First-time diners stepping into Juniper Grille (1332 Carnegie Avenue, 216-771-1334) are in for a pleasant surprise: Behind the restaurant's lackluster brick exterior waits a dining space as urbane and upscale as any in town. Chef-owner Tom Szoradi, formerly of Players Pizza and Pasta, Giovanni's, and the Diner on Clifton, designed the 90-seat space to be airy, comfortable, and serene, with luscious colors of sage and mushroom, and accents of silver, black, and violet. Tabletops glitter. Fresh freesia pours out of vases. And shimmering cloth shades turn the hanging lamps into works of art. Throw in pleasant servers, upbeat background music, and big windows admitting plenty of daylight, and the room, which opened in April, becomes a relaxing oasis in the fast-paced downtown scene.
The grill is open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner. Prices are reasonable, portions are substantial, and the menu is a large, contemporary opus. Early-morning eye-openers range from homemade muffins ($1.25) to steak and eggs ($5.95). For lunch, the chef says salads, fresh seafood, and the Southwestern Chicken-Chorizo Wrap ($6.95) have been popular, although we can't wait to sink our own molars into the rosemary-roasted pork chops, the Fontina-mushroom ravioli, or the Alaskan halibut on a bed of angel-hair pasta. No wine or beer yet, but don't fret: Szoradi says a liquor license is in the works. Juniper Grille is open until 7 on weeknights when the Indians are in town; otherwise, hours are 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Bubble-licious . . .
Last summer, the coolest drink in town was bubble tea (the Taiwanese creation of strong tea, flavorings, milk or juice, and big blue balls of pearl tapioca) from the Turbo Four Bubble Tea Café; (3030 Superior Avenue, in the Golden Plaza; 216-589-9678). This year, the newest Asian craze is Icelanders: smooth, frosty beverages -- sort of sophisticated slushies -- in flavors like mango, taro, passion fruit, plum, honeydew, and (our favorite) litchi, with a soft, citrusy tang. Icelanders don't have bubbles; instead, the jaw action is provided by a layer of chewy, colorful coconut jellies, cut into cubes and added to the glass in mid-pour. Festive-looking and refreshing, the $3.75 drink is likely to become a warm-weather requirement for hipsters large and small. Bubble Tea Café hours are Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, noon to 6 p.m.; Thursday until 8 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Closed Mondays.