I was really looking forward to trying Julian. It’s in my neighborhood, in Joe D’s old space, and owned and operated by James Beard award winner Celina Tio, former chef of the American restaurant.
I was listening to a Ruth Reichl podcast recently. She was editor of the now defunct Gourmet magazine and a former New York Times restaurant critic. She correctly pointed out that dozens of observations and judgments are made before taking a bite of food. Does the space feel comfortable? Does it have positive energy? Was the host friendly and welcoming? Is the look of the table pleasing? Did someone come right over to fill water glasses and take a drink order? Is it loud? How is the music? These and other thoughts were running through my mind as I sat down at our table.
Perhaps it was unfair of me to have such high expectations, but considering Tio’s stature in the restaurant community, I was anticipating an outstanding experience and I didn’t have one. Tio has certainly improved the look of the space, with clean lines and neutral colors, but it’s still quite cramped. The back room now adjoins an open kitchen, but that feature increases an already problematic noise level. I did like the clipboard menus and Chilewich striped place mats on the stainless tables.
After ordering a bottle of wine from the manager (which was served at least ten degrees too warm), our first encounter from the server was when, without prelude or greeting, she asked if we were ready to order. And so it went. I felt rushed from the beginning, and that feeling intensified when our entrees were delivered before everyone was finished with their salads.
We started with homemade pretzels that resembled chewy twisted rolls. These were served with two mustards, though one tasted like barbecue sauce. It was a unique appetizer and we enjoyed the presentation. The butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and egg vinaigrette was novel and tasty. French fries come with homemade ketchup, but they needed to be left in the fryer a bit longer. There was no bread service and, though that seems to be a more common occurrence these days, I think a fresh roll or chewy bread can enhance a dining experience, especially when there’s a savory sauce begging to be mopped up.
My entree was a winner. The pork shoulder was crisp and tender, and combined with sweet potato puree, I was happy. (The picture doesn’t do it justice.) The other entrees at the table were less successful. The “paella” was fine but nothing special. Though the menu description indicated that it was not an authentic version, it lacked oomph. The seared salmon with asian noodles would be ideal for those watching their waistline, but it didn’t strike me as representative of Tio’s considerable talents. I do like the offered option of ordering a small or large portion of most entrees.
Other menu items include a hamburger, which I’ve heard is sensational, a pulled pork and slaw sandwich, a B.E.L.T. ( bacon, egg, lettuce and tapenade mayo), lobster shephard’s pie, and mac n’cheese.
Had I not known anything about the chef/owner and walked in with a blank slate, I’m sure my first impression would have been far more positive. In any case, new restaurants always take some time to shake out. I look forward to lunch service and spring meals on the spacious patio. Julian is a welcome addition to the Brookside restaurant scene, but it has a way to go before it reaches its potential. Celina Tio is the consummate pro, and I know she will do what it takes to make her new venture a success.