The renaissance of Vancouver’s Chinatown is progressing remarkably, and its newest addition, Juniper, is set to open its doors on December 3.
The 3,000-square-foot two-storey restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Keefer Block, and is focused in food, drink, and design on the rustic-chic sensibilities of Cascadia–aka the Pacific Northwest.
The restaurant welcomed guests for a private preview dinner this week, and it was a chance for the tight-knit crew of seasoned hospitality pros that comprise the front and back of house team to finalize menu options and to demonstrate their top-notch wine pairing and drink-making skills.
In the kitchen at Juniper is Executive Chef Sarah Stewart, who brings to the table not only her culinary chops well-honed in several posts in both Vancouver and Ontario, but also a rural upbringing and a love of nature. Her respect for locally-sourced produce is evident in her beautiful dishes, many of which brightly and boldly celebrate the simple beauty of fresh vegetables. Stewart is, indeed, one of those chefs who readily admits her joy in connecting with local farmers and using their produce in her thoughtful, comforting, playful dishes.
The playfulness is evident when Stewart riffs on standards, like in using a sweet-and-sour glazed Cornish Hen and salsify sticks in place of the more conventional chicken and fries kind of plate. Her delicate hand and reverence was clear in her beautiful salad that was speckled with thinly sliced beets and studded with whole roasted sunchokes, and in a gorgeously supple roasted carrot soup with house-made paneer-style cheese. Head to Juniper during the early evening to enjoy a selection of topped toasts, too–another fun option.
To accompany the food at Juniper is their drinks program, which begins at the copper-top bar and with the talents of Vancouver’s Shaun Layton (last of L’Abattoir). Here there is a decided emphasis on gin–after all, the restaurant is named for one of gin’s foundation flavours–and more specifically the classic partnership of Gin and Tonic. Additionally, there will be classic and signature cocktails on the menu, some of which will use ice pellets from a top-of-the-line machine.
Juniper will also offer an excellent wine program stewarded by Operations Manager Sarah McCauley, who has been a fixture on the Vancouver wine and hospitality scene for several years, and has an abundance of knowledge about regional wines, as well as an ever-renewed zest for the process of discovery, food and wine pairings, and helping guests have an optimum dining experience.
That love of the guest experience, and the congeniality that is hallmark to the Cascadian region, is central to the Juniper team, who have spent the last several months working closely to achieve their shared vision. Diners can likely expect attentive but not intrusive service, and sense of being truly cared for and welcome by the focused staff.
McCauley gave me a tour of Juniper, most notably in the intimate upstairs “birds’ nest” seating area, which boasts a long, tall table ideal for groups or communal seating, and a cozy dining room flanked with local artist Ola Volo’s work–a gentle, enticing monochrome piece that fills the room with added warmth and dimension.
The 104-seat restaurant was designed by Simcic & Uhrich Architects, and makes use of a variety of raw textures and surfaces. In addition to Volo’s mural, the main floor showcases a beautiful installation piece by Ricky Alvarez.
With more new creative dining ventures planned for the neighbouring blocks, and Chinatown’s current thriving drink and food options, Juniper is going to be a welcome addition at Keefer and Main, and is poised to be an enduring favourite.
Juniper will be open from 4 p.m. until late, with Happy Hour from 4 to 5:30 p.m.