The Country Club always has had a certain allure. Though the days of clothing-optional revelry may have come to an end, there's still a relaxed and bohemian feel to the Bywater bar, restaurant and pool — and a recent makeover has delivered an updated look.
Chris Barbato, who for years was chef de cuisine at Commander's Palace, took over the restaurant last year while the Louisa Street complex was undergoing renovations. Under his direction, the menu mimicked the club's physical metamorphosis. The space's look is now more beach club chic than Bywater boho (but still sprinkled with a welcome amount of the latter), and the menu is more refined than its predecessor.
An excellent tuna and burrata tartine offers a surprisingly successful argument for what at first may sound like an odd marriage. Thick slices of bread are coated with pungent basil and garlic pesto and topped with fat wedges of creamy burrata, avocado and tomato. The mound is crowned with seared tuna slices and arugula, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and finished with smoked sea salt. Brussels sprouts arrive dark golden brown, the leaves fanning out into addictively crispy petals, which are equal parts crunchy and salty. In a creative spin on Waldorf salad, deliciously smoky bits of grilled chicken thighs top a mix of shaved apples and celery, herbs, grapes and walnuts. The medley is draped with a tangy lemon yogurt dressing that balances the heavier, charred flavors of the chicken.
Much of the menu carries a European theme, but the kitchen appeases the local crowd here and there. Gouda and mascarpone truffle macaroni and cheese and boudin boulettes are crowd pleasers. The boulettes, packed with an earthy mix of rice and pork, are glazed with a sheen of red pepper jelly and nestled in a bed of arugula and Creole mustard, the latter of which packs an acidic punch that both complements and cuts through the crispy, fatty parts.
There are many menus, including a poolside selection, brunch, lunch, dinner and a list of small plates, and sometimes it seems the kitchen is stretching itself thin.
Though seafood features prominently, those dishes have varying degrees of success. A porcini-roasted swordfish was cooked well but came with collard greens and leeks that were salty to the point of inediblity. An ill-conceived oyster and spaghetti dish was topped with barely cooked red and green bell peppers, fennel and a blanket of grated Parmesan. The plump, sweet oysters would have been fine on their own, but the dish arrived with a pool of pastis-infused broth that made it difficult to discern any flavors beyond the overpowering scent of anise. Scallops fared much better — getting a light golden sear and served with a smoky mix of charred kale and mascarpone grits.
For dessert, the creative selection ranges from petite items, such as an affogato made with chicory ice cream, to extreme, exemplified by a towering banana split-waffle creation. On the curious side, Key lime sorbet is served swimming in a shot of tequila in a salt-rimmed martini glass. The lime may be too tart for those who aren't citrus fanatics, but it is served with crumbly cookies whose faint trace of powdery sweetness keeps some of the acid in check.
There is room for growth here, and change may be the new constant at The Country Club. Barbato introduced a spring menu April 1 and will adjust menus seasonally.