Dec 31, 200912:00 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Catch of the Day

Shellfish stew is a standout on the menu at Catch.

Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton

Catch opened some months ago at 3226 Magazine St. as something of a gastro-pub with a focus on seafood. Gastro-pubs are a category of restaurant that’s immensely popular in the UK but hasn’t really caught on in this country. The idea is a casual place that serves drinks and casual food but is also capable of turning out fine cuisine. And no, the cheese fries at Fat Harry’s or Cooter Brown’s, though delicious, do not count as fine cuisine.

Catch has a few handicaps where the gastro-pub concept is concerned –– and a few misses on the menu, as well –– but overall it’s a pleasant-enough place. The restaurant is owned by Hicham Khodr, a restaurateur who also owns the Middle Eastern restaurant Byblos just a few doors down on the downtown side of that block of Magazine. Khodr also runs the show now at the Camellia Grill and is a partner with Emeril Lagasse at NOLA. He’s a savvy businessman, and Catch’s menu suffers just a bit from what seems to be a calculation on how to attract the most customers by casting a wide net.

That’s not to say that the menu doesn’t have some hits. Among my other weaknesses, I’m an Anglophile: I play soccer, I can quote P.G. Wodehouse, and when pressed, I’ll put on an accent that makes that Geico gecko sound like a Chalmatian. I’m also rather fond of fish and chips, and Catch does an excellent job with the pub classic.

The fish, sole, is fried in an Abita beer batter flavored with curry. When I had it, the fish was perfectly cooked, and the batter was crisp and light. There wasn’t a lot of curry flavor to the dish, but a hint was enough. The menu claims that the dish is served with sweet potato fries, but the “chips” I was served were of the ordinary sort. That’s fine by me; I prefer standard fries to the sweet potato variety, which I find never get crisp enough. The dish also comes with a cumin-lime aioli, and if I didn’t get a lot of cumin, it was all to the good. Fish and chips is an iconic dish, and the less fuss involved, the better.

Grilled oysters are ubiquitous these days, I suppose, but I really don’t care as long as they’re good. There are three kinds at Catch: garlic-Parmesan, Asian barbecue and cilantro-pistachio pesto. They were all pretty good; the garlic-Parmesan version reminded me a little of the classic Drago’s preparation, and the cilantro-pistachio version was better than I expected.

The kitchen definitely has a facility with the fryer; the hush puppies that come out before you order are fried well, and the crab, smoked jalapeño and cheddar hush puppies on the starters menu are also very well-done. I would not order the shrimp and Napa cabbage dumplings again, but perhaps I caught the kitchen on an off day when I had them: They were bitter and had been overcooked.

Fried catfish is another iconic dish, and Catch does a good job with it. The fillets are served over Southern-cooked greens and alongside a Creole potato salad. Again, the fish was cooked properly, and the greens were very good, but the potato salad wasn’t memorable.

I would order the shellfish stew again. It was a rich, spicy broth stuffed with clams, mussels, shrimp and andouille. The menu said that mahi-mahi was also involved, but there was no evidence of that in my bowl. No matter –– it was still very good. The “red pepper toast” that’s served alongside the dish seemed something of an afterthought, but the rouille-like sauce was tasty when I dragged a shrimp through it.

There’s gumbo on the menu but also a tomato-basil soup with a white cheddar panini. A Caesar salad shares space with a dill-cured salmon and celery root salad with watercress and buttermilk dressing. The list of starters also includes fried artichoke hearts with a Dijon-caper aioli and a Louisiana crabmeat and four-cheese pizza. It is eclectic, in other words.

In addition to the entrées I’ve already mentioned, there’s a shepherd’s pie, a rosemary-balsamic grilled New York strip and spaghetti and homemade meatballs. This is a menu that aims to please everyone.

Catch occupies the space that was once Semolina’s Bistro Italia. Floor-to- ceiling windows face Magazine Street, and the kitchen is visible through a bank of half-windows on the rear wall of the dining room. The space is painted in browns and grays, with an occasional splash of color from installations such as the circular light fixture suffused with blue light that hangs over the center of the dining room. It’s not a particularly pub-like atmosphere, but it’s not unpleasant either.

The service I’ve experienced has been pretty good –– friendly if a bit rehearsed. The restaurant is managed by professionals, and that’s always a good sign for the future. The chef at Catch is Ryan Gall, whose experience locally was with Ruth’s Chris Steak House and who was also formerly the executive sous chef at Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House.

Catch hasn’t been open long enough to give it a true review, and I haven’t sampled most of the menu. The shortcomings I’ve experienced have been the kinds of things that will probably be corrected with time. Considering the high points on the menu, I’d give Catch a shot, were I you. If you do go or have been, please let me know your experience in the comments below. Also, you might consider making a donation to the Robert D. Peyton Fund for Food Writers Who Want Money Fund. It’s a fund! Contact me for more information about giving me –– I mean the fund –– money, and for more information about Catch, call them at (504) 371-5809.

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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