Since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, restaurants have been pivoting to takeout-only operating models. Some have made it even more special by allowing us restaurant lovers to bring the tasting menu experience home with us. Juniper & Ivy, located in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego, is one of those restaurants that does it beautifully.
The overall experience is just about flawless. Juniper & Ivy has it figured out. Pickup was easy—you park outside at your designated pickup time, don’t need to call, and they bring the food out to you. Packaging was simple and clean. They even included a lovely card with printed heating instructions for all the dishes, a nice personal touch in this faceless time that can seem so impersonal and isolating. Portions were generous for the price—$25 bought me a three-course dinner and I had enough food for two meals.
Although always focused on comfort food, the menu changes every weekend, which I love. I’ll highlight two particular standout menus: one of the “classics” and a special barbecue menu to kick off summer.
Juniper & Ivy At Home: Classics
This weekend, the menu was focused on tried and true J&I classics. Chopped salad to start, pasta carbonara with uni (!), and sticky toffee pudding (!!) for dessert. Two of my favorite dishes of all time. I ordered it in a heartbeat.
I never thought I’d have so many strong opinions on a salad. A “chopped salad” doesn’t exactly inspire cravings in me, but man, was this salad way more than its humble billing. It has a ton of crunch and lots of lightly pickled vegetables—cucumbers, red onions, maybe some radish? The light pickling lends a nice amount of acid while still preserving plenty of crunch and texture. Everything is coated in a creamy red wine vinaigrette that sets the standard for how vinaigrettes should taste. The acid levels are very balanced and I’m left craving more salad at the end of it.
Corn carbonara with uni and pork belly
Mmm, this is comfort food at its finest. When I opened the container, rich, heavenly smells filled my kitchen. Bacon and seafood is always a safe bet, and this is no different. Huge chunks of smoked pork belly give the salty bacon notes.
The carbonara has a strong black pepper flavor, which I appreciate, and sneaky calabrian chiles offer a deeper heat to bolster the black pepper. The carbonara is generously coated in a creamy sauce, with help from the runny yolk—just look at that egg, poised to burst!—stirred in just before eating. There’s a substantial amount of crunch from the corn, adding variations in texture. It’s everything I want a carbonara to be, and then some. This dish is so comforting, so rich, that I have to save some for later.
Sticky toffee date pudding
Since London, I’m constantly craving a good sticky toffee pudding. They’re hard to find in San Diego, done properly at least. This one comes close. It’s a beautiful seashell shape, and more cake than sticky toffee, but who cares. It captures all the flavors of sticky toffee pudding, made richer and molasses-sweet from the dates.
Accompanied by a tart raspberry coulis and sweet, airy cream, this feels like a southern California spin on a sticky toffee pudding. Not laden with syrupy, sickly-sweet sauce, its lighter cousin allows for the fruit and fresh mint to lighten up a usually heavy dish. It’s not exactly my idea of a sticky toffee pudding, but it captures the essence. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Juniper & Ivy At Home: Barbecue Week
With the recent warm, sunny weather in San Diego, Juniper & Ivy designed this menu to evoke that outdoor summer BBQ feeling, even as we’re all staying inside.
Charred corn and potato salad with smoked shishito ranch
The menu starts with this spin on a traditional cold potato salad you’d expect to find at any summer BBQ. I’m a fan of this twist—I love a homemade ranch. There’s a hint of spice from the shishito, and a strong bite from the green onion.
I think this potato salad is actually better after sitting for a day, and closer to room temperature than straight from the fridge. The flavors are more pronounced on day two, and I could taste more of the subtleties in the ranch.
Smoked pulled pork sandwich
Smoke everything! The pulled pork in cherry BBQ sauce is the definite highlight of the meal. Sweet, smoky, a little spicy. The pork is so tender it falls apart when you bite into it. There’s unexpected crunch from the peanuts in the cabbage slaw, giving it almost a Thai-like flavor. Bread & butter pickles and a brioche bun complete the sandwich.
On the side is some of the lightest and fluffiest cornbread I’ve ever had. It’s airy and more cake-like than crumbly in texture. The sandwich comes with a side of baked beans. I’m usually not big on baked beans alone, but dunking the cornbread in the beans is immensely satisfying.
Chocolate whoopie pie
Until today, the only whoopie pies I’ve ever had have tasted like the artificial ingredients they’re made of. This one is different. The cream filling tastes like actual pastry cream, sweet and rich, not faux Cool Whip. It’s sweet, but not too sweet to prevent me from swiping my finger across and lapping it up. It’s soft and cakey without being dense.
Juniper & Ivy At Home is a bright spot during quarantine, and I hope more restaurants continue offering menus and experiences like this one. The vibe the restaurant exudes is humble, friendly, and optimistic; even though restaurants are the last ones we expect to be optimistic during these uncertain times, they constantly step up to meet the challenge.
More Juniper and Ivy At Home
As a bonus, when you order from Juniper & Ivy At Home once, you’ll receive the upcoming weekend menu via email so you don’t have to keep checking the website. Follow them on Instagram @juniperandivy for the latest news and menu updates.
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