It’s easy to fall in love with Juliette. A pinched front gives way to a serpentine layout: first an antique bar with tables strewn here and there, then a dimly lit room with walls colored a carnal shade of red, sprouting the usual acid-etched mirrors. Up a few steps lurks a plant-filled solarium, and on the roof discover an open-air bar that offers excellent views of The Girdle Factory across the street—a place that once made foundation garments, but now houses a shopping mall. Oh, Williamsburg! I don’t like Juliette’s throbbing electro soundtrack much, but I figure that puts me in the minority among patrons swilling colorful cocktails and daintily nibbling appetizers. Maybe because of the name there are lots of well-turned-out girls here, and the earnest boys they bring with them seem like accessories, hanging on their every word.
If a bistro is a small French restaurant offering a short quirky menu with plenty of attitude, and a brasserie is a sprawling establishment with a menu that tries to please everyone, then Juliette is a brasserie. Luckily for us, the food is a notch or two better than it needs to be, on a menu that spits out every French standard you ever heard of. Among the appetizers are saucisson lyonnais ($7.50), oblongs of moist pink sausage fragrant with garlic served on a bed of $2-a-pound creamer potatoes. It comes slicked with a mustard vinaigrette that climbs up your nose, then demurs and crawls back down before you get annoyed. Equally irresistible is brandade de morue ($8), a whip of potatoes and salt cod deposited in a crock radiating the toasts— inadequate in number—needed to scoop it up. The snails in anise butter are fab, and so is the whole steamed artichoke flaunting a festive champagne vinaigrette. The only thing I hated was a Franco-Mexican soup that tasted mainly of chicken breast and celery. Throw in some chiles, dudes!
While it isn’t unusual for a brasserie to toss a Basque or Italian dish onto its menu in pursuit of ecumenicism, the Mexican influence is unusual. Here’s the explanation: Juliette was spawned by Tartine, a quirky West Village café founded by Bretons that has always depended on Mexican immigrants for its waitstaff and cooks. Tartine’s dish called spicy chicken was something of a tribute to them—a pile of chicken tidbits sided with fries and the best guacamole you’ve ever tasted. Transplanted across the East River, the dish ($16) doesn’t fare quite as well, with the boneless chicken aping a lackluster Chinese stir fry. The oniony guacamole still kicks ass, though, and a crisp french fry dipped in it is one of the summer’s culinary triumphs.
You’ll find plenty to choose from among entrées, including a lamb shank braised to near-dissolution, then planted in a garden plot of al dente seasonal veggies ($18); a doctrinaire duck magret; and a moules frites swimming in coconut-laced curry. But maybe Juliette is a tad too ambitious, because the food—especially the entrées—can be disconcertingly uneven. One evening a hamburger ($12) arrived big, pink, and oozing fluids; a week later it was way overcooked and sided with fries that did a convincing imitation of tinder. Oh, for some guac to dip them in!