American classic, New Orleans twist
Driving into the parking lot at the Sun Tavern, I felt as if I were approaching a private home. And indeed, this building, which dates from 1741, was a private home for much of its existence.
That history makes for a charming restaurant, with low, beamed ceilings, polished pine floors, a welcoming fireplace in the lounge, and several intimate dining rooms. The atmosphere is rustic yet elegant, with crisp white linens and sparkling stemware at each table.
Running the restaurant is a labor of love for owners Larry and Carol Friedman, who bought it in 1996, then sold it in 2001. When it closed in 2008, Larry Friedman said, the couple, who live nearby, could not bear to see it empty. “So we bought it again.’’
The menu is American classic with a New Orleans twist. The chef, Ken Wisneski, opened two restaurants in New Orleans for Emeril Lagasse, Friedman said, and he tweaks the menu to showcase this style.
An appetizer of New Orleans barbecued shrimp ($8) consisted of three fat shrimp with fennel and leek bathed in a brown sauce that was just spicy enough for us, but would probably not impress a fan of spicy food.
Lysander’s warm potato chips sprinkled with Himalayan pink salt ($4) was a huge basket of homemade chips served with a sour cream/Creole mustard/chive dip; the chips were well done and crisp. (The dish is named after the ghost said to haunt the restaurant.)
A “steakhouse wedge’’ salad ($8) topped iceberg lettuce with crisp smoked bacon, pickled onions, and cherry tomatoes; served with blue cheese dressing and garnished with chunks of blue cheese, it was fresh and tangy.
Entrees run the gamut from classic New England haddock with Ritz cracker crumbs ($20) to classic New Orleans seafood jambalaya ($20). Our favorite was pan-seared scallops with a maple-saffron cream sauce and butternut risotto ($22). The sweet scallops were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The dense, chewy rice was nicely suffused with maple and dotted with chunks of tender butternut squash; the cream sauce was pleasantly light and enhanced the milder flavors of scallop and rice.
A prime rib special ($22) was as traditional as it gets: a generous portion of tender, slow-roasted prime rib; a baked potato that, blissfully, had not been reheated in aluminum foil and had a crisp, salt-crusted skin; and Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon. Prime rib is offered on Wednesdays and Sundays only.
Chicken Miguel ($16), which our server recommended as one of the restaurant’s more popular items, consisted of chicken breast chunks in a maple-brandy-sage cream sauce, served with butternut squash ravioli. The best part of this dish was the ravioli — al dente pasta pillows plump with savory squash. The chicken pieces, while moist, had not quite picked up the full flavor of the sauce.
One of the most diner-friendly aspects of Sun Tavern’s menu is the inclusion of lighter entrees and sandwiches, a plus for a restaurant that serves only dinner. They include burgers, sandwiches, and flatbreads priced from $8 to $17.
Desserts change nightly, but typically include chocolate-rich items and New Orleans favorites. A molten chocolate cake ($7) was fine, but beignets ($6), those deep-fried New Orleans delights, appeared to be overdone; they literally crumbled in our fingers.
Service was excellent. Seeing that we wanted to share most of our food, our server thoughtfully brought extra plates and flatware for each course. When we mentioned that it was a little chilly in our dining room, the hostess turned up the heat and checked back with us mid-meal to make sure we were comfortable. And when we stepped out into the chilly night and a surprise snowstorm, it was a treat to find the walkways already cleared and salted, making us feel once again that we had dined at someone’s gracious home.