Pardon Their French: Les Zygomates is Not Perfect, But it Does the Trick

Posted December 16, 2013 by Heather Kapplow in Dining Downtown: Restaurant Reviews
Les Zygomates Sign

A Warm Welcome, A Cold Drink

I am surprised to find Les Zygomates so busy on a mid-week November evening. There is a good sized group taking up one of the tables in my section, so that accounts for some of it, but this classic bistro bar with high ceilings and black and white tile floors is almost completely packed with Thursday night revelry and noshing.

The hosts are warm and efficient, shuttling my dining partner and I away from the winter outside and towards a small dining area with haste. But the table service is not so smooth. A friendly waiter brings us water and menus and then disappears forever.

Eventually, another waiter comes to help us, undermining everything we thought we were ready to order by announcing some incredible sounding specials. He gets us cocktails—a fruity bourbon madras for my friend and an herbal sazerac for me—while we regroup, finally deciding that the swordfish entree we’d been pondering will have to be thrown overboard in favor of the bouillabaisse special. We also order the steak frites as a prix fixe so we’ll be able to share a salad and a dessert.

The cocktails are sublime and just the thing to get us over being forgotten by our first waiter. The creamy cassis in the madras keeps the orange juice from getting too brash for its own good, and the Pernod is so subtle that though its aroma sits right at the top of the glass, the taste is closer to a celery bitter than to licorice. It’s a dry, buttery sazerac and I like it. We also take great pleasure in the crusty French bread that arrives a second or two after the drinks.

It’s Hopping Here, but is it Worth the Wait?

While we’re waiting for our food to arrive, we use the time to survey our dining company. Many patrons are here post-work, still fully suited and tied or stockinged and heeled. As my companion puts it, “It’s like the modern day version of Mad Men here—meals on the company account, territory being divided up with steak knives.” This last part is literally true. A guy at the table next to me is making a point to his dining companion about the market for something in Philadelphia using his pork loin as the visual aid. But there’s a steady diet of funk music in the background, the bar in front seems to be hosting as many girls’ and boys’ nights out as after work cocktails, and when leaving, I notice a couple decidedly on a romantic date on the other side of the restaurant, the darkened side where the live jazz band is playing.

And then food begins to arrive. To be completely honest, the stand out item is the house salad. Tart-sweet red and yellow pickled beets, creamy goat cheese, walnuts and a light herb vinaigrette where the most prominent herb is a shy one: tarragon.

The bouillabaisse is flavorful, but vague in terms of its organization. It feels more like some specific number of different categories of seafood in a rich broth rather than the more melded experience one expects of bouillabaisse. The steak is fine, ordered medium rare and arriving a little tough, but still well flavored. The fries were lovely. Crisp, hot and perfectly cooked with skins still on. And the garlicky sauteed spinach hits the spot.

Wine Rack

Les Zygomates has a large selection of fine wines. Photo by way of Christmasstock

The Wine is Fine!

In my mind, Les Zygomates is first and foremost a wine bar so I’m happy to find that dinner can be accompanied by bottles, glasses or smaller tasting-sized glasses of many wines from their collection. My friend and I take advantage of the 3oz pours, managing to try 4 wines before the night is through. The best is a 2008 French Malbec from Châteaux Armandiere in Cahors. And I should mention that two of these tastings are bought for us by our waiter to apologize for several weaknesses in service that we eventually learned were due to a very large party over on the other side of the restaurant.

Finally, le dessert! We choose the pumpkin-pecan ice cream and here too ae slightly disappointed. The flavor is a little doughy, more like you might expect a cookie dough ice cream to taste, but with more nutmeg. The pecans tasted more like walnuts than pecans (though I think they are pecans,) and the ice cream is full of ice crystals. What is wonderful though, is a little dish of bakers’ chocolates that comes alongside the ice cream.

Though this review is not a rave one, I feel like I have caught the staff and food of Les Zygomates on an unusual off night. The ambiance is vibrant and the crowd, which seems like a crowd of regulars, seems very happy.

Highly recommended for a glass of wine or two at least, and next time I’d like to check out the moodier, live jazz side of things.



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