4729 Magazine St., New Orleans
THREE STARS (OUT OF FOUR)
This Uptown restaurant started life as Dominique’s on Magazine, but then after a big shake-up in the kitchen the name, the staffing and the menu were all revamped to create a different restaurant. This one is an upscale bistro working closer to the modern American mode than the local contemporary Creole or newer modern Southern styles that are more prominent around town.
the look of the restaurant is about the only thing that wasn’t changed from the first rendition of this place. It’s a double shotgun that still looks like a house from the street but which opens up to a single, large dining room. Old brick chimneys, now revealed, stand like columns. Drapes dress up the floor-to-ceiling windows and the décor is a mix of clean lines and bare wood. It’s romantic, it’s definitely upscale, but the overall feel is more relaxed than a special event restaurant. The beautiful bar makes a good spot for a pre-dinner drink or for solo diners, and there are a few outdoor tables to consider when we’re visited by pleasant weather.
The service staff generally have good suggestions for the menu and the wine list, but a little more attention to individual tables would go a long way. We felt we were looking for our waitress too long and too often during one busy night, though on slower evenings things seem to click better.
Some of the best starters at Apolline look like smaller-scale entrees. The duck confit salad, for instance, had smoky, glistening pieces of meat over peppery arugula with a flank of sliced pears on the side and a wedge of blue cheese. The pappardelle noodles, tender and made in house, could be a light entrée too with the hearty addition of pork ragu and ricotta, and the same could be said for the shrimp and grits. The beef carpaccio and the watermelon salad are two simpler, straightforward and lighter starters – the first dressed with a shaved Piave cheese and a touch of vinaigrette, the salad finished with feta, micro greens and a dash of smoked sea salt.
One its face the entrée list seems fairly predictable – steak, pork chop, duck, scallops, Gulf fish of the night, etc. But the kitchen works some significant style points into many of these dishes along the way. Scallops were tender with a sweet flavor that flowed from an almost-raw center to the crusted edges, with a maque choux on the side that was both creamy and light at once and expressed summer brightness. Swordfish was arranged elegantly but simply over crisp haricot vert and draped with an almond flecked buttery emulsion that was somewhere between broth and sauce. The hearty pork chop on the bone had a light whiff of smoke, a tangle of fried onion strings and good char, though no surprises. The showstopper, however, is a plate of fried quails, set just so over mashed potatoes and joined to a cube of pork belly by a flourished streak of barbecue sauce.
The goat cheese mousse is an interesting, mellow and not-too-sweet choice. The opposite would be the "hooty tootie pie.” It starts with chocolate ganache, and caramel fluff in a short bread cookie crust and adds peanut brittle and peanut butter ice cream.
Craft cocktails are a major specialty at Apolline and the bartender can make some pretty interesting concoctions off the cuff if nothing on the list should grab you. The wine list is eclectic and many wines are available by the half-bottle. On Wednesdays, a good cross-section of wines are served for $20 a bottle or $5 per glass.
Apolline’s normal menu skews to the higher side of the standard upscale bistro price range, with most appetizers between $10-$14 and most entrees in the upper $20s to $30s. However, the restaurant runs frequent specials with prix fixe menus or deals on wine (see above) that can make the overall picture more of a value. Otherwise, expect to pay at least $130 for two people.
Apolline feels cozy, stylish, modern and familiar all at once. The menu is fairly straightforward, and if this means there are few surprises or dishes that really dazzle it’s also true that practically nothing disappoints. It’s an upscale place that still feels down to earth.