Julii is a crown jewel of North Bethesda’s dining scene.
The lamb tagine is served in an earthenware pot and delights the senses even before it arrives on the table with its aromas that are both sweet and savory, and layered with piquant spice.
There’s something to be said for a place that stands out from the norm, like a gem of a restaurant that shines from the inside out. That space is Julii, the eatery that sits pretty in a jewel box of a space at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda. And while it may be the dream of Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos and Dimitri Moshovitis, the folks behind fast-casual eatery Cava, this is not quick-service. This is their vision come to life—elevated French-Levantine cuisine, and a design that is at once glam and cozy.
You’ll eat with your eyes first. Architect Peter Hapstak of HapstakDemetriou+ worked with Xenohristos on the vibe. Green chairs and booths pop. There’s a 24K handlaid gold-leaf ceiling above the 12-seat bar. And a mural of a peacock runs along the back hallway, brazenly displaying its colors.
Rope lighting twists and turns above the dining area.
The atmosphere certainly stimulates the senses, prepping you for what your taste buds will also delight in. The menu is the work of chef Sasha Felikson, formerly executive chef at Doi Moi. But before your first bite, a drink—like the Blackberry Blossom. The libation is mixed with Green Hat Gin, blackberry basil, St-Germain, lemon and demerara, and topped with egg-white foam and a flower (like a purple and yellow pansy). It’s bright and balanced, and tastes like what I imagine the color purple would. The eponymous Old-Fashioned has an oaky nose (by way of Basil Hayden’s bourbon) that’s tempered by orange bitters and thyme pomegranate brandy; it’s served with a ramekin of the seeds for a tangy burst. The wine list is French-driven, but with finds from countries such as Lebanon. There’s even a libation on the dinner menu—a 2-ounce pour of Contrabandista sherry from Spain to pair with your French onion soup.
Touches like this make you appreciate the restaurant even more—as well as the line on the menu that playfully asks: Did someone say burger? You can, of course, along with small and large plates, sides and salads. Whatever you order, the dishes are alive with layers of Levantine herbs and ingredients. After all, Julii’s name draws on a trading post in the south of France where Levantine spices were sold.
The Blackberry Blossom refreshes with bold, fresh flavors
Take the foie gras torchon. Its luxuriant qualities are punched up by pistachio salt and preserved truffle, as well as preserved apple and espelette pepper sauce. Mix them together; then spread them on lightly toasted baguettes. It’s hard to choose another starter, but the salmon crudo wins. Thick slices of raw fish are teamed with ladolemono, a Greek staple made with oil and lemon that makes an appearance on myriad dishes (I find it pleasing). Herbaceousness comes courtesy of lovage, and aleppo oil gives the plate a mild headiness. It’s clean and a bit heartier than your typical crudo.
Large plates can be topped by a shaving of seasonal truffle to gild the lily. The lamb tagine is a crowd-pleaser, and its piquant scent wafts through the restaurant before arriving on the table in an earthenware pot. Lift the lid, and the aroma fairly dances out of it. As for the taste: The lamb is not a bit gamey, while crispy chickpeas and crunchy watermelon radish create textural contrast.
The foie gras torchon gets textural appeal from preserved truffle and apple.
The kebabs, made with Allen Farms chicken, tantalize: They are brined, then glazed in a coating of harissa that’s pared down by sesame labneh and sunny yellow turmeric rice. It makes my eyeballs sweat, and I would’ve eaten the whole thing if it weren’t for the stuffed cabbage—the dish that got the chef the job, according to Mara Xenohristos, Ted’s sister-in-law and the director of events and customer experience.
I can see why: The cabbage leaves are charred to bring out their sweetness; they’re chock-full of mushrooms and rice, arrive upon a creamy potato puree, and are topped by fried ’shrooms and garlic chips to carry the flavors through. Pickled mustard seed complements the flavors with its zip.
When it comes to dessert, try the tableside ice cream. Server Tom happily rolls out a cart with a large cold metal bowl where he mixes liquid nitrogen with heavy cream. Out of the fog emerges a rich chocolate ice cream (on my visit). It has a domino effect fitting of this space (others are sure to follow suit), where good food and sophisticated design meet whimsy and spirit. The experience will charm you to the core.
11915 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda, 301.517.9090, julii.com
Dinner: Petit Plats, $9-$16; Salade, $14; Grand Plats, $22-$38; Accompagnements, $7; Dessert, $9-$12
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2:30pm
Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm
Brunch: Sat.-Sun, 10am-2:30pm
Photography by: Greg Powers