In North County San Diego, Carlsbad has been undergoing something of a dining renaissance over the last couple of years.
Jeune et Jolie, sister restaurant to Campfire, is arguably the center of that renaissance. Named Eater San Diego’s Restaurant of the Year 2019 and one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America, Jeune et Jolie is steeped in French technique, though the vibe is decidedly of the moment. The decor, plates, glassware, and cutlery are all modern, the kind you’d expect to find in a millennial kitchen. Even the name, which means “young and beautiful,” evokes a sense of immediacy and whimsy.
This summer, as restaurants evolve to accommodate the needs of the COVID era, Jeune et Jolie is reopening as an all-outdoor restaurant set up in its parking lot on State Street. This pop-up concept, endearingly named Starry Night, features a 5-course tasting menu only, priced at $95 per person (including tax and gratuity). Reservations are required.
I was lucky enough to visit in December 2019, before the pandemic and right when Jeune et Jolie was riding its wave of fame. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Every detail about the dining experience was thoughtful and delightful, possibly putting Jeune et Jolie into potential Michelin league.
That night might’ve been the most food I have ever eaten in one sitting.
Like the food, the cocktail menu tries to be multicultural, with names that conjure notions of a far-away place, accessible for a moment through grandiose descriptions of otherworldly charm. The exoticism is perhaps slightly marred by the colonialism inherent in such a list inspired by the French colonies.
Amuse bouche: Thai curry soup
I would have happily slurped down a bowl of this soup as a main course. Aromatic lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, with hints of sinus-clearing spice; it was exactly the mug I’d want to sip by the fire on a winter night.
Pain et beurre: baguette, milk bread, Normandy butter
For a seemingly straightforward bread platter, this was a standout course. The milk bread was clearly inspired by the Japanese bun of the same design. It was sweet, not what you’d expect from a bread course. For me, what really put this course over the top was the Normandy butter. Creamy and perfectly salty, it was the star.
If the Normandy butter is the Platonic ideal, then all other butters pale in comparison. More than just a condiment, this butter stood on its own (and I suggest you try a spoonful of it, without bread).
The pain et beurre generates some criticism for the price—$9 for a glorified bread basket does seem a bit high. But so far, it hasn’t stopped people from ordering and loving it.
Grenouille: frog legs, fermented chili, tamari
Leave your hesitations at the door and order the frog legs. A playful spin on chicken drumettes, these tiny, delicate little frog leg lollipops were fun to nibble on and so tender. It’s one of the most popular dishes at Jeune et Jolie.
Saumon: smoked salmon, buckwheat, fromage blanc, dill
All the flavors of an everything bagel, in a compact bite. I mean that in the best way. The smoked salmon tartine on the brunch menu also gets rave reviews, so they’re doing something right.
Pomme: apple, celery, black walnut, saint agur blue
A lot of classic pairings in this dish—apple, walnuts, blue cheese. It worked well. I really appreciated that the celery was thinly shaved and marinated to temper some of that harsh celery bite.
Lardon: bacon, persimmon, burrata, pistachio, balsamic
At first look, my reaction was, “Where’s the lardon? I thought this was a bacon course!” Less “lardon” than I expected, but when you got a mouthful of salty bacon with the acid from the fruit and balsamic, plus some creaminess from the burrata, it was perfect.
Crevette: blue prawn, kataifi, green curry, Thai basil
Although French in technique, the food at Jeune et Jolie often highlights many of the classic flavors found in Asia. This dish was one example—prawn wrapped in crispy pastry, with a green curry sauce. While the meat dishes are adequately portioned, the courses from the “Un” and “Deux” sections of the menu can be on the small side. It was a little hard to split three ways!
Escargot: snail, puff pastry, mushroom
Small pieces of snail and mushroom were stuffed inside this web-like puff pastry, atop a white foam. Curious and sort of off-putting appearance, but good flavors.
Poisson cru: market fish, coconut, coriander, kiwi, daikon, chili
Bearing closer resemblance to a work of art than a fish course, the poisson cru tasted just about as clean and bright as it looked. Jeune et Jolie has a lot of seafood on the menu, and for good reason. They do it well.
Porc: Iberico pork, eggplant, artichoke, buttermilk, chermoula
This pork was very steak-esque in preparation, which was an interesting (and enjoyable) change. Great variety of textures and colors, and the chermoula added a welcome brightness to the otherwise heavy dish.
Morue: black cod, yuzu, miso, bouillon, shiitake, seaweed
As it turns out, our prediction that the ugliest dishes would be the best ones came true.
I have never understood the comforting appeal of chicken noodle soup. After trying this cod in broth, I get it. The broth was salty and savory, with multiple umami layers from the miso, shiitake, and seaweed. It was a perfectly combined medley of textures and flavors that sang together. The cod packed a full body of flavor that I did not expect in a translucent broth.
As we divided up who would finish which dish among our group, this one was the coveted final bite.
Coquille: scallop, sunchoke, abalone mushroom, vin jaune
Probably one of the most photographed dishes at Jeune et Jolie, and one of the best. Elegantly plated, with a perfectly seared scallop that was pillowy soft on the inside.
Chocolate, peanut praline, and caramel. It was irresistible.
All you need to know is that even though we were bursting from the previous twelve courses, we still ordered dessert, and we finished it.
Dinner at Jeune et Jolie is a memorable occasion
We ordered each dish a la carte, although you can opt for the “Carte Blanche” tasting menu for $95 and have the chef choose for you. Service was thoughtful and kind, with a warm familiarity that smoothed out any semblance of formality and brought Jeune et Jolie back down to earth. All in all, a standout dining experience that is also somehow not too extravagant for the everyday occasion.
Bonus: Pandemic dining at Jeune et Jolie
A preview of “Starry Night,” the outdoor dining experience at Jeune et Jolie. The five-course menu changes weekly, with the exception of the bread and butter, which is a mainstay on the menu.