WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
If Sylvain had been in the French Quarter when I and most of my writer and artist friends lived there, we would have been in the place every night. The food doesn’t equal that of a dozen other places to eat within a few blocks. But it’s hip and interesting, the drinks are superb, and everybody in the place seems to know everyone else. It’s the kind of place where you’d order a bottle of Champagne and an order of fries–an item which is, in fact, on the menu.
For all the old Creole trappings of the premises, Sylvain is really more American than New Orleans. Its kitchen is thoroughly faithful to the current dogma of buying fresh local ingredients, particularly vegetables. It also follows the inventiveness imperative, with mixed results. If it sounds contrived, it probably is.
The building is old even by French Quarter standards, dating back to 1795 and involving many unique figures of local lore. For several decades beginning in the 1970s, it was the home of the much-loved La Marquise French Bakery. Sean McCusker, a New York-based writer, got the idea for it on a visit to New Orleans. He partnered with Robert LeBlanc of Lifestyle Revolution Group, whose other bar-resto properties include Ste. Marie and Capdeville.
The place has the feel of a speakeasy. What looks like the door is really used as a window; you can see people enjoying themselves, but not immediately how to join them. (A dark, low-ceilinged alleyway gives access.) A big antique bar dominates the front room which has enough tables to create a pleasant atmospheric tension. The most desirable tables are in the small courtyard.
Chicken liver crostini, sprouts, dandelion gastrique
Fried eggplant, parmigiano reggiano, lemon aioli
Southern antipasti (pickles, cheese, pickled egg, country ham, mustard)
House-made pickled vegetables
»Champagne and hand-cut fries
»Artisan cheese plate
»Roasted beet bruschetta, sherry vinaigrette, goat cheese
Chili roasted almonds
»Seared sea scallops, farro, grapes, almonds
Soup of the day
»Arugula, roasted beets, ricotta salata, sprouts, sherry vinaigrette
»Shaved Brussels sprouts, apples, pecorino, hazelnuts
Seasonal market salad
»Pan-fried pork shoulder, grits, mushrooms, mustard jus
Roasted pork sandwich, pickled greens, chili aioli
Buttermilk-fried chicken breast sandwich, pickles
Braised italian sausage, polenta, stewed eggplant, balsamic syrup
»Pappardelle pasta bolognese
»Duck confit, blackeye peas, sprouts, Bourbon mustard
»Braised beef cheeks au jus, potato puree, sweet onions, field peas
»Gulf shrimp, littleneck clams, Spanish chorizo, tomato-fennel broth
Fish of the day
Abita root beer-caramel ice cream float
Bete noire (fresh berries, double cream)
»Local honey panna cotta, almond brittle
»Artisan cheese plate
FOR BEST RESULTS
The appetizer selection is much stronger than the main course. Consider it a tapas bar, and you will eat best. Make a reservation–you need one.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The antique bar-top molding (the thing you rest your elbows on) pushes the food too far away for convenient eating.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +3
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open after 10 p.m.
- Open all afternoon
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The line between bar and restaurant continues to become less distinct. Recent announcements of new eatery-drinkeries (notably the Commander’s Palace Brennans’ announcement of SoBou, a “cocktail-centric” new place in the old Bacco spot) point to further blurriness. One of the first proponents of the bar-heavy restaurant in the recent swell was Sylvain, whose early promotion was all about a) how historic was their property and 2) how the food would not only be distinguished but very cool.
Sylvain’s owners calculated the package well. The first time I went there–well over a year after it opened, when the novelty was gone–the place was filled with reserved tables and their late-arriving occupants. I sat at the bar and watched a very meticulous mixological program in progress. (And sampled its works.) I ate better food than I expected, if not as comfortably as I would have liked. Not only is it tough to lean into an antique bar to eat, but because here is a place that unambiguously targets youthful tastes.