Sep 30, 201012:00 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
In Which The Reader Learns That I Love Tongue
The chicken liver terrine included chunks of rabbit and ground pork and was served with pickled cauliflower.
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
The concept of “nose to tail” eating is probably most associated with chef Fergus Henderson, whose cookbook of the same name was published in 1999. Five years earlier, Henderson opened the St. John restaurant in London. There Henderson cooked British food, with an emphasis on the rural cooking of his native land and on cuts of meat that weren’t often seen in fine-dining restaurants at the time.
Eating all parts of the animal never really fell out of favor in less developed parts of the world, where people make use of every edible cut out of necessity, but Henderson and other like-minded cooks reintroduced such cuts as ox heart, lamb kidney, chitterlings and pig trotters to folks who would not otherwise have dreamed of eating them.
I’m starting my discussion of the newly opened restaurant Feast by referencing Henderson because Feast owes a great deal to the chef, his restaurant and his philosophy. That would be clear from Feast’s menu alone; both the food on offer and the design are strikingly similar to the London eatery. That is not to say that owners Richard Knight and James and Meagan Silk are guilty of culinary plagiarism; Richard and James grew up in England, and James worked at St. John before coming to the United States. They come to their love of whole-beast cooking honestly. And although many fine-dining restaurants now have one or two dishes that include offal, no place has the focus that Feast does.
Feast is located in the space that was most recently the Creole Skillet, 200 Julia St. The brick walls and exposed wooden columns and beams might not immediately recall an English pub, but the 19th-century-style art on the walls helps, and the overall feel is homey.
Knight and the Jameses opened the first Feast in Houston in 1998. The New Orleans venture is their first expansion, and their decision to join the ever-growing number of restaurants opening here is a stroke of luck for locals who love meat. The menu features items such as braised lamb’s or pig’s tongue; terrines made with such ingredients as rabbit belly, pork and chicken liver; and a half of a roasted pig’s head (for two) served with roasted root vegetables. Seafood dishes include fish-and-scallop pie topped with cheese and leek mashed potatoes; bouillabaisse with fish, shrimp, and mussels; and pan-roasted grouper with peas, bacon and tomato.
I’ve managed to eat twice at Feast, and I’m optimistic that the better dishes I sampled will end up predominating over some of the things I didn’t like as well. Put another way, the kitchen has demonstrated the capacity to impress me, and I expect that over time it will become more consistent.
On my first visit I started with the terrine mentioned above. It can be difficult to avoid overcooking chicken liver, but the whole livers layered between chunks of rabbit meat and ground pork avoided that pitfall. The whole thing was delicious. It was served with pickled cauliflower seasoned (and colored) with turmeric. The pickle was tart and crisp and provided a good balance to the dish.
I also tried the pork rasher with creamy brussels sprouts on that first visit. I tend to enjoy savory dishes that flirt with sweetness, but the rasher (think a thick slice of bacon) was so sweet that it could have been served as dessert. The sprouts were very good, but the thin sauce did them no favors.
The final dish I had that night was one of the best things I have put in my mouth this year: braised lamb’s tongue with root vegetables, served in a powerfully flavorful broth. If tongue is an acquired taste, it’s one I acquired many years ago. Tongue is a dense muscle, but when cooked properly, it can be incredibly tender. They did an admirable job at Feast. The tongue was tender but not falling apart, and I enjoyed the parsnips that joined carrots and potatoes as an accompaniment. I had already eaten the terrine and some of the very rich pork rasher at that point, but the tongue was so good that I damn near finished the large portion served to me.
There was no way I could eat dessert, but I wanted to try something. Of the selections available, the lemon yogurt cake seemed to be the best choice to take on the road. I tasted it later and found it light and not too sweet, with a little tang from the lemon and yogurt. It’s something I’d order again, though I’d also like to try the sticky toffee pudding or the spotted dick with custard.
The second time I ate at Feast I experienced neither the highs nor the lows of my first meal there. I started with the French fish soup with croutons, rouille and grated cheddar cheese. The soup was dark and rich, but it was over-salted. The peppery rouille was very good spread onto the croutons and topped with cheddar cheese but couldn’t make up for the briny soup.
My friend started with the Spanish-style meatballs, which were served in a tomato sauce topped with mint. These were good, though I found the tomato sauce to be a little sweet. My friend disagreed, and both of us really liked the mint.
For an entree I had roast rabbit loins over garlic mashed rutabaga and mustard greens, and my friend had “soused” guinea fowl with herbed potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli. We ordered whiskey prunes as a side, and I’m glad we did because while the rabbit loins were just a shade on the dry side, the guinea fowl was pretty desiccated. Eaten with the whiskey-soaked prunes, it was OK –– but not what it could have been. I wasn’t particularly fond of the mashed rutabagas that came with the rabbit, but the greens were perfect, as were the mushrooms that came with the guinea fowl. Both dishes suffered from a little too much salt.
Service on both occasions was very good. The servers know the menu and are attentive. The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license yet, but there is no corkage fee, which tends to lower the bill considerably.
Feast is open Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until around 10 p.m., and for lunch on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call them at 304-6318 to learn more.