Feb 17, 201112:00 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
Following Up: Ste. Marie
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
I was having a conversation with my dear friend George Clooney the other day. “George,” I said, “I just wrote briefly about this restaurant Ste. Marie, but I was thinking I’d write about it in more detail this week nonetheless.” George didn’t say anything, probably because he was on my TV, and thus the conversation was one-sided, but I think he’d agree with my decision because now that I’ve had more than one meal at Ste. Marie, it’s worth further discussion.
The space Ste. Marie occupies at 930 Poydras St. is sandwiched between an iteration of the local pizza chain Reginelli’s and a Jamba Juice franchise. Ste. Marie is not as casual as either of its neighbors, but it’s a better fit into the architecture of the building housing it. The restaurant’s dining area is a single room, decorated in shades of brown and gray. Light-colored wood backs the bar and forms a partition near the entrance, and brown drapes partially cover the wall of windows that faces Poydras Street. The restaurant commissioned local artist Tommy Hebert to paint a mural that covers the three walls not facing the street with a Sanborn map of the city dating from 1895.
The granite bar anchors the back wall of the space, and Ste. Marie hasn’t ignored the current trend toward “craft” cocktails. Drinks are named after actresses from decades past. The Hepburn is Sazerac rye, Pimms, Dolin vermouth and amarena cherry; the Kelly combines tequila with falernum, lime juice, simple syrup and a sage leaf. There is a larger than usual selection of champagne on the wine list, which is otherwise about what you’d expect, with a pretty wide selection of wine in price and geographic origin.
The food I’ve had at Ste. Marie has been good. The sweetbreads served over farro with kale and a tarragon reduction stood out on my first visit, though the snails were a close second. The sweetbreads were cooked perfectly - tender morsels with a crisp exterior - and their inherent richness went well with the whole grains of wheat and the slightly bitter kale. The escargots were served in a rich sauce over slices of ciabatta bread with a parsley salad. Parsley is generally derided as a mere garnish, but there’s a reason that it’s one of the most common herbs in our kitchens. It can lighten a dish, and the escargots at Ste. Marie is a perfect example of that quality.
Ste. Marie’s Parisienne gnocchi are of the French variety, which is to say they are made from pâte à choux instead of potato. On the menu they are served with cauliflower, country ham and English peas, but when I had them, the peas were replaced by butternut squash. There was perhaps a bit too much ham in the dish, but that’s a complaint that I’m more likely to have than most people. The dumplings were feather-light, and I really liked the pairing with cauliflower and squash; the three provided different textures and tastes.
The rabbit I ordered at one dinner came two ways: a confit of leg and mustard-braised saddle over pitch-perfect spaetzle, with pickled fennel to accompany. Spaetzle can be tough, and they’re often drowned in butter, but at Ste. Marie that was not the case. Like both versions of the rabbit, the spaetzle were toothsome and delicious, though I failed to detect much mustard in the dish. The pickled fennel was, again, a welcome contrast to the rest of the dish, contributing some acid and a good bit of crisp texture, as well.
At a more recent lunch, rabbit was offered as a paillard over a salad of arugula with olives and shavings of Parmesan cheese and a satsuma vinaigrette. The rabbit – saddle only this time – was pounded flat and grilled. I was a little surprised that it wasn’t over-cooked, but certainly not disappointed. There was a bit more to the arugula salad than just arugula, and while I’m sure the extra greens were edible, I didn’t recognize them and put them to the side. I did enjoy the pungency of the olives and the sweetly acidic dressing.
A tuna steak served with fregola pasta and a sauce of capers, olives, and roasted tomatoes was garnished with basil oil. The fish was nice, as was the pasta and the sauce. The basil oil was more interesting for the color it added to the plate than the flavor or aroma. A friend who dined with me recently had the steak frites: a hanger steak with thinly cut fries that he ordered with the au poivre sauce. He enjoyed it, and I thought the fries were excellent. I am, however, partial to thinly cut crisp fries. I am also partial to Ernest Borgnine, so take that as you will. Ste. Marie is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday, until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. You can contact the restaurant at 304-6988.
I’ve had good meals at Ste. Marie, and I’d be interested to hear your experiences there or anywhere else you’ve dined lately.