I’m not a fan of restaurants charging for bread, so Julii’s first menu item, four dinner rolls for $8, makes me grumpy. They arrive at the table fluffy but pale; one gummy bite confirms my suspicion that they are underbaked. Skip the rolls and order roasted marrow bones topped with garlic butter. Scoop out their luscious custardy marrow, slather it on the accompanying wheat baguette slices (I wish they were toasted) and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before devouring. Next to the bones, to balance the marrow’s richness, is a divinely simple herb salad of leaves (parsley, lovage and celery) and red onion slivers lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Another winning starter is Scottish salmon fillet that has been lightly torched, slightly cured with sherry vinegar and sugar, and cut into thin slices. Lemon vinaigrette, vivid orange Aleppo oil (Aleppos are sweet, mildly spiced dried red peppers), bright green oil made with dill, parsley and chive, and red onion slivers dress the pretty dish. The French onion soup is what you want it to be: a bold beefy broth acting as a backdrop for gobs of gooey Emmental cheese broiled on top of it.
Oversalted foie gras terrine riddled with black truffle slices manifests Felikson’s tendency to use a lot of components where a few would serve the dish better. Take away the apple preserve dollops, the orange and green oils, the freeze-dried garlic bits, the pistachios—foie gras is so luxuriant it doesn’t need that much help.
The same is true of the stuffed cabbage entrée of two cabbage leaves, each rolled into a log filled with a stuffing of carrots, rice, turnips and mushrooms. They rest on a creamy potato purée and are topped with mushroom gravy and crunchy slices of shiitake mushrooms. The dish, tasty and satisfying on its own, doesn’t need the assault of pickled mustard seeds (a current ingredient darling among chefs) all over the plate. (I moved most of them to the side.)
I wish there were more fish dishes on Felikson’s menu, especially if they’d be as good as the boneless butterflied trout fillet draped over roasted potatoes and celery root purée and served with its crispy skin up. Red pepper purée highlights the fish’s sweetness nicely.
Duck confit (duck legs braised in duck fat and then seared to make the skin crackly) is dry and stringy, and its stewed bean sidekick is a disappointing stand-in for the usual accompaniment to that French bistro standard, garlicky fried potatoes. Felikson’s Angus cheeseburger on a brioche bun looks majestic dressed with lettuce, tomato, red onions and garlic mayo, but I wish it were cooked to medium instead of all the way through. (They don’t ask for your preferred degree of doneness here.) Another beef option—Roseda Farm’s New York strip with green peppercorn cream sauce—scratches the itch if you’re yearning for a good steak.
Side dishes at Julii—among them Brussels sprouts with garlic mayo, green beans with goat feta cheese, and wedge fries that are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside—are executed with aplomb.
End dinner with the ice cream for the tableside show alone, but order the chocolate soufflé (more an airy egg-white-enhanced cake than a true soufflé), too, and spoon it over the ice cream to achieve nirvana. Skip the rubbery panna cotta with underripe caramelized bananas.
Julii is a pretty restaurant with an enthusiastic staff, none more so than Felikson, who makes frequent appearances in the dining room, bouncing from table to table like a live pinball. I like his enthusiasm and many of his French bistro dishes, but wish he’d keep his eye on the road instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.