Joli (618 NW 65th St., 420-7259) pegs itself as a bistro and bar, where Chef Amy Beaumier — former Chef de Cuisine at Bell and Whete who’s also worked at RN74, Altura, and BOKA — serves French-inspired, feminine comfort food. It strikes the right chord with a well-curated menu of “snacks and share plates,” along with vegetables and large plates. While you’ll find hearty bistro staples like terrines, burgers, and steak frites, there are also lovingly-crafted sauces and ingredients that help lighten rather than overload a dish, like a bright salsa verde alongside a French Mornay.
While the food wasn’t entirely consistent, most of it was enjoyable. A fried pork cheek terrine was an inventive take on a classic, the cheek creating a crispy outer edge on the square-shaped terrine. It reminded me of the crust of a brownie before you bite into the moist interior. It came with canelés of quince and black garlic mustard — the former unctuously sweet, the latter a bit too strong for the terrine. Some pickled Fresno chilies scattered on top provided a lightening bolt acidity that the dish needed.
A salame flatbread (all breads are made in house), was surprisingly delightful. I’ve been over the flatbread craze for some time, but this one tasted of wheat and was so incredibly thin it shattered in your mouth like a cracker. Topped with salami, small pools of goat cheese, and tomato sauce, it was an excellent petite pizza.
Gratinéed cauliflower was a sight to behold. An entire head of it arrived smothered in a buttered crumb Mornay (a French béchamel sauce with gruyere) and topped with salsa verde. It may be the most decadent version of cauliflower around town, and a few bites in I had to resign, else forego the rest of the meal. Brussels sprouts glazed in a brown butter apple sauce with fermented leeks and almonds were bracingly sweet. While I loved the size of the sprouts — many of them halved, and the perfect balance between undercooked and mushy — it could have been dessert. I hope the chef will keep this item on the menu, but dial back the sweetness.
Steak frites — the ultimate test for a French bistro — did the restaurant proud. The grass-fed petite tender (shoulder cut) was cooked a luscious medium rare, the center of the slices nearly translucent. However, it was hard to detect the notes of pepper and cocoa, and the Dijon sauce, too, was elusive. The fries, though, were stick-thin and crispy, just as they should be.
Ricotta cavatelli (a quick detour to Italy) was luscious, the creamy sauce loaded with Parmesan and studded with braised rabbit. Rabbit is tricky to work with, the meat easily becoming stringy, but here it presented as perky parcels and worked well against the al dente cavatelli. Marjoram helped disrupt the richness and added a burst of green to the otherwise monochromatic dish.
Dessert, which I so often dismiss these days since most restaurants can’t afford pastry chefs and merely serve up the same tired fried donuts, ice cream, and ho hum parfait, was worth ordering at Joli. Cinnamon bread pudding, served as one silken square, came with poached pear cooked inside and layered on the plate. Pepitas added crunch and fresh cream brought a touch of elegance to an otherwise homey dessert.
The space, while designed, manages to feel effortless and uncontrived. There’s the usual exposed wood beam ceiling and concrete floors, but a snow-covered mountain triptych dominates the main wall (Pacific Northwest) and mixes with moody, dark oil paintings (French). The delicate lighting fixtures of the palest pink are unique and created by a local artist, and the booths are repurposed church pews. The space is vast, with a long bar dominating one side. (Just days after dining there, the restaurant announced a new bar manager, Robert Rowland of Oliver Twist.)
I like the direction Joli is taking; with sneaky French techniques mingling with Pacific Northwest bounty, a menu reflective of the interior. This marks my second consecutive week visiting a new restaurant in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood which, as I noted in last week’s review of Opus Co., is not known as a dining destination. However, as the city continues to grow, even the tucked away neighborhoods are getting in on the action. Since I visited on a cold, rainy Wednesday night (and possibly because the restaurant is new), there were few fellow diners to enliven the large space. Hopefully that will soon change — along with the weather.