The buzz about Dominique's on Magazine started well before the restaurant opened in a beautifully renovated Uptown shotgun last fall, and it's no wonder. It marked the return of Dominique Macquet, a well-known local chef who'd been out of circulation for the last few years. The menu, the design, the overall identity of this restaurant spoke of high ambitions.
But for Macquet, the new place is actually quite a bit more casual than the original Dominique's, the French Quarter hotel restaurant distinguished by luxurious, often exotic, very pricey global cuisine. At Dominique's on Magazine, the precision of the old days is complemented by a tighter embrace of local sourcing and creativity that veers from playful to provocative with some compelling results.
You taste it in the streak of sour Creole cream cheese tucked into the coulette steak — an unusual cut of beef, a cousin to the sirloin, here taken from a Wagyu breed. His inspiration shows in the sheening ripples of citrus and Scotch bonnet mojo sauce across the black drum. And it turns up in little things done with obsessive detail. The seared edge on beef tartare adds gentle char to the cool, ginger-spiked, finely diced flank steak. Oil-soaked, oven-dried tomatoes have the intensity of olives crossed with tomatoes. They make a simple arugula salad shine on the appetizer list, and when stuffed into the leg of lamb entree, their distinctive flavor actually matched the star power of the lamb cracklings sprinkled atop the roast.
The fried chicken appetizer, however, is an example of the kitchen's occasional over-engineering. Thigh meat is pressed into a bundle, fried in duck fat and then baked in a process that renders the finished product remarkably greaseless but also dry and under-seasoned. An entree of grilled scallops with house-made fettuccine and purple hull peas sounded reassuringly rustic, but it was soft, pale and bland all over, and only the scallops were still warm when the plate arrived.
Desserts here are worthy indulgences — especially the tangy, mellow goat cheese cake ringed by local honey — and waiters bring a bouquet of good, old-fashioned cotton candy with dessert as well. It's a gratis finale that arouses smiles every time. The drinks list is of particular interest for craft cocktail fans, thanks to the creative work of bartender Kimberly Patton-Bragg. If the weather is cool, try her "calabeza caliente," a warm tequila drink with pumpkin, honey and sage. The wine selection is richly varied and includes many reasonable options under $30.
Entrees are substantial, but most appetizers are tiny, as if cast in miniature. This isn't a good place to share first courses around the table. It is, however, an excellent place to share an evening with someone special. With most of its interior walls removed, this old double shotgun house has been redone in casual elegance with light colors, bare wood, sweeping curtains and gentle lighting. The restaurant retains a calm, unhurried feel even when the dining room is packed, which has regularly been the case as Macquet's promising new restaurant lives up to the early buzz.