ROBERT PEYTONEd. Note: With this issue we welcome Robert Peyton as our new Restaurant Insider columnist. Mr. Peyton is an attorney with an insatiable appetite for dining news, even by New Orleans standards. His Web site, appetites.us, was honored by this magazine as “Best New Orleans Food Blog” in our December 2006 Best in Dining issue. If you have any tips for Mr. Peyton you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meauxbar’s (924 N. Rampart St., across from Armstrong Park) summer menu is full of seafood dishes that are perfect for our warm weather. One of the best things on the menu right now is the Saffron Seafood Stew. It is a take on bouillabaisse, with absolutely fresh seafood in a rich broth flavored with fennel. The seafood – shrimp, bay scallops, crabmeat, mussels and a small fillet of mahi mahi topped with a spicy rouille – are all perfectly cooked.
A reader sent me an e-mail recently asking if I’d heard anything about Rene Bajeux, above right, and whether he might return to his former stomping grounds at the Windsor Court. In fact, the Windsor Court’s New Orleans Grill will be helmed by Greg Sonnier, below right, whose recent travails received a great deal of attention in the press. Chef Bajeux is currently on a leave of absence from his eponymous Bistrot in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel and it doesn’t appear that he will be returning to his position. (At the time we go to press with this column, the hotel has not found a replacement for him.) The Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel currently has a target date of October to reopen the restaurant and thus an announcement on who will be heading the kitchen should be forthcoming.
Cuvee (322 Magazine St.) is open for lunch but only on Wed. and Thurs. The three course prix fixe menu ($24) is a pretty good deal, featuring a selection of starters, entrées and desserts. The highlight of my last meal there was a spectacularly rich “barbequed” veal dish that sported Chef Iacavone's famous sweet-heat glaze. Cochon’s (930 Tchoupitoulas St.) spicy grilled pork ribs with watermelon pickles came to my mind recently when I ate at Cafe Dégas (3127 Esplanade Ave.). There's a boudin noir that shows up on the specials menu, accompanied by a watermelon pickle, watercress and a thick, sweet glaze which pairs well with the spiciness of the sausage and the cress.
In the category of things you don’t see enough of in New Orleans, Vega Tapas Cafe has an outstanding dish featuring slow-roasted goat meat in a pastry shell with chile oil that’s knock-your-socks-off tender and rich. The Cabrito Beignets, as the menu describes them, aren’t always available, since the restaurant can’t always get the whole young goat they use to prepare it. When it is, it’s a must-order.
Vega’s kitchen also has a very light hand with fried foods. Croquettes of potato, chicken and ham, for example, or beautiful fried goat-cheese dumplings that adorn a roasted beet “carpaccio” come to mind. If you’re not in the mood for something fried, Vega’s cold tapas are also seasonal.