Restaurant review: The Sycamore opens strong and to raucous crowds

By Columbus Alive
From the November 21, 2013 edition

Have you noticed that a new high-profile restaurant seems to be opening every week lately? Yeah, it’s like a historical blockbuster season for the Columbus restaurant scene. This brings up a question: How many next-big-thing eateries can our ’burg support? Based on the hordes swarming into the tight quarters of the righteously rehabbed and currently raucous Sycamore, i.e. the Harvest Pizzeria owners’ answer to The Rossi, I’d say evermore.

Delightfully vintage, Sycamore’s replete with handsome shade-of-grey glass tile, brick walls, wood and exposed ductwork. It’s noteworthy that Sycamore’s “shotgun-style,” long and narrow space comprises three distinct areas.

The first includes a front-door-anchored, you’ll-make-fast-friends communal table plus three desirable high-backed booths with warm lighting and prime views. Section deux is a curved banquette facing a wall. The behind-the-scenes backroom is brightly lit and features a frantic kitchen “pass.” Obviously the booths are best (the rollicking bar ain’t bad if you’re so inclined), but rest assured that wherever you sit in this frenzied hotspot, you can have a blast.

Looking past the California-heavy wine list, there are local beers on tap (from Elevator, Seventh Son and North High) plus a not-large but solid bottled selection. Cocktail-wise, Sycamore wisely doesn’t cannibalize its creative Curio uncle, and instead offers elevated takes on classic libations ($9), like an anisey Sazerac, Campari-forward Negroni and — my favorite — a refreshing gimlet awash in cardamom bitters starring Watershed Four Peel Gin.

Sycamore’s black-print-on-brown-paper menu is hard to read but compact and easy to navigate. Start with the stir-it-yourself Guacamole ($7), because it’s one of the best in town. Spicy and chunky as guac oughta be, it’s spiked with radish and served with not-warm tortilla chips.

The Free-Range Chicken Wings ($11 for five “whole” wings) are also built-to-share. I dug their deep char, clean flavor and juicy meat but the “arbol chili rub” contributed little and the rich blue cheese dip was oddly honey-sweet.

A lotta fun textures — from toasted pistachios, stemmy greens, smidgens of orange and fennel plus Kokoborrego’s Headwater Tomme cheese (I’d like more) — graced the fine Watercress salad ($8). Tying everything together was a fruity-sweet and creamy “strawberry-chive” dressing.

The “poutine-style” Braised Ohio Beef Cheeks ($11) were terrific. Atop crisply toasted and tangy sourdough bread were marvelous garlic-brimming handcut fries, a few mild Blue Jacket Dairy cheese curds, an almost-threw-me-off-sweet Snowville cream sauce and deeply beefy, deeply delicious and completely non-gristly-or-fatty-eating pot roasty meat.

Those same great garlicky fries come on the side of sandwiches, like Sycamore’s Ohio Bison Burger ($13). Laced with kicky homemade pickles and a tamarind-y ketchup, and with Integration Acres’ goaty gouda teasing out a pleasant mild gaminess, this delivered a buffa-load of bold flavor — though it was a tad dry. The puffy, big and hearty, crisply-crusted Quinoa and Chickpea Burger ($10) was another winner, mostly distinguished by killer spicy pickles, assertive mustard and structural integrity.

Fisheaters can rejoice in Sycamore’s triumphant Homestead Farms Ohio Trout ($23) — the best meal I tried here. The delicate and plentiful, sear-crusted beautiful trout was flattered by a cooking-fat-rich pan sauce brinily enlivened by preserved lemon and capers. Also on the plate: haricot verts, two stiffly “olive oil poached” shrimp and garlicky fingerlings.

A knockout, whipped cream-topped Banana Tart ($8) with wonderfully caramelized fruit, chocolate ganache, “mortaring” banana pudding and a dense and salty ginger snap crust was a spectacular finish. And more delectable evidence that, although Sycamore hasn’t opened up flawlessly — like Harvest Pizzeria did — it’s still a strong and super-promising addition to our ever-burgeoning restaurant scene.