Sophisticated cocktails set the mood for a compact menu of contemporary American bistro dishes elevated by refined touches and good, often locally sourced ingredients
German Village is crawling with destination restaurants, but few are as rewarding, fun and hip as the Sycamore. Call this another case of good things coming in small packages. And call the Sycamore the little bistro that could — and has — since 2013, when it assumed the handsomely refurbished space of a crusty old dive bar.
Though narrow and rather cramped inside, the place is lively, upbeat and enticing, a la a New York hot spot. Vintage brickwork and wood, plus soothing shades of gray and brown, form the backdrop for a nightly party propelled by a soundtrack of catchy tunes from smart, contemporary bands such as Alvvays and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
If that doesn’t sound like your scene, the serene patio is an excellent alternative. It’s characteristically small but has broad wooden tables that afford room to stretch out in a relaxing space bordered by bushes, flowers, vines, strings of light and quaint German Village streets.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Wherever you sit will become more pleasant if you dip into the terrific cocktails (most are $12). For a martini with a floral twist, pick the Roku & Chill. If you prefer something frothy and spicy shaken with tequila, ask for the Senorita Sizzle. My latest favorite is the fizzy, seasonally perfect Cucumber Spritz (made with OYO vodka, Aperol and sparkling rose), whose cool-you-off charms unfold in appealing watermelon and strawberry tones. Oenophiles will find a nice little wine list; local draft beers are a tad pricey ($8).
True to form here, sophisticated touches lend pizzazz to a compact menu of mostly familiar dishes assembled with good, often locally sourced ingredients. Interesting specials with eye-widening tabs approaching the $40 mark are offered, but many regulars show up for the same affordable favorites they’ve enjoyed practically since the Sycamore opened.
This would include the brazenly spicy, attractively presented OSA Guacamole ($8) and the top-notch Grilled Free-Range Chicken Wings ($12) with alluringly crisp dark spots and — if you order the arbol chile sauce like you ought to — a buttery slather that pops with a brisk lime finish.
The Sycamore’s Ahi Tuna Poke ($15) — which stars a pretty timbale dramatically released from a forming-ring tableside and suggests a refined, Hawaiian riff on nachos — enjoys a near-cult status among patrons. The modest-sized but dynamic Burrata ($11) — creamy mozzarella, crunchy crostini, tangy sun-dried tomato pesto and crushed, fresh and wonderful peas — could join the poke on that cult-dish shortlist.
Ditto for the mammoth Braised Ohio Beef Cheeks ($15). Constructed atop a gratuitous slab of baguette, this hearty and delicious crowd-pleaser might be the best poutine in town.
From its humdrum title of “Veggie Bowl Stir Fry” ($20) you might not expect to be served one of the bigger and better vegetarian entrees around. But that’s what you’ll get with this delightful mound of farro, carrots, shiitakes, spiced almonds, spring peas and garnishes that bring irresistibly rich, saucy and acidic flourishes.
Impressive local shiitake and oyster mushrooms create textural rhymes with meaty shrimp in the Prawns and Udon ($14), an entree-sized “small plate.” Spicy crushed nuts, carrot threads and “five-spice miso butter” lend oomph to the brothy noodle preparation.
However, I experienced a couple bumps. My good-tasting, locally sourced Rosemary Lemon Chicken entree ($23) had temperature issues and textural faults. On the same busy night, I endured frustrating service wobbles. This can happen most anywhere, but the really good restaurants — like the Sycamore — handle such miscues gracefully.
So, after sincere apologies and the impeccable intervention of a professional manager and a blissful dive into the place’s pudding-based Banana Tartlet ($9) — which exhibits uncanny soothing properties — as per usual, I left the Sycamore smiling and plotting my return.