Santa Clara Welcomes Justin’s — A Long, Long Time in the Making

Glazed pork belly makes an appearance in a maki roll at Justin's in Santa Clara.

Glazed pork belly makes an appearance in a maki roll at Justin’s in Santa Clara.

 

You can tell Justin’s in Santa Clara is a labor of love.

Housed in the old Wilson’s Bakery site, the restaurant took nearly three years to come to fruition as Chef-Owner Justin Perez financed the endeavor, himself, with the help of investors and in-kind trades.

He hand-made the wood dining-room tables, as well as the steel sculptures that decorate the spacious restaurant. Pastry Chef Meg McGraw crafted the framed flower paintings that hang on the dining room walls.

Recently, a friend and I decided to check out the restaurant, paying our own tab, but receiving two cocktails on the house. When it first opened in March, the restaurant sported a surprisingly long menu and also opened for lunch. Since then, the menu has grown a little more concise and the lunch service has been curtailed. Instead, there is a “happy hour” and dinner service, Tuesday through Saturday.

The adorable Parker House roll.

The adorable Parker House roll.

Dinner began with an amuse of tomato consomme. The clear liquid was fruity and acidic, a nice way to wake up the palate.

Next came warm, buttery Parker House rolls, baked in small, individual terracotta flower pots for a fun touch.

A miso-glazed pork belly roll ($11) was a seaweed-enrobed maki roll wrapped around tiny pieces of glazed pork belly. Unfortunately, the rice was gummy, having been cooked with too much water — a mistake that made my Japanese-American friend wince.

A tomato consomme.

A tomato consomme.

Because the restaurant has a pizza oven, a pie was a must-try. We opted for the “Truffle Wild Mushroom” ($11). The crust is cracker thin, particularly on the edges. It’s all crunch rather than chew. Arugula, Gruyere and tomato sauce crowned the pie, along with a good amount of farm-raised mushrooms. The tomato sauce was quite sweet. So much so that the flavor of the mushrooms was lost. When you order a mushroom pizza, what you most long to taste is their lovely earthiness. It’s a shame that was absent in this pizza.

Mushroom pizza.

Mushroom pizza.

Filet mignon with a cheese-enriched sauce.

Filet mignon with a cheese-enriched sauce.

Grilled branzini.

Grilled branzini.

The espresso-rubbed filet mignon ($32) was tender and juicy. Its Cambozola-infused demi glace may have been overkill, though, as its heaviness and sweetness rather overwhelmed the taste of the beef.

Crispy whole branzini ($32) fared better. It arrived on the plate as a whole fish, fried to a crisp,with its flesh flaky and moist. The miso-lemongrass sauce added just enough interest without masking the fish’s delicate flavor.

A side of roasted Brussels sprouts ($5) got a drizzle of truffle oil after getting nicely blistered in a pan.

Brussels sprouts with truffle oil.

Brussels sprouts with truffle oil.

For dessert, we were tempted by the “S’Mores with Frozen Glass of Milk” ($9). Although we were expecting frozen iced milk, what we got was a very, very cold glass of milk, along with three cute, itty-bitty s’mores. With chocolate and marshmallow oozing out of the sides of the homemade graham cracker sandwich, they are a bit messy to eat. Kids are sure to devour them, though.

Tiny s'mores with an ice cold glass of milk.

Tiny s’mores with an ice cold glass of milk.

At prices that stretch beyond “moderate,” the dishes need to be more polished. If Justin’s can exercise more restraint when it comes to adding sweet elements to savory dishes, this labor of love establishment may yet become a very welcome addition to this Santa Clara neighborhood.

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More: The Story of Justin Perez’s Restaurant

 

 

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Date: Friday, 21. June 2013 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Restaurants

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6 comments

  1. 1

    Nic efood. You are correct, the dishes need to be a little more polished…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Ellon St. Croix
    Friday, 21. June 2013 7:37
    2

    I miss Wilson’s so much I don’t think I could give Justin’s a fair chance.

  3. 3

    The branzini looks delectable. Good choice!

  4. 4

    Interesting looking food, but I can see that some things might be a bit too much just from the photos. Maybe with some refinement this will be a creative option for that area.

  5. 5

    The grilled branzini is a show stopper. And that Filet mignon looks scrumptious. But I agree with you, gummy rice is no-no! :P Thanks for sharing your review on these dishes that you’ve tried. Have a great weekend and I look forward to more reviews from you. I might have a chance to travel up North to attend a wedding in a few months. :) Gotta take notes on your restaurant reviews. hehe….

  6. 6

    Gosh, I haven’t seen bread baked in a flower pot in ages! We used to frequent a restaurant in Kansas City in the late 70s that served it that way. Anyway, this sounds like a terrific place! Everything looks so good. Great review – thanks.

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