When a long-popular restaurant's chef and owners decide it's time to expand, the result is often quite telling about the team's personality. For the minds behind Gautreau's — husband and wife owners Patrick and Rebecca Singley — the result is Ivy, which occupies the spot that used to house Vizard's. The Singleys and executive chef Sue Zemanick decided to focus on a less formal format. Ivy serves small plates, cocktails and wine intended to be lingered over.
It's clear on a first visit to Ivy that much thought has been put into its design. It's elegant, but not gaudy. The building is festooned foundation to roof with ivy, making it look as though it grew there naturally over many years. The dining room glows with soft ochre light and features a couple of white leather-wrapped banquettes, a smattering of tables and a small bar.
Dining at Ivy is a romantic affair, perfect for sharing courses leisurely over a couple of hours. The service is friendly and attentive, and there doesn't seem to be any rush to turn over tables, which is welcome in a small restaurant.
A list of roughly 20 items fills the restaurant's menu, and all portions are modestly sized. Zemanick's choices (at the hands of chef de cuisine Chris Gecewich) are well-conceived and executed, though they're not particularly unfamiliar. Oysters on the half shell with Meyer lemon granita were refreshing, and creamy shrimp roll gougeres were a nice snack.
Other dishes included tuna tartare, an overused menu staple in countless restaurants since the 1990s, but there's little to complain about with the preparation here, which uses ginger and yuzu and is served with taro chips. Japanese flavors are obviously close to Zemanick's heart, as they show up frequently on the menu. Small spheres of fried goat cheese with honey, pickled sultanas and pine nuts are good enough to cause a row over the last bite. Blistered shishito peppers with ginger, miso and sesame are excellent. Another crowd-pleaser is the plate of snow crab claws, served either chilled with drawn butter or warm with truffle butter. It's a simple dish, and Ivy nails it. Similarly, the steak tartare, hand-chopped and garnished with a vibrant orange quail egg, is perfect.
Some dishes come up short. The house ceviche is a combination of shrimp, squid, small scallops and avocado, and it arrived with a disappointing and unnecessary side of stale tortillas. Also, with delicately portioned plates ranging from $6 to $16, diners hunting for a big meal are in for an expensive night.
For a place that seems to take pride in its cocktail menu, it's refreshing to see a list dominated by classics rather than the often original concoctions with esoteric ingredients, infusions and syrups popular at many craft cocktail bars. There are outstanding Manhattans and solid Sazeracs and old fashioneds, but the French 75s are a bit steep at $16.
But for tasty small plates in a warm space that calls for conversation, Ivy has you covered.