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Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009

Another Winner

LuLu owners’ newest venture

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Sarah Jonas and Cameryne Roberts know how to run a restaurant. Their Cafe LuLu, located in Bay View, continues to be a popular place for casual fare like salads, sandwiches and pizzas. Now the duo has added a second establishment, this time in Wauwatosa. The name is Juniper 61, and it opened last December after extensive remodeling of the interior.

The restaurant is located in the space formerly occupied by Jake’s steakhouse and the Persian restaurant Shiraz. The exterior remains familiar, but the interior has been updated with a refreshing new look. The booths and barn-boards are gone; in their place are new hardwood floors and greenish-yellow walls. The bar is still in place, but it has been totally refurbished. Small vases holding sprigs from juniper trees adorn the tables. Those who enjoy Cafe LuLu will find a similarly appealing menu, including homemade potato chips and Asian slaw. The sandwiches are fewer and pizzas are only occasional specials, but Juniper 61 offers a few entrees that fill a niche missing at Cafe LuLu. All in all, the menu is thoughtful and offers a nice variety.

When food arrives at a table it’s usually greeted with smiles. The presentation is attractive and the servings generous. An eye-catching starter is tempura green beans ($5) served on a long, rectangular black plate. The beans are coated in a light Japanese batter that is a bit oily, but not excessively so. Dip them in a soy-chile sauce that is more soy than chile. This is fun finger food with a light touch. For a light entree, there is the roasted beet and walnut salad ($8.50). The red beets are topped with assorted field greens and soft goat cheese. There are also dark swirls of a balsamic vinegar reduction and the right amount of walnuts. Balsamic vinegar may seem unoriginal, but this salad puts it to good use. Tasty croutons serve as a plus.

You’ll find four entrees and a weekly special. One entree includes the juniper pork ($14), an ample piece of tenderloin served over a white puree of potatoes and parsnips and topped with Alsatian choucroute, a variant of sauerkraut. It is well prepared, with bits of sausage and whole dried juniper berries. The succulent meat arrives with a little pink in the center. Juniper berries are more commonly used to flavor gin, but here they add fragrance (though a greater quantity would be welcomed). Chicken paprikash ($13) is another pleaser. This is a leg and thigh with the bone in. It has the maximum tenderness and a rich sauce with flavors of sweet paprika. Buttery marjoram spaetzle make for the perfect accompaniment.

The specials are also worth trying, including the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp ($17.50), four jumbo shrimp wrapped with thin slices of ham. They are served with some delightful homemade gnocchi with the right texture, not leaden. Then there are the diced sunchokes with a rich apple cider reduction—a fine entree and an example of what could be on Cafe LuLu’s menu.

Among the rotating choice of soups, the seafood gumbo is good, with just enough heat. The highlight of the French onion soup is rye croutons with a thin crust of cheese. The light use of salt is also appreciated.

The list of bottled wines ($26-$90) is somewhat small; most wines are also offered by the glass ($7-$9). The beer list is larger, with a good choice of domestics and imports.

The only flaw at Juniper 61 is the acoustics. It can be quite noisy when the place is busy, though a few tables offer more private settings. Otherwise, prices are fair and service is sound. Do allow extra time for the entrees, as they take more time to prepare than the other menu items. Juniper 61 is another fine addition for a Wauwatosa restaurant scene that has improved dramatically over the last few years.

Juniper 61 6030 W. North Ave. (414) 727-6161 $$ Credit Cards: MC, VS Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Don Rask