seared scallops  Just downstairs from the stunning, Restoration Hardware-esque lobby of the Arctic Club Hotel, Juno is a restaurant struggling to find an identity.  Formerly, it garnered mixed reviews from critics, but was praised for its creativity and use of local, seasonal ingredients.  However, the dining public and Juno never quite met eye-to-eye.

To be fair, I suppose that a hotel restaurant has a natural disadvantage.  When Aunt Gertrude and her three kids come to visit from Oklahoma City, they might count on the hotel menu to offer a burger and fries.  However, given the makeup of the late-20s-early-30s well-dressed bohemians who flock to the Polar Barn just one floor above, it’s in Juno’s interest to serve contemporary, well-executed food with the style and thoughtfulness that Seattlites have come to expect from a high-class downtown restaurant.  Unfortunately, this was not my experience.

When I called a few weeks ahead to make my reservation, I noticed that their menu wasn’t posted online.  The host informed me that the menu was being overhauled, but the new menu was forthcoming.  Restaurants everywhere have been taking a critical look at their menus as the economy has kept more diners at home in recent months, and I believe Juno was doing the same.  Even on the night of my dinner, the new menu wasn’t quite complete; the lunch menu was extended into the dinner hours, but the specials of the night were items that we were told had already been cemented on the new menu.  Unfortunately, that’s where things started to go down hill. 

I tasted two of the three soon-to-be menu additions (the third was a halibut).  First was a grilled New York strip steak served with fingerling potatoes.  That, to me, is the food equivalent of a musician releasing a Christmas Album.  You know it will make money, you know people want it because it’s familiar, but it isn’t very interesting and its certainly not art.  I would have hoped for unique twist on the dish, perhaps rosemary- or truffle-salted potatoes, but alas, the chef appeared to wave the white flag on this one.  Fair enough, maybe that’s just what the market demands.

Next was a quartet of pan-seared scallops served on roasted pears with asparagus (pictured at top).  Unfortunately, I can’t come up with any good excuses for this one.  Although the scallops were cooked well, they were accompanied by sauces that I can only describe as a powdered gravy mix, and a vaguely balsamic powdered gravy mix.  The roasted pear slices contributed almost no flavor to the dish, and the bland asparagus was equally superfluous.  I’m not sure if this dish is still in beta testing, but I can’t seem to figure out why all those things shared the same plate.

chevre cheesecakeThankfully, Dessert was much more up to snuff.  In particular, the almond-crusted goat cheese cheese cake was welcoming both to the eyes and to the palate. 

But, the real standouts of the evening were the drinks!  The cocktail menu, shared between the Polar Bar and Juno, is full of creative, tasty and downright sexy drinks.  Two of my favorites were the Polar Ice and the Hemmingway Mojito (the best Mojito I can remember drinking). 

Even though I was told those dishes are already headed for the full-time dinner menu, it’s totally possible that they might evolve to find some sort of identity along the way.  But, from my experience, Juno doesn’t seem to be striking a balance between fine dining and populist restauranteering.  I do hope the best for Juno – it is a beautiful space, and the dead, white, wealthy founders of the Arctic Club have very high standards.

JUNO on Urbanspoon

Reading time: 3 min

My goal of having 6-pack abs for my honeymoon apparently won’t be met by reducing my intake of foie gras and pork belly alone.  In an effort to trick myself into eating healthier, I’ve been experimenting with other white meats.  Usually, I think turkey is pretty bland.  However, this recipe was so shockingly tasty that it made me forget I was even trying to cook “lite”.  The pungent flavors of the curry and orange marmalade transform plain turkey into a dish I would even serve for company.

Total kitchen time: 1.5 hours
Makes: 2 waists a little smaller

Shopping list:

  • 2 boneless skinless turkey breast halves
  • 1 tbsp. red curry powder
  • 2.5 Oz goat’s cheese (about 1/3 cup finely crumbled)
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach, rinsed and dried
  • 2 tsp. orange marmalade
  • 4 8” pieces of cooking twine
  • kosher salt
  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and place the top rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with foil or a non-slip baking mat.
  2. Working one at a time, place each turkey breast between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet, pound the breast until it is uniformly thick.  Be careful not to accidentally rip through the meat.  If you’ve had a long day, this step can be very therapeutic.
  3. Generously salt both sides of the breast.  Then, coat each side with curry powder.  Lay the breast flat-side down and top with 1/2 of the goat cheese, pressing the cheese into the meat to help it stick.  Then, top the goat’s cheese with half of the spinach.
  4. Roll the breast into a log, starting with the narrow end.  Tie the roulade (rolled meat) in two places using lengths of twine.  Repeat for the remaining turkey breast.
  5. Finally, rub the outside of each roulade with 1 tsp. of orange marmalade.  Place on the lined baking sheet and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the roulade reads 160°F.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

I enjoyed this dish alongside an artichoke with my favorite choke-dip: light mayo and curry powder.  I suppose other healthy options might include a salad, fruit, or a doughnut.  Wait, doughnuts are healthy, right?

Reading time: 1 min

crabcake rockefeller 
Why should oysters have all the fun?  After all, crabs are bigger, meatier and more vicious (making our conquest over them all the more victorious!)  And, I’ll unapologetically claim that this recipe is “healthy” since the crab cakes are baked, not fried, and spinach counts as a green vegetable. 

Total kitchen time: 1 hour
Makes: about 6 jumbo crab cakes

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb lump crab claw meat (I love the canned stuff at Trader Joe’s – you can’t beat the price)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 4 green onions, finely diced
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (Panko works great too)
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 slices bacon or prosciutto
  • 4 cups (uncooked) baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup watercress stems
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • good salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • olive oil (in a sprayer, if you’ve got one)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and set the top rack to the middle position (BTW, this recipe is a great toaster oven candidate).  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a nonstick cooking mat.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the crab meat, diced red bell pepper, half of the diced green onion (reserving the other half) and half of the bread crumbs (reserving the other half).  Mix in the honey and chili powder, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. I like to form my crab cakes by pressing them into a 1/2 cup measure, squeezing tightly so they’ll hold their shape.  You can mould them with your hands as well, but be sure to press them together tightly or they might fall apart in transit to the plates.  Arrange the crab cakes on the lined baking sheet, leaving at least 1” between each crab cake.
  4. Using your olive oil sprayer (if you have one; or by drizzling olive oil) lightly coat the outside of each crab cake.  This will help with browning and to form an outer crust.  Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, fry the bacon or prosciutto in a large skillet until crispy.  Set aside to drain, then crumble into small pieces using a sharp knife.
  6. Finely chop the spinach and watercress stems.  In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute.  Then, add the remaining green onion, bread crumbs and watercress stems.  Sauté 1 minute more.  Finally, add the chopped spinach and cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. To serve, plate a crab cake atop a smear of the spinach mixture, then sprinkle the whole plate with crumbled bacon.

Reading time: 2 min
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