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Review: Saveur 

Dominique Macquet’s Magazine Street restaurant is upscale but unpretentious

click to enlarge Diners enjoy a meal at Saveur.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Diners enjoy a meal at Saveur.

Chef Dominique Macquet hails from Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean off the African coast, but to get to his current restaurant Saveur, all he had to do was cross the street.

  Prior to landing at the Uptown bistro opened by Kimble Donington-Smith in February, Macquet cooked across the street at his namesake Dominique's on Magazine, one of two iterations of the restaurant, both short-lived in comparison to his 12-year stint at the shuttered Dominique's inside the Maison Dupuy Hotel.

  The whirlwind, three-day makeover of the space, which previously was called Baie Rouge, included Macquet's hiring and an interior overhaul, a 180-degree switch from the spot's prior bright, playful color scheme. Now the slim dining room features muted tones, slate-gray walls and an air of Uptown finesse. What hasn't changed is the blond wooden bar with a row of stools cushioned in white leather.

  Dinner can be expensive, but at happy hour at the bar, prices are slashed on drinks, whole-wheat flatbreads and roti, a nod to the street food of Macquet's homeland. Buckwheat orbs are topped with a cast of rotating seasonal ingredients, and the marguerite is a spin on the classic Italian pie, featuring melting mozzarella, juicy Creole tomatoes and fresh sprigs of basil. The prosciutto di Parma version has thin slices of cured Italian ham and a medley of cheeses. The bread is topped with a mound of spicy arugula and a drizzle of truffle oil, giving it just enough earthy flavor without falling into the truffle trap and coming off as overkill.

  The menu changes daily depending on what's in season. At first glance, it appears similar to offerings at many other upscale bistros, with elegant dishes showcasing classical French techniques. A closer look, however, reveals international touches and exotic tweaks woven in to many of the standbys.

  Leche de Tigre is a lime and pepper base used to cure fish for Peruvian-style ceviche, and it shows up in a tuna sashimi presentation and anchors a basil vinaigrette in an excellent soft-shelled crab dish (more about that crab later). Scotch bonnet peppers are grown by the chef and dress up tart green papaya salad. Garam masala, kaffir lime, chimichurri and harissa all make appearances on the menu.

  Soft-shell crab is pan-seared to golden brown with little more than a dusting of flour, a technique that renders the outside crispy while the inside stays buttery, delicate and deeply juicy. The whole crab is perched on a bed of safflower basmati rice and papaya relish dressed in an herbaceous basil and lime vinaigrette that cuts through some of the richer components of the dish.

  Steak tartare features an uncommon preparation. Here, 44 Farms New York strip is cut into thick wedges — a rough cut that shows off the beef's splendid fat marbling. The tender pieces of meat are tossed in grapeseed oil, ginger, garlic and soy and presented in a layered cylinder. On the bottom tier, a bed of kohlrabi matchsticks adds texture but could have used more seasoning and doesn't do much for the dish.

  A steak entree gets its name from a cut inspired by the famous New York restaurant Delmonico. The rib-eye is roasted and grilled, then finished with syrupy red wine reduction. The steak is threaded with thick ribbons of fat, packing strong flavor while keeping the meat succulent. Pommes frites, served in a wire basket, are topped with smooth aioli made with oven-roasted tomatoes.

  Dessert appears to be a work in progress. The restaurant offers cakes from Debbie does Doberge. A chocolate creme brulee rounds out the menu, offering a twist on the classic French dessert: the crispy exterior shatters with the tap of a spoon and the creamy, dark chocolate custard below is excellent.

  The menu changes frequently, and entrees mostly fall in the $24 to $27 range. Despite the upscale vibe, there is little pretense at Saveur. The chefs pay strict attention to detail while melding global ingredients with classical techniques, ultimately enhancing rather than confusing the result.

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