On March 3, Juniper & Ivy restaurant turned 5 years old. To celebrate the “left coast cookery’s” fifth anniversary, this month owner Mike Rosen and executive chef Anthony Wells have brought back a handful of dishes from the Little Italy landmark’s original menu.
Among the throwback dishes to be featured as specials over the next two weeks are chicken ballotine with morel mushrooms and barbecued carrots with carrot top chimicurri and grilled peanut oil.
While Juniper & Ivy now feels like a standard-bearer on San Diego’s culinary scene, it wasn’t always such a sure thing. In fact, the 250-seat dinnerhouse might never have opened if the New York-raised Rosen had understood how risky it was to open a high-end restaurant on then-sleepy Kettner Boulevard and build its concept around a celebrity chef, Richard Blais. Fortunately, it worked out beyond Rosen’s imagination, and Juniper & Ivy’s success spawned a second new concept, the fast-casual quick-service chain Crack Shack, which will open its sixth location in Las Vegas this July.
In honor of the restaurant’s fifth birthday, we asked Rosen five questions:
Q: Looking back to 2014, what were you and Richard looking to create in San Diego that wasn’t here already?
A: We wanted to be a fine-dining restaurant from a cuisine standpoint but a comfortable fun place from the diner’s perspective. We called it a left coast cookery because in San Diego you can dive for uni a half-mile from the restaurant, there’s great tuna and spot prawns right here and year-round fabulous produce. We thought it almost insulting to San Diego acquire ingredients from all over because we had such an abundance here.
Q: How has the menu evolved over the past five years, with first Richard as your founding chef, Jon Sloan as the first executive chef and now Anthony Wells, who took over as executive chef two years ago?
A: After Richard moved to San Diego, he became enamored with local produce and proteins and small farming operations and the menu reflected that. Jon is a chameleon who has cooked in different kitchens and always brought something new. I’m a big fan of (Anthony) Wells. He has such enormous respect from people who are chefs but he is so modest and shy. ... Richard is still at Juniper one or two times a week at minimum, but it’s a natural evolution that the people who are grinding it out want to have their own imprint on the restaurant, too.
Q: Some restaurants find a few classic dishes customers love and never change them, but Juniper & Ivy turns its menu over constantly. Do you ever get resistance from diners who don't want you to ever retire their favorite dishes, like the famed chocolate Yodel dessert?
A: We did touch the Yodel, actually. We did an apple cider Yodel, and we’re doing a strawberry one now. It’s controversial. Some people say it’s better and others want the chocolate back. One dish we’ve had from the beginning is the Carne Asado Crudo, a Baja-inspired version of steak tartare. It’s magical ... and the Baja yellowtail tostada is still there, and I’ve seen versions of it popping up on other menus around town.
Q. Since Juniper & Ivy opened in Little Italy, more than a dozen high-profile restaurants have arrived, including Ironside Fish & Oyster, Kettner Exchange, Herb & Wood and Born & Raised. Has it hurt your business now that you’re not the shiny new penny anymore?
A: We never wanted to be the hot new restaurant because there’s always going to be a hot new restaurant. But even with the all the openings, we haven’t skipped a beat. Part of that is Little Italy becoming the culinary destination in San Diego.
Q: Do you still enjoy spending time in Juniper & Ivy every week and do you have any plans to expand?
A: Yes it’s still a great passion for me. When I get run down and tired, being in there recharges my batteries. I don't taste every dish, but I’m in the kitchen three days a week for 30 minutes to two hours. We’ve had a lot of people approach us to do Juniper in another city, but we’re not going to do it. I feel it’s so hard to bottle magic in a restaurant like Juniper. Would we open a different restaurant in San Diego? I would never say never, but I can’t see it in the next couple of years.
Juniper & Ivy
Address: 2228 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
Phone: (619) 269-9036
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