Some restaurants set the stage for a specific type of evening, be it flashy or family-oriented or something else. Apolline runs a little looser. In fact, it often feels like each party of diners at this Uptown bistro chose the place for its own special purpose.
There's the coiffed, linen-clad Garden District parents convening their adult offspring at one table, then two guys in medical scrubs passing pappardelle and steak back and forth while the newlyweds perched at the bar are matching rounds of appetizers with cocktails and discussing which of their friends they need to bring here next.
Apolline is an upscale, high-aiming but still low-key restaurant, a place right in the middle of the Uptown dining scene that still seems like a neighborhood find. It's a restaurant for rock-solid, if never really pulse-pounding, new American cuisine in a cool and quietly stylish setting of light colors, bare wood and glowing candles.
This restaurant space was developed as the original Dominique's on Magazine in 2010. But after its namesake chef Dominique Macquet departed a year later, the same owners started over again with Apolline and chef Matt Farmer, formerly of Salu.
Farmer's menu is modern, mostly straightforward and seasonal, as epitomized by a watermelon salad sprinkled with smoked salt and feta or the fresh corn maque choux underlining the sweet flavor of seared scallops and shrimp. There's a touch of soy and ginger running across beef carpaccio, which otherwise speaks for itself, and the fish (lately, thick swordfish steaks) gets a wash of brown butter that falls somewhere between sauce and broth. A particular standout is the fried quail, audibly crunchy and artfully arranged with potato salad, a streak of barbecue sauce and a pillar of smoked pork belly, like a chef-driven picnic dinner.
This is all deftly done, but where the menu gets edgy things get iffy. Smoked crab sounds good, but it is hard to detect when just a spoonful of the stuff is tucked into tiny fried tacos. And the "spiced bread" underneath an otherwise wonderful salad of smoky, glistening bits of duck confit and arugula added only the seasonally jarring flavor of gingerbread.
Desserts with silly names are usually safe bets, however, and Apolline's "hooty tootie" pie does not disappoint, with its gooey caramel and ganache filling and peanut butter ice cream. The wine list offers good variety and decent value, and behind the bar Mark Schettler is making a case for Apolline as another craft cocktail destination.
Specials and deals abound here, like a nightly summertime prix fixe menu and $20 bottles of wine on Wednesdays. Some of these are advertised in Day-Glo colors on dry-erase boards outside, which tends to undersell the elegance of the restaurant. But then again, a good bargain spotted on the menu board might be just another of the varied reasons for someone to visit Apolline.