"It's a totally different mindset out here; you have to experience it with a different part of your brain," observed a clearly brainy diner on the delightful patio just opened by L'Antibes. That thoughtful guy, an obvious L'Antibes regular, wasn't speaking to me (so sue me, I eavesdropped), but his comment was so spot-on I figured he wouldn't mind sharing it here.
You might know L'Antibes as a high-end and special-occasion restaurant run by an artfully plating chef (Matthew Litzinger) with a degree from the "Harvard of cooking" - the Culinary Institute of America. And L'Antibes' reputation as a quiet oasis of refined, French-type food served in the rowdy Short North likely precedes it, too.
Well those things still hold true, but now there's more to the story. See, with this new patio and the special small plates menu that accompanies it (with about a dozen items), L'Antibes has suddenly become a versatile restaurant. In other words, now you can show up in shorts for a pile of phenomenal fries, a potent Belgian-style ale (there's a long list of those), and a comfy, outdoor ringside seat to the nightly Short North pub crawl.
At first sight, L'Antibes' patio might appear a bit underwhelming - little more than a fenced-in, alley-abutting parking lot. But when that "different part of your brain" later kicks in, you'll love hanging out there.
This happened to me when some gray matter-packed lobe realized I should never underestimate the simple but elegant charms of a tea candle flickering on a July evening; a talented dude strumming in classical Spanish guitar style; and a pretty lime-green mum floating gently in water. Oh yeah, and freaking beautiful food.
Those fries are, as they say in France, "le bombe" (Pommes Frites, $8). Double cooked to ensure creamy interiors and crispy exteriors, they're long, thin and herb-sprinkled golden brown lovelies served with three sauces: a zesty ketchup-like tomato jam; an intense malt vinegar; and a smoky bacon aioli.
For something lighter, try the luxurious Avocado and Shaved Fennel Salad ($11). Teaming creamy avocado with aromatic truffle oil read wrong but tasted inspired, especially with a deft hand on the sea salt. Plus I loved how the spell of truffle and avocado richness was broken by anise-y fennel, thyme and bitter greens.
For something stunning, opt for the large Hawaiian Ahi #1 Tuna Tartare ($16). Like a Japanese appetizer reimagined by a French chef with mad knife skills, it's a thick cylinder of garnet-colored, silky chopped fish embellished with ginger and sesame oil. The lavish tuna atop a pretty bed of fanned-out, thin English cucumber slices somehow - must be that "brain" thing - tastes even better outside on L'Antibes' lovely patio.