Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Restaurant review. Juliet

New restaurants are a very good barometer of the demographic future of a neighborhood. What's on the menu? How clean is the place? Who's eating here? There's a story contained in every plate of tapas and in every microbrewed ale, and Union Square is a prime example.

The causes for Somerville's newest "hipster central" are both regional and local. The anticipated arrival of the Green Line combined with new zoning put in place by the city along with the severe escalation of housing prices in Cambridge have all played a role. But to see the actual changes on the ground, you've got to look more closely. 

I had the chance to do just that today when I stopped by Juliet, a restaurant housed in the old Sherman Cafe space on Washington Street right in the heart of Union Square. 

I'm not even sure "restaurant" is the right term. It's clearly a lunch place, but is there sufficient demand beyond that? 

Stark, white, clean, with open kitchen behind the counter, light, bright, airy. Walking in, the words that immediately came to my mind were, "Painfully hip." I'm sure that's too judgmental, but first impressions matter and those were mine.  I wouldn't say Juliet is striving to please a type of customer. I would say Juliet is accurately reflecting the type of customer that eats there.

I ordered a Nicoise Salad and sat off at a white counter to wait. My salad was good, if slightly unconventionally Nicoise, but I find no fault there. Trying to reinvent that tired old lunchtime standby is a good thing. Olives, gherkins, branzino and the egg hadn't been mercilessly boiled to a fare-thee-well. The dressing was however unimpressionable. All of this was brought to me on a round metal pizza disk for $12.

My take-away assessment ... 6.5 out of ten on the scale of wonderliciousness.

The question lingering in my mind, the question that lingers with all food venues -- does Juliet have all the pieces rightly aligned to succeed? Food is a notoriously rough world to make a living in. Restaurants more often fail than not, for reasons often out of their control.

Nicoise salad

Obviously, good enough to eat ... all of it
I don't know the answer to my own question, but my guess is Juliet will need some reinventing of herself if she is going to be part of Union Square through the coming decade. Straddling somewhere between a Clover and a coffee shop, she may be neither fish nor fowl at the moment. 

What's funny about all of it, and what makes me feel old, is that I remember when Juliet's predecessor, the Sherman Cafe, was new. It too was a harbinger of changes just commencing but still a decade away. Sherman was a little more grunge, a little less clinically disinfected. It was what counted as hip just before computers dominated every aspect of our lives.

As I reread these paragraphs, I realize this story is nothing more than a tale about changing times and new generations. In other words, it's the never changing story.

Union Square, Somerville. It may not look that way yet, but it's changing.