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Capital Dining
Anne DesBrisay?s Guide to Ottawa Restaurants

In a neighbourhood that seems to be constantly changing, Juniper remains steadily planted. Which is not to suggest that this Westboro restaurant is rigid or complacent. It?s always changing, too, at least to the extent of the new dishes regularly dreamed up by chefs/owners Richard Nigro and Norm Aitken.

Juniper has been one of Ottawa?s top tables since it opened in 1996, showcasing the pure flavours and innovative combinations of contemporary, market-driven cooking. The confidence and success in experimentation here are grounded in solid technique and discipline. The results on the plate are delicious.

As for its physical space, Juniper is one of those uncluttered, modishly plain, mature-looking places some find stark, others find refreshing. Rather depends on your taste. But the food, the wine list, and the service - these are all in good taste.

A fall purée of roasted parsnip and apple is a smooth, flavour-rich, well peppered soup, crowned with matchsticks of Granny Smith. Three plump mussels top a southwestern gumbo thick with tomato, okra, and celery, lively with chillies.

The kitchen rolls an oval ball of soft, fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella in toasted crushed hazelnuts, and balances the creamy richness with a marmalade tarted up with cranberries and apples. And on the side, just for fun, a mound of plantain frites. I remember crab cakes from an earlier visit here: rich, fragrant, and perfectly moist, served with a trio of dips in cluding a homemade mayonnaise threaded with saffron.

There?s a sure hand with fish at Juniper. Sushi-grade tuna is treated with ginger and sesame, grilled to rare, the moist, firm fish set on wilted spinach and supplied with two curry sauces: one a spicy green, the other a pale orange, pungent with mustard seed. The salt-crusted, deep brown surface of an excellent piece of beef is radiant red inside, its juices mingling with those of the wildmushrooms served alongside and pooling over lumpy mashed potatoes beneath.

The lunch menu lists a ?grilled cheese sandwich.? Somehow, you suspect it is an adult affair. Indeed: on herbed and salted foccaccia, smoked mozzarella is fortified with black olive tapenade and slabs of sweetly grilled peppers and smoky eggplant. That kind of grilled cheese.

The standout dessert is ridiculously awesome gingerbread cake with mascarpone cream. Runner-up is the classic crème brûlée, a cool, rich custard with a warm, thin, and gently crackling caramelized shell - no tampering with with its pure flavour, thank you.

Juniper?s wine list has been recognized with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its collection of New World wines, focusing on California, Australia, and (increasingly on Canada.

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