Singing enthusiastically, chef Sasha Felikson maneuvers a cart through the narrow pathways of Julii, a small French Mediterranean bistro and café that opened in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development in December. After capturing every diner’s attention in the packed room, Felikson arrives at a table and whisks a copper bowl of egg-based vanilla custard sauce with one hand while pouring a pitcher of liquid nitrogen into the bowl with his other hand. Clouds of frosty vapor waft as if from a witch’s cauldron, the magic show ending once the liquid custard turns into silken ice cream, which Felikson lavishes with rainbow sprinkles. (At minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the nitrogen freezes the custard so fast that ice crystals stay very small, resulting in an ultra-creamy product.)
Julii’s owners—Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos and Dimitri Moshovitis—grew up in Montgomery County and created CAVA Mezze restaurant in 2006, which was spun off into what is now the national fast-casual chain CAVA. They hired Felikson, 31, to helm Julii, named after the Forum Julii, a marketplace on the Mediterranean coast (near what is now Cannes, France) that Julius Caesar established as a trade center between Rome and Gaul.
Felikson grew up in Rockville (he and his parents were religious refugees from the Soviet Union), earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Maryland’s Salisbury University, then went to Colorado and began working in restaurant kitchens. Although he didn’t go to cooking school, he has learned from many well-known chefs, among them Washington, D.C.’s Mike Isabella, Eric Ziebold and Johnny Spero. He was the chef at the Southeast Asian restaurant Doi Moi in Washington before taking the Julii post.
Julii is a visual charmer. Surrounded on three sides by glass, the 2,000-square-foot, 60-seat eatery has the feel of a Parisian art nouveau bistro, with its brass accents, gray marble-topped bar, opaque globe pendant lights and some cane-backed bistro chairs. Tufted hunter-green velvet dining chairs, sleek pencil-slim modern silverware and herringbone-patterned wood flooring are chic design elements, as are copper serving vessels and cut-glass cocktail glasses. A wide-mouthed cocktail glass (coupe) filled with a frothy Blackberry Blossom cocktail (gin, blackberry purée, St-Germain liqueur, basil, egg whites) that’s garnished with edible pansies is a lovely way to begin a meal here.
Overall Rating: B
11915 Grand Park Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda; 301-517-9090; julii.com
Favorite Dishes: Salmon crudo, roasted bone marrow, crispy trout, New York strip au poivre, tableside nitrogen ice cream, chocolate soufflé
Prices: Appetizers: $11 to $15; entrées: $21 to $38; desserts: $9 to $12
Libations: The compact beverage list includes six cocktails that veer to the sweet side, such as the Rossa di Sicilia (tequila, blood orange juice, Chartreuse, agave, lemon); seven beers; two sparkling wines (one available by the glass); seven white wines (all available by the glass); and nine red wines (six available by the glass). You’d expect a French bistro to have a longer and more comprehensive list (the only true Champagne is Lanson Rosé for $120, and an Haut-Monplaisir Cahors Malbec 2016 for $56 tastes less and less interesting with each successive sip), but space limitations prohibit a larger inventory.
Service: The servers are gregarious, well-informed and efficient. They work as a team, so you won’t hear, “I’m sorry, that’s not my table” at Julii. Every table is everybody’s table, which is a refreshing change of pace.