I had dinner at Juniper and Ivy over the weekend so I thought I'd post my impressions. It was just my wife and I so we were only able to sample a small portion of the extensive menu. The menu had no fewer than 7 categories -- snacks, raw, toasts, pasta, small plates, large plates, desserts -- between all of them you're probably looking at 40 or so dishes.
We ordered several of the snack/raw/small plates to share and they were uniformly fantastic. Particularly great was a corn dish that was essentially their version of corn on the cob, and a chicken liver terrine that punched well above its weight. Less successful were the entrees. My "Ensendada" sea bass was overcooked and didn't really hold up to the Mexican sauce and accompaniments. My wife's berkshire pork porterhouse was delicious, but frankly a bit pedestrian. Dessert, however, was stellar, and the "Yodel" was about as close to a perfect dessert as I've ever had. No surprise that it's J&I's most popular dish.
The house signature cocktails were extremely disappointing. We ordered three of their signature cocktails and they were all overly sweet to the point of cloying. To be fair, I could have just ordered any ol' cocktail, but I always like to see what a bar is coming up with on its own. The head bartender is apparently someone of note in San Diego, but I wasn't feeling her style at all. For a fun/hip restaurant like J&I, I think the cocktail menu is one place where you can and should push boundaries a little more aggressively, but that was sadly not the case.
Service was uniformly outstanding and for such a new restaurant, the dinner service was smooth and perfectly paced -- nothing rushed, nothing delayed. Blais was in the kitchen the night we were there, so maybe everyone was especially on their game with the boss in town. It was especially impressive given the large menu and large dinner crowd the night we were there. The overall atmosphere was fun, if a bit loud and boisterous, and J&I is clearly the hot spot in San Diego right now.
I think J&I is ideally suited to a group of 4-6 where you can order a bunch of the smaller dishes to share. If I could go back, I'd definitely stick to the smaller plates and snacks and skip the large plates. We aren't local so I can't say how well Blais has captured San Diego/SoCal cuisine. Like a lot of California restaurants the menu struck me as overly eclectic -- a little Asian here, a little Mexican there, some Italian because why not -- but if everything tastes great who cares.
Last, I'd be remiss not to add that I'm from Atlanta and have been dining at Blais helmed restaurants since well before his Top Chef celebrity. With that in mind, in my opinion J&I may be the most fully realized and successful fusion of his disparate influences to date. For anyone who gets turned off by celebrity chefs I can assure you that Blais has legit chops and knows how to run a quality fine-dining restaurant. Lastly, J&I is not a modernist-focused restaurant per se, although any number of modernist techniques are utilized in the dishes. If you're turned off by modernist stuff don't worry you won't notice it at J&I, but if you do appreciate modernist techniques you'll be able to spot them at work in the dishes.
Bottom line, a strong recommendation if you're in San Diego, and make sure you order the Yodel for dessert.