Let me begin by saying that I couldn’t wait to write this review, because I love this restaurant, and it offers real Italian cooking from a chef who has trained around the world. Juliana’s adds to a thesis I’m beginning to formulate: real Italian chefs – however you spell their names – have a true desire to make their customers happier than any other chefs. It’s worthy of a thesis project – especially when the food is so consistently first-rate.
Named for the wife of Chef Carl – and isn’t that a nice touch? – the décor of this gem of a restaurant is beautiful yet relaxing with a mix of red walls and natural wood trim. Welcoming – without pretension – the “Tuscan” influence is also seen in the stucco accents and single bulb, faux Tiffany lamps above the bare wood tables. No surprise – one finds Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra on the soundtrack.
I began with the Bruschetta ‘Toscana,’ which is a staple in today’s Italian restaurants. But that staple is more than special here – piled high with olives, capers and feta and ‘drizzled’ to perfection with a uniquely delicious, honey-infused vinaigrette. Somehow, I just knew that the chef had lovingly touched each piece. You see – I already have your mouth watering.
My charming and knowledgeable server Suzanne suggested I try the cream of asparagus and potato soup. I @@always@@ follow the suggestions of my servers; they @@know@@ what’s going on in the kitchen, and it’s usually a very good idea – especially when visiting a restaurant for the first time. Yes, it was a very good suggestion. She also suggested the by-the-glass serving of the 14 Hands cabernet – another excellent (and affordable) choice. It’s worth mentioning here that the restaurant has a beautiful and well-considered wine list of which fully half the list may be purchased by the glass. This is especially worth noting when one considers the restaurant is open for lunch from Monday through Friday.
This wonderful luncheon continued with the Balsamic Glazed Chicken Salad. Not only was this perfect piece of chicken served over fresh organic greens (the organic part becoming ever more important as we ‘mature’), but the vinaigrette was extremely sophisticated – raising what is normally a simple chicken salad to a fine dining experience. The distinct freshness of everything I tasted, the magnificent homemade vinaigrette, and the interesting addition of raisins and candied pecans all worked together to make me an instant devotee.
By this time I was considering the fact that my two favorite chefs in the world are both Italian chefs who personally oversee my food when I walk into their restaurants. Chef Carl was already giving my taste buds reason to place Juliana’s in that company.
And so, we went on to the great Italian restaurant challenge … Let me taste the risotto!
It is with great joy that I tell you, dear readers – Chef Carl’s Chicken and Portabella Mushroom Risotto is among the finest risotto I’ve tasted. There’s just nothing like Italian risotto, which brings tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, olive oil and cheese together to create some kind of magic that can only happen in the hands of a great chef – and Chef Carl is a great chef.
Chef Carl likes to interact with his customers so – when time permits – do not be surprised if your food is delivered, with a smile, by the chef himself.
Through careful planning, we had saved room for dessert, and those offerings also turned out to far exceed expectations. The homemade Tiramisu – Chef Carl’s original recipe – is moist and perfectly sweet, and the Coconut Cake is a revelation in dessert perfection. Originally created for a catering event, Chef Carl re-visited a recipe from his grandmother, and we are so very happy he did. Soaked in coconut milk for 24 hours before serving, this offering will absolutely bring you back for more.
I’ve used enough superlatives so you know that this gem of a restaurant comes with my highest recommendation. As every Italian mother would say, “Come. Eat. Enjoy.”
Juliana’s, at the corner of Smith Street and Edgewater Drive in College Park, is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. Located at 2306 Edgewater Drive, call 407-425-1801 or visit julianascollegepark.com for more information.