Plenty of restaurateurs will say they want you to feel at home under their roof. Not all of them get to start with a restaurant that actually feels like a home.
But Cavan, which officially opens Friday (Feb. 19), is built in a 19th century Uptown townhouse that carries a vestigial vibe of its past through connecting parlors, small rooms and corridors, along the sweep of its staircase and out across the front porch.
It’s the latest from LeBlanc + Smith, the local group that also has the bistro Meauxbar and gastropub Sylvain in the French Quarter and the Lower Garden District bar Barrel Proof. Kristin Essig, chef at Meauxbar, is also chef for Cavan.
They hope Cavan will be closer to a true tavern than a conventional restaurant -- a spot as apt for snacks and a drink as a fully-coursed dinner or just a cup of coffee.
“I want it will feel like Sylvain Uptown,” said Robert LeBlanc, Cavan’s proprietor. “I want it to be the kind of a place where people can come once a week pretty easily.”
The name Cavan refers to a county in Ireland, where LeBlanc traces family roots. The cuisine, however, is a blend of New Orleans and broader American seafood traditions.
Essig describes the approach as “an American coastal restaurant,” with rustic comfort food on the menu and a casual approach at the table.
There’s gumbo, but also clam chowder. There are raw oysters, and also scallop tartare. She’s serving fried oyster Caesar salads, crab deviled eggs and boiled shrimp, but also a cold poached seafood salad and raw beef carpaccio. There’s a whole grilled fish, a rib eye to share, a burger, pork chops, seared Gulf fish and steamed mussels.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated, just satisfying, fresh, good,” she said. “There are lots of ways to make it work.”
Another debut, a different approach
LeBlanc acknowledged that Cavan is opening in a very competitive dining scene, with many new restaurants joining the fray. But he said the building itself proved an irresistible lure for a new venture, and the setting helped guide Cavan’s concept.
“We’re opening here to join what this neighborhood already has, to be that place you can come for dinner or come for drinks before or after dinner at one of the other great places, that’s what we want,” he said.
Cavan’s Magazine Street building is known as the Cockerton House, after Alfred William Cockterton, a state official who built it in 1881, according to a description in the “New Orleans Architecture Series.”
Though it was previously used as a gallery, Cavan is its first incarnation as a restaurant. LeBlanc and his partners found a floor plan that still feels residential, and they took a scruffs-and-all approach to its renovation, using its imperfections and layered patina as a framework to set more modern finishes, design touches and the workings for a modern restaurant.
“Our company’s philosophy is to get the food on the same wavelength as the cocktails and wine and on the same wavelength as the service and on the same wavelength as the space,” said LeBlanc. “That’s why it was just inspiring to have this space. It was us getting in here, cleaning it up a bit and then staying out of the way.”
3607 Magazine St., 504-509-7655
Initial hours: opening daily at 4 p.m. for drinks, dinner from 5 p.m. Lunch hours to come
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.