News From the Kitchens
Poke Loa, Lula Restaurant-Distillery & Saffron Nola
Jeffery Johnston Photographs
Poke Loa opened in February in a space formerly occupied by Jamba Juice at the corner of Magazine and Louisiana streets. It is a straightforward concept, diners build a meal around Poke (“Poe-kay”), a native Hawaiian dish that usually features cubed, raw fish.
You choose your base from greens, white or brown rice, and your protein from plain or spicy tuna, salmon, yellowtail, octopus or tofu. Next, you pick a sauce from a list including ponzu, sesame oil, wasabi, sriracha or lemon miso aioli, and toppings such as sesame seeds, pickled ginger, cilantro, crispy fried onion, cucumber, Japanese rice seasonings, and more. A regular bowl ($11.50) comes with two scoops of protein, and a large ($13.50) comes with three; you can mix and match, and an extra scoop is only $2.50.
As you might expect, Poke is only as good as the main ingredient, and I can happily report that on my visit the fish was top-notch. The place also seemed to be doing a brisk business, which is good because it ensures rapid turnover of the highly perishable main ingredients. The assembly-line service means that even when it’s crowded, you won’t wait very long.
As I write, there’s only one location of Poke Loa, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see additional locations open before long. Poke Loa is located at 3341 Magazine St., and is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily. Call 309-9993 for more information.
Lula Restaurant-Distillery is the first business in Louisiana made possible after owners, chef Jess Bourgeois, his wife Erin and their partner, distiller Bear Caffery, helped pass the 2015 law allowing small-scale distilleries to both serve and make retail sales of liquor on-site.
The operation completely renovated the former Halpern’s Furniture on St. Charles Avenue. There is a long bar, massive brass stills behind a glass wall, and an outdoor seating and private event space adjoining the main dining room.
When I went they’d only just opened, and the menu was abbreviated. The liquors, though, were up and running, and include rum, vodka and gin, all made with Louisiana sugarcane.
The menu is diverse, with offerings such as escargot broiled with oyster mushrooms, garlic and trotter sauce, sugarcane pork skewers with a spiced rum glaze, braised rabbit with white beans, pickled pork and herbed breadcrumbs. Sandwiches include a cheeseburger on brioche, pork tenderloin with pear, Havarti, arugula and garlic aioli and grilled chicken with bacon and avocado on Pullman bread.
Lula, 1532 St. Charles Ave., is open Sundays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until 11 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays; call 267-7624 for distillery tours.
Saffron Nola opens its new venture on Magazine Street in the next few weeks. What started as a catering operation on the West Bank turned into a once-weekly restaurant, open for dinner on Friday nights. Without much fanfare those weekly dinners became one of the more difficult tables in town to get, because the food was simply that good.
The menu at Saffron Nola isn’t limited to Indian standards. Though you’ll find chicken tikka masala and dal makhni, you can also order a lentil-flour pancake stuffed with lump crabmeat and served with house-made mint and date-tamarind chutneys; Gulf fish in a coconut-herb curry with curd-rice and mango chutney; and a curried seafood gumbo.
There is a sophistication to the cooking at Saffron that challenges expectations. It isn’t a “fusion” restaurant. Rather it’s an Indian restaurant that takes advantage of the bounty we have available here, and which incorporates certain elements of other cuisines while keeping true to the spirit of the original.
Saffron Nola’s new location will be open, hopefully, by the time you read this, at 4128 Magazine St., and will be open, initially, for weeknight dinner, and brunch on Saturday, with plans for lunch service, too. Call 363-2174 to learn more.