Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 3
Silken pastas, intense but modulated sauces, scrumptious breads and dessert, peerless service, thoughtful wine list–these are just a few of the reasons Cafe Juanita defies its odd neighborhood location in Kirkland and draws devotees from all over Puget Sound.
Chef Holly Smith deserves all the considerable professional kudos she’s received for keeping Cafe Juanita head and shoulders above the pack. Attention to detail is deliciously evident everywhere, even in the bread basket. Delicate rounds of cayenne and Parmesan that crackle then melt on the tongue; olive oil and sea salt focaccia; a tender-crumbed potato bread; a rosemary scented flatbread cracker. These breads are so delicious, it’s easy to overdo it at this point.
Pastas can be ordered in sizes small or large, a great option for grazers who like to sample a bit of everything. We had the agnoletti, wonderful little pinches of pasta with rabbit inside, and a classic tagliatelle in a succulent Bolognese. Our expertly cooked entrees included Wagyu steak and a roasted trout. Both of them perfection.
In my quest to find the best Caesar salad in town, I chanced upon one here that takes the prize. Cafe Juanita’s anchovy vinaigrette Romaine salad isn’t technically a Caesar–it’s more like what a Caesar should be but never is. Anchovy bits and toasted bread crumbs flecked the Romaine leaves, which were glossy with oil. I’m sure salt and garlic were in the flavor lineup, but neither one stood out. A classy take on a classic.
From start to finish, Cafe Juanita is a smooth experience, with no glitches anywhere. Service wasn’t obsequious, showy, aloof or excessively friendly but struck exactly the right tone. Dessert hit the sweet spot as well: The cookie sampler showcased more of the pastry chef’s quiet magic, while the hazelnut chocolate mouse did an uptown riff on Nutella that was fun and easy to eat.
Wine geeks will love the list, which offers an attractive lineup of major Italian wines as well as more adventurous selections from smaller producers.
As we left, we asked ourselves in wonder why we didn’t eat there more often. The freeway reminded us of the reason. Then again, Italy’s a lot further away and not nearly as easy to get to as Cafe Juanita.