Feb 10, 201012:00 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Besh Continues To Inspire Reverence at August

Veal breast over horseradish whipped potatoes with a sauce enriched with porcini mushrooms and fresh cherries at August

Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton

August is one of the three or four best restaurants in New Orleans. It’s a beautifully designed space, with a classic dark wood bar at the entrance, high ceilings in the main dining room and a smaller wood-paneled room adjacent. There’s ample light from huge windows during the day and chandeliers at night. Red-patterned fabric covering the chairs recalls the brick that comprises the walls. In its décor, August would not be out of place in New York. But August is unmistakably a New Orleans restaurant.

That’s true because even Besh’s most fanciful dishes are centered on the use of excellent local ingredients. Some of those ingredients are sourced from local producers, and some come from the farm surrounding La Provence, Besh’s restaurant in Lacombe. There, Besh also raises chickens, pigs, cows and goats for his six restaurants.

When talented chefs prepare cuts of meat that are more associated with peasant cuisine, it always piques my curiosity. Besh excels in preparation of offal and the kind of cuts that require long, slow cooking. 

For example, some months ago at August, I had a dish of veal breast served over horseradish whipped potatoes with a sauce enriched with porcini mushrooms and fresh cherries. It was unctuous, tender and had a richness just barely contained by the cherries and horseradish. 

More recently the kitchen turned out a bowl of handmade cavatelli pasta with tripe, rapini, bone marrow and a pipérade sauce. Tripe can be a difficult item to do properly. If it’s undercooked, it can be tough. If it’s overcooked, it can be mushy. The tripe I had was meltingly tender and rich, the perfect foil for the slightly spicy sauce of peppers, tomatoes and onions. The cavatelli was cooked through, with just enough resistance for me to use the word “resistance” in this sentence. Damn, that was meta

There’s currently a fascination among restaurants for house-cured products, and August is not immune. A house-smoked salmon and potato “latke” appetizer I ordered during my last lunch at August was served with a bright purple beet crème fraîche and small balls of “caramel apples” topped with micro-greens. The salmon was folded, sandwiched between crispy rounds of potato in the style of a napoleon and placed above a wider circle of crème fraîche ringed by a deep-green parsley oil. The result was a visually stunning dish that was also delicious.

Lunch at August is now available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there is both a prix fixe menu for $20.10 and a la carte selections. The fixed menu offers three choices for each course, and in addition to the salmon and tripe I mentioned above, the menu from my last lunch also included a white shrimp bisque with shrimp-stuffed mirliton “dumplings,” a pâté de campagne of Berkshire pork from the farm at La Provence garnished with candied quince and a porcini marmalade.

The other entrees when I was at August last were stewed green lentils with bacon (also from La Provence, which has a large smokehouse on the premises), and olive oil-poached lemon fish with a Meyer lemon risotto and celery heart salad. I honestly could have ordered any of the dishes above and eaten happily.

Tell me you’re serving something that is “fried” and “chocolate,” and I will eat it nine times out of 10, despite the fact that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. So to complete the meal I ordered the dark chocolate-filled pastry fritters. One fritter was served with finely shaved chocolate over an apple compote, another with quince, and a third with a citrus cream and slivers of candied lemon peel. In the interest of completeness, the other desserts were fresh cheese crepes with green apple-cardamom ice cream and spiced rum and Everona Dairy Piedmont cheese dipped in a tempura batter, fried and served with Louisiana strawberries. I’ve had the tempura-fried cheese on a previous occasion, and it is the only thing I wouldn’t recommend. Although the cheese may have changed since I had the dish, what I was served was not improved by frying, and I don’t think dipping it in chocolate would have helped.

Chef John Besh is sometimes criticized for being an absentee chef, but that’s such a facile criticism that it doesn’t really warrant a response beyond the observation that success breeds jealousy. Regardless of how you feel about his frequent appearances in the media or the number of his restaurants, the evidence of his ability as a chef is on display at August. Every meal I have there reinforces the conclusion I stated in the first sentence of this piece –– that August is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans.

Dinner is served at August from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., nightly. The menus change frequently, but you can get a sense of the food by clicking on the sample menus here. Contact the restaurant at (504) 299-9777 for reservations, or more information.

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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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