I had no idea when we decided to dine at Jeune et Jolie last week, that it would cause such a stir. I didn’t realize that it was the current IT spot until a few people told me how jealous they were that I had eaten there.
I was in Carlsbad with some friends for an event, and we wanted dinner before heading home. It was a toss up between a few restaurants, and after perusing the menu, I thought Jeune et Jolie’s would best appeal to everyone in the party.
As we walked towards the restaurant, my friends and I debated what we would do if there was no table available — which happened to be the case — but we didn’t let that dampen our mood. The hostess pointed us to the bar, and the four of us happily squeeze into a tight space, flanked by several other parties already seated.
Jeune et Jolie means “young and beautiful” in French. You don’t have to be young or beautiful to dine here, but it would help if you understood some French. Our neighbor ordered a mocktail simply because he didn’t understand “sans esprit” meant without alcohol — he desperately needed alcohol, and had the mixologist revise his drink after taking a sip.
I should’ve ordered a cocktail, but I didn’t, as it was a school night, but one of my friends did, and I stole a sip of her Viet Nam ($13). It was perfectly named due to its well balanced flavors of spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and sour, a definite homage to the distinctively aspects of Vietnamese cuisine.
We turn our heads to the left and find a working reel to reel streaming music throughout the dining room.
Since I was in charge of ordering, I tried my best to accommodate for everyone’s palates. Our server, Erin, was absolutely fantastic, and how she put up with all my questions is beyond me.
So here’s a question for you, how do you resist ordering Pain et Beurre ($8) — bread and butter if you don’t understand French — when it is Normandy butter that’s served with it? The demi baguette and milk bread roll accompanied the ramekin of lusciously creamy Normandy butter topped with salt flakes. I’m not a fan of soft bread, but I took a bite of the roll. The baguette made me weak at the knees. One of my friends asked for extra butter as she’s on a keto diet, and was unable to partake in the bread, but she definitely didn’t miss out on the butter.
Feuille de Brick ($11) was a thin, wafer-like log filled with a green creamy mixture of crab, green garlic, lemon, and avocado. This whimsical dish was so much fun to eat simply because it reminded me of those Japanese cream-filled wafer biscuits from my childhood. The umami from the crab, coupled with the citrusy hints from the creamy concoction, made for the ideal bite to open up our palates for the meal.
I was curious about Potage ($8), a soup of daikon (radish), kaffir lime, lemongrass, drizzled with lobster oil. Upon first contact, the tongue and mouth were greeted with the subtle hints of kaffir lime and lemongrass, before it is hit with a shocking whiff of daikon, then, subsiding into a savory finish from the lobster oil. Do not order this if you’re not a fan of daikon. I can’t explain the sensation, but it was “love hate love” with every spoonful, simply because the few seconds of daikon packed a visceral punch to my palate, but I couldn’t stop eating because it blew my mind.
Everyone wanted to try Grenouille ($12) and in hindsight, we should’ve ordered a second plate. Fermented chili and tamari come together to create the perfect tender little frogs legs that were oh so flavorful and delightful. I’ve never had frogs legs prepared this way, and frankly, it’s the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve been eating frogs legs since I was three years old. I’d come back just for these alone!
While waiting for our next courses, I couldn’t take my eyes off how delightful the restaurant was. Styled like a modern-day diner of sorts, there are booths to the right of the U-shaped bar, which also houses an oyster shucking station. From my vantage point, I was able to take in the happenings at the bar, and off to a distance, also caught glimpses of the kitchen at work. I’d say this was far better than sitting at a table.
Betterave ($14), a beautifully plated item with a stalk of braised leek, beet wedges, horseradish, and bits of crispy black tuille, arrived. I can’t remember now what gave the tuille its black hue — black garlic, maybe? — but it was a necessary component in making this dish texturally flawless and visually stunning. This was another favorite of the night — and there were many!
Another outstanding dish was Lapin ($19), a delicious course offering exquisite rabbit sausage with several variations of carrots. I thought it was incredibly playful pairing rabbit with “rabbit food”, and juxtaposing the rabbit with the carrot in another aspect of the dish. The nutty almond puree added crunch and a layer of unctuousness to the plate.
By now, I was already full, but of course we decided to order an entree as well. Agneau ($34) or lamb chops, served rare was fantastic all around especially the accoutrements. Sauteed chard garnished with a pickled stem of chard, or the salad of finely diced wax beans and shishito peppers, all tantalized on their own. The components in this dish were indescribably clever. Eat them separately, then, together in one mouthful. Most of the time, the various components on a plate work together an an entity, and once in a while, I’ve experienced items which tasted great on their own, but not so much when eaten together. Here, no matter how you choose to eat each element on the plate, it always works harmoniously.
I was highly impressed by our meal at Jeune et Jolie. The balance of flavors and textures were sophisticated and well thought through. I was able to catch the chef’s sense of humor and playfulness through his dishes, without him actually standing in front of me, explaining them to me. It was not just a meal, but a dining experience.
Jeune et Jolie
2659 State Street
Carlsbad, CA 92008