Restaurant Review - Juniper blossoms

Midtown stretch expected to bloom with new restaurants this summer

A pretentiously beautiful staff and sleek facade lure trendy diners and visitors sporting expense accounts in search of entertainment and indulgence by way of elaborate dishes and sublime service. They seek it at Spice, Midtown's recent spark of resurgence at the corner of 5th and Juniper streets. There they flock to dine on lobster-lacquered prawns, foie gras and wild mushroom-crusted rack of lamb among patrons who mirror the perfectly sculpted glass constructions of the human form that line the restaurant's walls. After paying mightily for the ambiance — and audience — they saunter out into the night only to encounter the stark barrenness of Juniper Street. Save the local residents of the newly built condo compounds out for their nightly stroll and a few raucous Poncey peddlers, the streets are empty. But not for long.

Soon this moneyed set will be cavorting all along the Midtown strip, from 10th Street to Spice, transforming neglected space into a hangout for intown crowds. Juniper Street soon will be "Virginia-Highland in Midtown," says James Domenech, a leasing agent for Atlanta Intown, "with retail shops, a salon and restaurants."

Midtown residents in the know have provided developers with input on the services and establishments they desire. Others, who have paid little attention to yet another construction site, express excitement about businesses coming to meet their needs. "We really need more restaurants along our street. I think it will boost neighborhood morale when we can walk to where we hang out," says Victor Scott, a six-year resident of the area.

The main project under way is Juniper Row, a 24,000-square-foot mixed-use retail development between 5th and 6th streets, which encompasses four dwellings, one of which was reduced to its foundation after a fire. Walkways will connect the businesses along Juniper, and two new parking lots will be constructed. Of these four developments, three will house eateries. Joining Spice and its neighboring newcomer Cavu, the restaurants present a viable mecca for Midtown club-hoppers and established socialites in search of new locales to graze and gadabout in style.

Unlike Spice, which gutted its original space and left the reformation nearly indistinguishable as a house, the new developments will preserve their original structures. Painstaking measures have been taken to keep the historic homes intact, down to the original crown moldings, which local craftsmen have recreated by hand. Conceived in June 2000, the first phase of the development is scheduled to open in late summer, just in time for the first Juniper Row Festival. By this time next year, the retail and restaurant spaces now hidden by Caterpillars and dirt mounds will be open to the public. The following is a timeline of what the next few months hold in store for Juniper Street.



826 Juniper St.
Despite the sign in its front yard, the owners of Chaya say their establishment is not just a Japanese cafe. The menu will include baked goods, sushi and fusion entrees.

The first floor will feature a bakery, displaying fresh breads and pastries with a French flair. Healthy breads will be made with tofu, soymilk and edamame. During the day, soups, sandwiches and light lunches will be available. Those visiting Chaya during their lunch hour can dine in or create a box lunch to go.

"We'll have boxed lunches with a Japanese taste," says Kako Watanabe, one of Chaya's three owners. The menu also will include made-to-order sushi and Japanese fried chicken during lunch, adds Kim Stevenson, vice president and director of marketing. Later in the afternoon, tea and cake will be served.

The upstairs restaurant will open at 6 p.m. Watanabe and her associates are finalizing and refining the dinner menu, but she promises entree selections that fuse Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian and French cuisines. Entrees will be moderately priced ($5-$15) and will be served in tapas-sized portions.

The cuisine may not be all coffee and pastries, but the setting will be cozy enough to make visitors want to linger. Three fireplaces from the former residence remain in the second floor dining area. "This is an old house. We're changing the outside a little, but want to keep the inside simple and very comfortable, like an old house," says Watanabe. The luckiest diners will sit at one of two rotating tables on the second floor. A sushi bar, which will be the last phase of the restaurant, will be located on the third floor and will differ from most other sushi bars in town by preparing sushi in the enclosed kitchen rather than in view of patrons.



794 Juniper St.
Crescent Room owners Stephen Cook and Brian Bratton, along with silent partners Nancy Wohlers and Ian Easton, have selected Spice's across-the-street neighbor for their next endeavor. They plan to provide a bit of friendly competition in the market of hip sophistication.

The menu will feature contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Bratton and Cook recently brought Delroy Bowen on board to head Cavu's kitchen. The Jamaican-born Bowen earned his culinary high marks at Tribeca Grill, the Manhattan restaurant owned by Robert de Niro; 277, also in New York City; and Florida's Maximo's, where the chef earned a four-star rating.

Entrees will range from $12-$18, and nightly specials from $20-$22. Vegetarian selections will be available. An interesting inclusion among Cavu's offerings is a ceviche menu, featuring dishes of raw fish marinated in lime juice, often with oil, onions, peppers and spices, and served in martini glasses. During happy hour and late night hours, the bar and lounge area will provide lighter fare via Cavu's bodega menu, offering small portions of 10 to 15 dishes priced $4-$10.

The interior will be rich with the colors of chocolate and champagne, according to designer Michael Habachy. With a resident DJ spinning light house and acid jazz, walls and ceilings adorned with '60s retro light fixtures and crocodile leather couches, "there will be a modern, sophisticated, loungy atmosphere," Habachy says. Although the Juniper Row complex does not encompass Cavu, the restaurant is being styled to harmonize with the Row.


A Mexican cantina

816 Juniper St.
Taking root in the spot that is now nothing more than a burnt foundation will be an open-air Mexican bar and restaurant being built by the owners of one of Atlanta's already thriving Mexican cantinas, whose owners don't want to go public with their involvement in the venture just yet.

A round entrance will face Juniper Street, behind which stairs will descend into a sports bar with TVs aplenty. This subterranean area will boast a stainless steel open kitchen and a second entrance from the parking lot.

The restaurant's spokeswoman describes the menu as fun and the atmosphere casual. "We'll ask our customers and our staff to check their attitudes at the door," she says. The tapas-style menu will provide small portions, with an average price of $2.75.


Mixed-use retail development

814 Juniper St.
Another house on the Row is being gutted and reworked to host an array of shops and services. This building will be filled with retail space, including a flower shop; a drive-thru dry cleaners; a salon headed by Eric Low, formerly of Don Shaw Hairdressers; as well as a dining spot. Domenech hopes to provide Midtown's office workers a place to grab lunch, and bar hoppers a late-night opportunity to munch before leaving the area. Possibilities for the terrace level space with outdoor seating include an Italian deli or a self-service coffee cafe.??