Juliana Rose

A full house and plenty of reserved tables provide evidence that this small French restaurant in Richboro, Pa., has cultivated a loyal following.

By: Judith Norkin

Juliana Rose

130 Almshouse Road

Suite 401

Richboro, Pa.

(215) 355-2111
Food: Very good

Service: Very good

Prices: Moderate to upper moderate

Cuisine: French

Ambiance: French country décor; casual gourmet dining; congenial atmosphere.

Hours: Breakfast and lunch: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. breakfast only 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner: Wed.-Sat. 5-9 p.m.

Essentials: Accepts all major credit cards; BYO; wheelchair accessible.


   Midway through a Bucks County winter, who doesn’t hunger for a little warmth, a little sunshine? We found a small, cheerful restaurant called Juliana Rose that lulled us into believing — at least for the hour and a half that we spent there — that we had been whooshed out of the dim, depressing cold and into the south of France.
   The funny thing is that when I surveyed a handful of locals, no one had heard of Juliana Rose. In fact, if it hadn’t been for an acquaintance’s ravings, I wouldn’t have known about it either. When we finally went, it was obvious why.
   Juliana Rose is in Mallard Creek Village, a small development. Its street sign declares "offices and shops," and speeding past in a car you can make out doctor’s offices and a beauty salon, but there’s nothing to indicate that there’s a terrific restaurant inside.
   We entered, feeling in our bones that this was a find. A cute place with sunny yellow walls and bright Provençal paisleys, it had all the other details — roosters, chicken-wire plate racks, white-painted tables and chairs — that scream country French. In the background, high-pitched tinkling accordion music played, the kind featured on the soundtrack of every movie set in France. Tres bien!
   Obviously, some people had heard of it, because every one of the dozen or so tables was either occupied or had a placard declaring "Reserved." When I later spoke to owner-chef Brian Held, he said the three-year-old restaurant does little advertising, and most customers are regulars.
   The waitress led us to a cozy corner table and brought over a wicker basket holding two hot poppy seed rolls. We handed over our wine bottle (it’s BYO) and looked at le menu, a simple read. None of this trying to be all things to all people stuff. Just a single page with appetizers on one side and entrées on the other, and only about six of each. A neatly edited menu suggests the chef is concentrating on doing a few things very well. It means what comes out of the kitchen is probably going to be fresh and good. And in the case of Juliana Rose, with just one exception, we found this was true.
   The exception — my salad of green apples, black walnuts and blue cheese (6.95) served over organic baby lettuces with a walnut vinaigrette — didn’t have anything hugely wrong. Its ratios were just off. With only two or three slices of apple, two small dabs of cheese and a skimpy scattering of walnuts, it was basically a plate of lettuce. It needed more good stuff. The acidic vinaigrette would have been fine if it had been balanced with more fruit, cheese and nuts. The waitress very cheerfully found some honey mustard dressing for me when I asked. This was the only dish of the evening that fell short, and considering the quality of the rest of the meal, nothing major.
   My husband started his meal with a truly delicious bowl of Prince Edward Island mussel soup ($8.95). What made this soup so good was that it perfectly captured the taste of the sea. It was light but briny, salty and perfectly seasoned, served formally in a large-rimmed soup bowl. This splendid dish contains mussels, small cubes of slightly crunchy tomato, beans and garlic, and was served with grilled Tuscan bread, buttery and crunchy. An excellent choice.
   It’s worth noting that all of Juliana Rose’s offerings change regularly. To me, that signals a hard-working and creative chef. The night we were there, the menu had beef, chicken, fish and lamb dishes, all priced from $16.95 to $22.95. There was also a nightly special, and had we ordered that, dessert would have been on the house. Instead, we chose two regular entrées.
   My husband had the pan-seared rack of lamb with potato crepes, spinach and garlic confit ($22.95). For the sake of full disclosure, I confess that I like lamb with mint — lamb with mint jelly, lamb with mint vinaigrette, lamb with mint anything. There was not a single speck of mint on this dish and — drum roll please — I loved it anyway. The meat was cooked just right; brown and crispy at the edges, the mere hint of rosy-pink in the center. The accompaniments were excellent. With food this good, conversation deteriorated fast.
   I had the chicken ballotine ($15.95). It’s been said chicken is what people order when they don’t know what they want, but not me. When I read the description — dark meat rolled around a sourdough-bread stuffing with mushrooms and served atop creamy mashed potatoes — it sounded so homey and warm I knew it was exactly what I wanted. It did not disappoint. The meat was tender, the stuffing was seasoned just right, and the mashed potatoes were creamy and rich but not heavy.
   Also to my liking was the healthy dose of mixed vegetables distributed in a circle around both entrées. They were prettily julienned and cooked just long enough to soften but not destroy their natural flavor and crunch. Our plates also came dressed with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley around the rims for a satisfying presentation.
   The perfect ending for this terrific meal would have been chocolate. Anything chocolate. Cake? A mousse? But there wasn’t a speck of chocolate on the menu. Perhaps it was lucky, because the bananas Foster I had instead ($4.50) was really delicious. Talk about love at first bite. The dessert consisted of a thick piece — and I mean an inch-and-a-half-thick piece — of French toasted brioche. One large scoop of very cold, very rich, premium vanilla ice cream topped the toast. Thick chunks of warm banana were spread generously around the plate. Add one ladleful of hot brown sugar and caramel sauce poured over the entire dessert and what do you get? One shameless glutton coming right up. My husband, being more restrained, had a simple parfait ($4.50) made of chopped sautéed strawberries and blueberries layered with the same excellent vanilla ice cream. Compared to my whopping calorie-bomb, his was practically the diet dessert, and also delicious.
   It was around this point that the evening’s most unexpected drama or entertainment occurred, depending on your point of view. There might not have been mousse, but there was a mouse. Yes, really. One small field mouse got into the dining room and scuttled across the floor. "You’re kidding," I said, when my husband pointed at it. But he wasn’t. What does one do in this situation? Apparently, what one does is exactly nothing.
   I don’t think there was anyone in the dining room who didn’t see the mouse, but there was no stampede, no screaming. In fact, all that broke out was good-natured humor and bonhomie. The ladies at the table next to ours squealed "How cute! It’s so little!" Others laughed and pointed. A discussion ensued, mouse-extermination tips were shared. The waitresses ignored everything. Finally the mouse was out of sight and dinner went on.
   When I called owner-chef Brian Held and told him I was there the night-of-the-living-mouse, he was mortified: "The one time this happens and a reviewer was there?" What an awful coincidence. There was no mouse problem, he insisted. He had exterminator’s receipts. Would I like to see them? He offered a free meal. Something. Anything. As a reviewer, I am not permitted to accept free meals, I said.
   "But you’re a customer, too, and it’s what I’d do for anyone who wasn’t happy." Despite the mouse, I wasn’t particularly unhappy, and no one else at Juliana Rose seemed unhappy either.
   What had inspired such tranquility? All I could think of was that we had all been tranquilized by the pleasant atmosphere and good food, and at least temporarily, all anyone could think of was "C’est la vie." The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch, and a quick scan of both menus suggests there are plenty of interesting, delicious and well-priced selections for those meals as well. Despite the appearance of the unexpected guest, vive Juliana Rose!
For directions to Juliana Rose, click here.