Nina Compton will soon bring rabbit curry, farro risotto, and bottled negronis to the Bywater, when Bywater American Bistro (BABs) opens Thursday, March 15. It’s located in the Rice Mill Lofts at 2900 Chartres Street.
Co-owned by Compton’s husband, Larry Miller, and Compére Lapin sous chef, Levi Raines, the restaurant’s menu is all about simple food and classic drinks backed by a lot of culinary technique, Compton told Eater New Orleans.
Raines, formerly of Andrew Carmellini’s Miami outpost The Dutch, moved to New Orleans in 2015 to work with Compton at Compére Lapin. “We just clicked. When you have someone who can see your vision and execute, it says volumes about that person. Our philosophies are very similar, so I think that helped as well,” Compton says.
In fact, Compton and Miller were content with just one (huge-deal) restaurant, but they wanted to give Raines a platform to grow and “a voice” because of his talent.
Raines and Compton’s menu, inspired by the cultures — past and present — that make up the region’s cuisine, zeros in on grains and legumes, a nod to the building’s former life as a rice mill. It’s also heavily focused on seafood, but with meats, charcuterie, fowl, and rabbit thrown in the mix.
Compton is hoping the affordable prices (appetizers from $10 to $14; entrees from $20 to $26) will mean Bywater residents might stop in one night for hog’s head boudin, and show up later in the week for a bowl of pasta.
Menu highlights include tuna toast based on the traditional Spanish pan con tomate, but with tuna bresaola and toast made from Bellegarde Bakery’s local brown flours; farro risotto with Maitake mushrooms and minted breadcrumbs and crab fat rice; and dishes that highlight Compton’s lauded pasta-making skills, like spaghetti pomodoro and smoked ricotta agnolotti with sunchokes.
One of Compére Lapin’s most talked-about dishes is the goat curry, which Eater restaurant critic Bill Addison called “a one-dish history lesson in the global spice routes.” At BABs, a rabbit curry is paired with cilantro, pecans, and jasmine rice.
The team will be cooking out of an open kitchen, and dining there should feel like “hanging out with friends at a dinner party,” Compton says.
Crystal Pavlas, head bartender, a Compére Lapin alum and one of Eater’s 2014 “hottest up-and-coming bartenders,” will be making bottled negronis, martinis with charred pickled onion petals, and other classic drinks.
Compton and her husband, Larry Miller, live in the Bywater near the restaurant, a neighborhood where acclaimed restaurants have struggled (Mariza, Oxalis, Cafe Henri have all closed within the last year).
“A lot of restaurants weren’t given a fair chance in the Bywater, even though they were putting out really good food. I want to elevate the dining scene in the Bywater because I live in the area. We’re hungry for good restaurants. The Bywater deserves that.”
Compton, nominated for 2018 Best Chef: South by the James Beard Foundation (basically the Oscars of the food world) has been heavily lauded for her work at her first restaurant, Compére Lapin, where she is known for exploring New Orleans’s centuries-old ties to the Caribbean in a modern way. Compére Lapin was named one of Eater’s 2017 Best Restaurants in America in 2017.
Bywater American Bistro will be open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
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