First Taste: Juniper in Hastings-on-Hudson

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Juniper, the new bistro-cafe in Hastings-on-Hudson, is a gem of a neighborhood restaurant. It’s the kind of place you can stop for a coffee and a scone before work in the morning, enjoy a sandwich for lunch while you’re reading your book, or linger over dinner in the evening with friends.

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When I went on Friday, the place was full of Hastings locals — most of whom seemed to know each other. One family just got back from Florida and didn’t feel like cooking, so they brought their kids for a quick supper. They must have waved to everyone in the room but us. Another couple was lingering over their bottle of wine (BTW, it’s BYO). A father and a son silently shared their meal at a table in the corner. Everyone seemed at home.

And it is homey. There are cookbooks on a shelf, photos of vegetables from farmers markets on the walls, and big glass jars of cookies on the marble counter that surrounds the open kitchen.

Chef Alex Sze has great kitchen cred: he’s worked at Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown and at Fiamma, Adour and 10 Downing, all in Manhattan. But he was ready to get out of the city, so he and his wife settled in Eastchester. Good for us.

Sze (pronounced Zee) calls the space, the former Sushi Express, and EuroDeli before that, “quaint.” It has a light walls, dark wood furniture and that open kitchen with marble countertops.

It’s entertaining watching Sze and his small team bustling in a tiny space. The aromas of his cooking carry into the room, making you hope that it’s your delicious-smelling order that’s so enticing. It won’t matter. Whatever you get, you can bet it will be good.

We started with the charcuterie platter ($9), all of which was home made. From the front, we have a pork terrine, chicken liver mousse and pork rillettes. Those are housemade pickles on the side and charred bread, too.

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Everything was delicious, porky where it should be porky, chunky where it should be chunky, smooth where it should be smooth. I’m craving it now.

Zucchini Soup ($7) with Olive Oil Crouton, Basil and Creme Fraiche:

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This is my kind of soup, but I must admit I tasted more spinach flavor than zucchini. I liked the texture, but the flavor seemed out of balance. Every other dish we tasted was so fabulous, though, so I’m willing to give it a pass.

Here’s a look inside:

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For our entrees, we tried the Chicken ($18), with Grilled Radicchio, Currant, Grilled Bread, Pine Nuts, Lemon Caper Dressing:

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This blew me away. The sweet-sour-bitter-meaty balance came through on every bite. The chicken was juicy and its skin was crispy. The radicchio was cooked just enough, but not so much you felt like it was stewed or something.

And the Striped Bass ($19) with Olive Oil Crushed Potato, Romaine, Smoked Ham Hock Vinaigrette:

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Another winner. The fish was flaky and succulent, the potatoes straddled a line between mashed and hash browns, and the meaty vinaigrette wilted the lettuce and gave it a big boost of umami. And I loved the portion — about the size of a deck of cards.

For dessert, we shared the pound cake with lemon curd:

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Here’s where I’ll jump in on the service. It’s green. Very green. It’s earnest, but there were a ton of mistakes — all minor, but… For instance, when he cleared our appetizer plates, our waiter asked if we would like to see dessert menus. When we wanted a refill on our wine, they brought out 2 other people’s bottles before they found our right one. And when dessert came, we didn’t get new forks. We had to tear of pieces of the cake with our hands.

Still, they were friendly and kind, and to their credit, our waiter asked my husband what they could do to improve, and really pressed him for an answer. And here’s another clue they need some time to work out the kinks: when we came in, they thanked us for reserving a table. “We never expected this,” our waiter said — referring to how popular the restaurant had become.

The pound cake was terrific. It was toasted nice and warm in butter and served with that lemon curd, which was rich and creamy and gave you a nice pucker.

Yes, this was dinner, but right now the cafe, which has 24 seats, is serving mostly lunch, such as a burger with roasted tomatoes, Gruyere and mustard aioli; and a butternut squash sandwich with onion marmalade and goat cheese. There are also salads and two daily soups. Once the Hastings Farmers Market opens, he plans on buying local products there.

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It’s so encouraging seeing such thought and care going into everything here, from the house-made charcuterie to the warm pound cake. When the food is great at a small, local place like Juniper, it’s a real step forward for dining everywhere in the suburbs. There’s no need to go to a destination restaurant to find great food. Sometimes, it’s right there in your own neighborhood.

Previously: First Look: Juniper in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The 411 on Juniper.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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