Among other notable offerings, Turkish egg bread brings boat-shaped sourdough, featuring a center filled with hot cheese and an egg yolk – perfect for tearing and dipping. The baked char siu bao is a warm, soft, pillowy bun, with a sweet-savory minced barbecue pork filling. And, a breakfast banh mi features slices of sweet house-made Vietnamese sausage subtly flavored by lemongrass, an omelet sized to fit, wisps of fresh cilantro and slivers of pickled carrots, all on a toasted house-made baguette.
Banh mis on the lunch and dinner menu offer Vietnamese caramel pork, roasted eggplant and crispy, spicy fried chicken, plus standard fixings of cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro and a swath of house-made pate. They have a thin, crusty exterior and soft, airy crumb. But, these sandwiches didn’t deliver the same delicate balance of tastes and texture as did the breakfast renditions.
Those same meat and vegetable fillings can be tossed in a noodle bowl. Roasted eggplant – or, even better, slices of that house Vietnamese sausage – arranged over rice vermicelli, tangled with raw veggies, lettuces, peanuts, fried shallots and minced garlic, with a nuoc cham vinaigrette, was more satisfying than the jumbled flavors of the star fruit, citrus and green papaya salad.
Some dishes listed among chef specialties sounded good, but didn’t deliver on the plate: an oily coconut crepe filled with shrimp and shiitakes; and roasted duck leg, which wanted for lacquer and was on a wet bed of spiralized cucumbers. I also was underwhelmed by the Thai chili oil meant to distinguish Vietnamese hot fried chicken. However, a side of cooling, creamy jicama-cabbage slaw was a spot-on pairing.
Familiar favorites, such as shrimp-stuffed summer rolls and pho with an oxtail broth were gratifying (a vegan pho also is available), but the most memorable bites from this kitchen run by former Lazy Betty senior line cook Timothy Rufino were the ones that, like the slaw, showed more creativity: steamed mussels in a rich lemongrass-coconut broth with thin slivers of star fruit; an appetizer of airy, paper-thin fried okra, masterfully cut lengthwise, and seasoned with tangy nuoc cham salt; and light-as-air coconut shaved ice with fresh fruit and chewy mochi, for dessert.
The restaurant was BYOB until its liquor license arrived the day of my last visit, enabling the bar to pour wine, Japanese beer, sake (by the bottle only), canned makgeolli and a spirited flight of soju, shochu and baijiu.
A pastel color palette, bulbous paper lantern lights and tiny potted succulents on every table lend a warm, inviting feel to the main dining room and the spacious, adjoining patio, which is covered and screened, with heaters and insulation that enable year-round use .
Prices reflect pandemic times, with takeout packaging including a 10% pre-tax surcharge that appears as a line item on the bill. Juniper Cafe also is among those restaurants that have instituted an automatic 20% service charge, which is disclosed on the menu. However, clearer verbiage might prevent inadvertent overtipping by patrons who don’t realize that they already are being assessed a 20% gratuity.
Atlanta lucked out when Hsu returned to his hometown, after having climbed the fine-dining ladder in New York. With Lazy Betty and, now, Juniper Cafe, he ranks among those young, ambitious restaurateurs in the city who are attuned to the food, drink, space, hospitality and no-apologies pricing that are likely to be the hallmarks of pleasurable, post- pandemic dining.
Food: modern Vietnamese restaurant and globally influenced bakery
Service: friendly, expeditious
Best dishes: breakfast banh mi, Turkish egg bread, crispy okra, mussels, pho, coconut shaved ice
Vegetarian selections: pastries; star fruit, citrus and green papaya salad; okra; roasted eggplant banh mi; vegan pho; roasted eggplant bun noodle salad; stir-fried mushrooms
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $$$
Pandemic safety: masks optional for guests
Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted
Hours: breakfast, 8-11 am Wednesdays-Sundays; lunch, 11 am-2:30 pm Wednesdays-Sundays; dinner, 5-8:30 pm Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 5-9 pm Fridays-Saturdays
Parking: free lot with ample parking
MARTA station: Well
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low
Takeout: yes, order by phone, in person or via restaurant website; delivery available soon via Grubhub and Uber Eats
Address, phone: 2260 Marietta Blvd. NW, Atlanta; 470-427-3057
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