Nov 12, 200912:00 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
The Green Goddess is located in Exchange Alley, one of the more interesting parts of the city.
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
Chris DeBarr is a food evangelist. During his time at the Delachaise, he helmed one of the city’s most eclectic and interesting kitchens. When the owners of the wine bar decided to scale back the food, DeBarr moved on. After months bouncing around and picking up work here and there, he and Paul Artigues (most recently of Surrey’s Juice Bar) opened the Green Goddess in May of this year at 307 Exchange Alley.
The Green Goddess picks up where DeBarr left off at the Delachaise. Although the menu has items that appear to be standard fare –– a meatloaf sandwich or Father Pat’s Grilled Cheese –– things are not always what they seem. The meatloaf combines ground bison and bacon, for example, and the grilled cheese is made with Cahill’s Irish porter cheese and pear butter.
DeBarr is fond of exotic ingredients: A blue corn crepe is stuffed with ink-black huitlacoche (corn fungus) and lobster mushrooms and then finished with a brandy ragout, and a South Indian utthappam, a savory lentil pancake, combines petite peas, mustard seeds and kalonji (a tiny black seed with an onion-like flavor), spiced tomatoes and a crunchy dal. He’s also served the pancake with grilled shrimp and young coconut slaw.
If you enjoy reading about how a creative mind puts those kind of dishes together, then you should check out DeBarr’s LiveJournal. DeBarr is not only a talented, creative chef but also an excellent writer. What comes across in his Web site is how motivated he is by the desire to share new ingredients and flavors with people. It’s damn near infectious stuff if you love food.
Although DeBarr may be the principal creative force at the Green Goddess, Artigues is no slouch. One of the best things I’ve eaten at the Green Goddess was his Lox & Blini. Artigues brines Scottish salmon and then shaves it thinly and plates it with corn blini and garnishes of cucumber; capers; fresh, mild chèvre; and wasabi tobiko (tiny fish eggs most commonly seen at sushi bars). The fish is sublime, with a melting texture and a deep flavor that you cannot get from packaged lox. Wrap some in a blini with a slice or two of cucumber, some cheese and maybe a few capers, and you’re in business.
The restaurant itself is tiny. There are seats for perhaps 14 or 15 inside, though there are plans to put a couple more tables in a hallway adjacent to the main space. But in good weather, the option to dine outside is impossible to refuse. Exchange Alley has always fascinated me. It’s one of those parts of the Quarter that reminds you we are the most European city in the United States. The Green Goddess is almost directly across from the Pelican Club and benefits from that restaurant’s exterior design.
If the dining area is tiny, then the kitchen at the Green Goddess is microscopic. It’s all electric, too, meaning that DeBarr and Artigues are somewhat limited in what they can produce à la minute. That doesn’t stop them from serving food that’s been partially prepared off-site, as in the smoked duck and chestnut pasta that’s served with wild mushrooms, caraway seed, duck-fat-braised Napa cabbage, Dutch Gouda and cream.
DeBarr and Artigues planned the Green Goddess as a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, and the menu reflects their belief that vegetarians deserve food made with the same care and attention to detail as food for the rest of us. There are always several vegetarian options on the menu, and many of those can be prepared as vegan –– which, I think, means “no bacon” or something similar. It’s all very confusing.
You really can’t talk about the Green Goddess without addressing drinks. I mean, you could, but you’d be making a mistake. Here, too, DeBarr’s love of the exotic comes up. One of the best cocktails on the menu is the Brazilian Samba, in which white tea, cashew fruit juice, agave nectar and ice cubes made with coconut juice are combined with 12-year-old Guyana rum. Now personally, I didn’t know there was a cashew fruit, let alone juice, but I can tell you it’s delicious. The Harem’s Secret is Miller’s Gin mixed with rose petal syrup, pomegranate juice and orange bitters. Even the mint julep gets a twist, with the inclusion of ginger syrup and Maine Root Ginger Brew. The wine list is small, as befits the size of the place, but interesting, with multiple options available by the glass. The list of beers shows similar care in the selections, and DeBarr often features new brews that he comes across, such as a Corsican amber beer brewed with chestnut flour.
For the end of the meal, there’s a choice of cheeses, some very good desserts (try the sticky coconut black rice pudding with fruit and tapioca pearls, trust me) and dessert wines.
There are occasional hitches in the food –– on one occasion my utthappam was undercooked –– but those are exceptions to the rule. Service is of the friendly rather than stuffy variety, but it’s efficient.
The Green Goddess is the kind of place where you’ll do best if you bring an open mind and an open palate with you to the table. The restaurant is open for brunch and lunch seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and for dinner from Thursday to Sunday, from 5 p.m. to midnight. DeBarr has been talking about opening for dinner on Wednesdays, as well, but that has not yet happened, at least to my knowledge.
Because the place is relatively small, I’d recommend giving them a call before driving from too far away. You can reach them at 301-3347.