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August 8, 2014 at 1:16 PM

Second Helpings: Cafe Juanita

The big news that Café Juanita will be spiffed up and expanded to include a bar, hopefully by spring, came on the eve of the 3.5-star review that appears today in The Seattle Times. Chef/owner Holly Smith told me she has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Kirkland property, which will allow her to make some long-overdue renovations to the 62-year-old building that once housed a winery.

Holly Smith / Photo courtesy of Cafe Juanita

Holly Smith / Photo courtesy of Cafe Juanita

“I’m super excited. It’s been a long road to get this done,” Smith said. “The look and feel of Cafe Juanita is very much loved so I am not interested in changing that really. Adding a bar means guests can come enjoy us in a more spontaneous relaxed manner, or enjoy a drink before or after dinner. Ideally there will be spring and summer seating on the patio with food coming primarily from the bar for that space….There is a lot to do and not a ton of budget…but I’m optimistic that we will do things on the list that guests can appreciate as well as those things necessary that no one ever sees. It’s a house remodel after all and we all know the realities of old houses!”

Over the years, Smith hasn’t stinted on tabletop niceties for the dining room, among them Frette linen napkins, Reidel glassware in all shapes, fish spoons and sauce spoons. The latest adornment is soft fabric bread sacks.  On a trip to Italy in the spring,  she noticed them in restaurants, casual ones in Florence, fancier ones in Rome. She even saw them at the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. She bought a few dozen at a Verona restaurant equipment store as an anniversary gift for her 14-year-old restaurant.

Bread sack  /  Photo courtesy Cafe Juanita

Bread sack / Photo courtesy Cafe Juanita

Cherry pits are sewn into a pocket at the bottom of the sacks. Heated in a microwave (she had to buy one of those too), they keep warm the goodies made daily by pastry chef Anna Ivers: slices of herbed focaccia and soft potato bread, dainty parmesan crisps, and fragile crackers with finely minced Taggiasca olives pressed between sheets of nearly transparent dough.

If you are wheat intolerant, gluten-free pastas are made fresh daily too, and, as noted in the review, separate menus are available for those who prefer vegetarian, vegan or dairy-free options.

Anyone looking to splurge might go the tasting menu route: $135 per person for food, plus $75 for wine pairings.  They call it “Table Two for Two” because there are just two seatings per night (5:30 and 8:45) at Table Two, a corner deuce that is arguably the best table in the house. But candidly, Smith says, “We do it anytime it’s requested and for tables up to eight guests. Just ask.”

Today’s review of Café Juanita is the second in a month-long series we’re calling “Second Helpings,”  revisiting restaurants that haven’t been reviewed in ten or more years. Next week, read about downtown Seattle’s Wild Ginger. The pan-Asian eatery marks its 25th anniversary this year and was last reviewed by Nancy Leson in October 2000, the year it moved from its original home on Western Avenue.

“Second Helpings” will run intermittently beginning in the fall. I welcome your suggestions for the series. Reach me at providencecicero@aol.com or leave a comment below.

Comments | More in Food and Restaurant News, Restaurants | Topics: Cafe Juanita, Holly Smith

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