattle while they waited), Holly Smith's Café Juanita will reopen in its refreshed Kirkland home Tuesday, July 14. At the helm of the project, Heliotrope Architects' Joe Herrin says his main effort has been to retain the residential scale of Juanita that guests have long loved, but make it more contemporary, and more functional in various ways.
"What's changed here is all about service," Smith says. The James Beard Award winner's food has long spoken for itself, and as The Seattle Times identified last year, it has been the 70+-year-old building that has limited this restaurant from rising to a new level.
"What's changed here is all about service," Smith says.
For those unfamiliar with the history, Café Juanita lives in a residential home built in the late 1940s and converted to a restaurant 35 years ago by Peter Dow. Smith purchased the business in 2000 and has been the sole owner since then. She has long been interested in structural changes, but only recently gained full reign to renovate the space when Dow (who remained the landlord), sold her the property last year.
Changes to a legend must happen carefully, though, and so it's gone here. Café Juanita is still Café Juanita: "The focus is on the cuisine, not a flamboyant interior," Herrin says.
Concerning volume, the only additions to Café Juanita are a new 200-square-foot entryway, a new private dining room that seats 40, and an upper deck that seats 8. Regarding other major changes, there are new 21-inch-wide, Spanish-made chairs throughout the restaurant, and the already open kitchen has become more open, including an open prep space where cooks and diners at a 10-seat chef's table can see each other.
"This is a gift to the kitchen and the dining room at the same time," Smith says, referring to the reward cooks get when they can see guests enjoying their food.
The restaurant's downstairs is also transitioning into a more casual lounge, which will eventually have its own bar, own food menu, and (lower) outdoor seating.
In terms of menu, Smith has a few new tricks up her sleeve, partly from her pop-up learning in Seattle. On the new menu, expect the following:
Animale; crisp veal sweetbreads with turnip and spot prawn crema
Sweet corn sformato with chanterelles, roasted ground cherries and Prosciutto di Parma corn Brodo
Roasted beets with Bronte pistachio crema, yogurt and pickled rose petal viniagrette
Risotto mantecato with Alvarez farms squash blossoms and 30 month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano
Risotto nero with Sylvia's Alaskan spot prawn "scampi"
Casoncelli of guinea fowl with Italian summer truffles
Orecchietti with basil, local snails and toasted breadcrumbs
+7 Wagyu New York with DOP Gorgonzola Dolce bombolino, grilled radicchio and Giardinera
Rack of lamb, Anderson Valley Ranch, with blue lake green beans in bagna cauda and thyme roasted blackberries
and many old classics--the Grilled octopus with salsa verde, chickpea crema and smoked bone marrow, and Rabbit, braised in Arneis with pancetta and morels--"so people will know where they are," Smith says. The restaurant has also brought on bread master Junko Mine as its new pastry chef along with some other new hires. Hours will remain, as always, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m., when Juanita is back on Tuesday.