Hallandale, Mr. W reminded me, used to be famous as the place gangsters retired (the ones who beat the odds) and a sleepy town. I got a news release about a new restaurant there, Juniper on the Water, that has had very good consumer reviews (always do research in advance), a Turkish chef and waterfront dining. Intriguing. So off I went.
We came after a day at Art Palm Beach at rush hour. Then it was raining. I won’t tell you how long the drive took. Suffice it to say I was almost pulling my hair out when I arrived at the restaurant. Off we went straight to the bar, met Scott Swaris, the bartender and one of the partners and ordered our classic gin martini. When I saw the 8 ounce glass brimming to the top (so brimming I had to sip it so it wouldn’t drip) with my fave brand, the English Martin Miller (they had not one but two varieties!), the afternoon drive quickly faded from memory and it was uphill from there on.
If you want to see who lives in Hallandale, Juniper is the perfect venue as it’s very much an upmarket neighborhood dining spot. Its popularity is undoubtedly attributable to its quality and honest value as well as menu with appeal to groups of friends, families and couples of all ages. Interestingly enough, the owners and staff are like a mini United Nations. Scott is Italian-American and Sri Lankan from New York where he was involved with Nobu. Sho Marks, another owner and the welcoming “host”, is Japanese American, also from New York and came to Miami to work first at Mercadito and then Sushi Samba. The chef, Sezer Deniz whose pedigree is top Chicago spot Alinea, is Turkish; the sous chef Puerto Rican and our waiter was Tunisian. With its friendly service you immediately feel like you’re a “regular”.
Try to sit outside on the deck — it’s lovely and you can watch the boats go by, plus, inside the noise can get “energetic” especially if there are tables of groups of friends (a great place to come with a group).
Everything we tried was uniformly delicious, fresh, and of a good portion size. The menu is designed for all tastes and palates, though the Med informs most of the menu. We started with a burrata salad, the creamy soft cheese slightly falling over crisp greens with a sparkling sherry vinaigrette. Perfectly fried calamari, crusted with corn meal and served with tomato and poblano pepper salsa and lemon aioli were tender and crisp. Next time also on my “to eat” list will be the tuna tartare and the steamed middleneck clams in white wine, onion crema and parsley pesto.
Fish and seafood shine, from the blackened mahi mahi with Moroccan couscous and crispy kale and moules frites to a whole fish on a grill with fennel, orange and arugula and the grilled black tiger prawns. Do not miss the seafood paella, much lighter than the usual version with plump, toasted Israeli couscous instead of rice and the delicious mix of shellfish and fresh fish fillet along with chorizo, peas and roasted bell peppers (I took the leftovers on this one home). Another standout were the sauteed oyster mushrooms I could eat every day — chewy and flavorful, with a touch of garlic. Had we been in the mood for meat we would have tried the lamb shank, braised lamb served with au jus and dried cranberries over a creamy polenta or the oven roasted chicken, that I’d bet is also a winner.
Finish the meal with the house baked chocolate mousse cake with berries and other fruits.
Starters range from $9 to $16 with most in the low teens; mains from $14 to $37. Wines are reasonably priced with a glass starting at $9 and bottles at $32. There’s free valet parking and they also serve brunch, lunch on Saturday, and happy hour from 4 -7 pm weekdays.
Juniper on the Water, 1975 S.Ocean Drive, Hallandale Beach, (T.954-544-3370). Worth the detour. P.S. They’re offering specials for Valentine’s Day.