Bywater American Bistro is very much a big-deal restaurant that glitters on the national stage, with the awards to prove it. But as regulars would attest, Eater New Orleans’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year, is also a neighborhood spot serving owners Nina Compton and Miller’s actual neighbors (they live in a condo just upstairs from the restaurant) and their community (which happens to include a bunch of chefs and restaurateurs).
Originally from St. Lucia, Compton herself was searching for her place at the New Orleans table just a few years ago, when she decided to move from Miami to New Orleans with huband Miller to open Compere Lapin in the CBD’s Old No. 77 Hotel. Raines also moved from Miami to work as Compton’s sous chef.
She searched for connections, naming Compere for a mischievous rabbit in a Caribbean folktale that also makes appearances in Louisiana lore. If her success in finding her place is obvious in one dish, it’s in a spicy goat curry served over sweet potato gnocchi, combining her Caribbean roots and her love of making pasta with an iconic Southern staple. She wasn’t sure how the dish would go over since goat isn’t common in New Orleans, but it became the most popular dish on the menu and she now goes through 300 goats each week. These dishes, forging connections between the Caribbean and the Crescent City, helped ignite a conversation about the deeper, older Caribbean roots of New Orleans cuisine. Compton had successfully pulled up a seat at the New Orleans table.
With Bywater American Bistro, she’s setting it. It’s a restaurant that could only come from a chef completely at home; an idea that’s most obvious in its name, which stands in contrast to her first restaurant’s name. Unlike Compere Lapin, it doesn’t conjure images of a folkloric, French-speaking rabbit, and it doesn’t glorify Nina Compton herself. Instead, the name puts the place first. That was the most important part of naming the restaurant, according to Compton. Essentially, she was marketing her neighborhood.
Located in a large brick factory-turned-condo building, Bywater American Bistro stands right across the train track boundary between the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, just past the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) campus and steps from the river. Nearby, candy-colored Victorian doubles, Creole cottages, Greek revivals, and Italianate townhouses dot a neighborhood that was largely working class until after Katrina, when the neighborhood grew popular with creative types, a transformation that sparked controversy. If NOCCA is like the Bywater’s front door, Bywater American Bistro is like its kitchen, dining room, living room, and water cooler all rolled into one.
Miller manages Bywater American Bistro and Compere Lapin, the first restaurant he and James Beard Award-winning wife Nina Compton opened in New Orleans. At the former, the couple partnered with Compere’s sous chef Levi Raines (recently named a 2019 Eater Young Gun), to run the kitchen at the bistro, while Compton and Miller spend time in both restaurants.
(Excerpt from article written by Stephanie Carter)