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Junno's

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In December, the owners of Junno's (64 Downing Street; 627-7995) replaced a cavernous Chinese takeout with a joint that may well have been conjured by sorcery from the pages of Wallpaper*. The walls are painted in hip milky blues and latte turquoises, and the low-slung leather love-sofas -- for drinking cocktails and just chilling -- come in that very dark, very now espresso brown. The Underground Gourmet, who has plainly not been conjured by sorcery from the pages of Wallpaper*, felt right at home nonetheless.

Junno offers a menu with a roughly Japarranean feel to it: the likes of miso and wakame and soba served alongside, or cooked with, Mediterranean things like ravioli and Spanish mackerel. Whatever you order will appear on your plate in a trice. I don't think I've ever had food of this complexity served more quickly -- a blessing, it turned out, that was mixed. A wholly good thing, on the other hand, was the size of the portions.

The generous wakame-and-cucumber salad (with ume and shiso, $5) obeyed the three rules of serving seaweed: freshness, freshness, freshness. The ravioli of sweet shrimp with mustard-miso sauce ($6) was nicely mustardy. The edamame ($2) was hot and steamy rather than puritanically cold and clammy. The tataki of tuna with fennel and gingered ponzu ($6) was fine, as were the spiced tuna tartare and tuna sashimi rolls ($6). More iffy were the grilled baby squid (with marinated cucumber and spicy miso sauce, $5), and the slices of ginger-braised pork (with sesame scallion sauce, $5). Both were a tad cold for comfort, which gave rise to the possibly cruel suspicion that the lightning-quick service was not unconnected to a ready supply of cooling meat dishes. (Nothing wrong with precooked food, but it mustn't taste precooked.)

On the other hand, the wholesome and delicious salad of soba noodles with marinated vegetables ($8) gave rise to the suspicion that they might be the final word on their subject. The medley of vegetables (with or without beef, with sesame rice and pine-nut-chili sauce, $9) is excellent, and the risotto ($12) and bouillabaisse of red snapper and shellfish (with chrysanthemum and watercress, $12) businesslike. However, the roasted breast of chicken ($12) needed regular hydration in its garlic jus to keep up its moisture levels, and the grilled marinated short ribs ($14) would have been good training for a chewathon.

For the moment, the trick to eating at Junno (which you should try) is to focus on the less meaty, more Japanese side of the menu. That said, I ate there in the week that it opened, and given the evident know-how of its owners (the young and dynamic Jean and Junno, whose first restaurant venture this is), I'm sure that carnivores will soon be well served.

Junno's is open Monday to Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; closed Sunday. Full bar. All major credit cards.


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