New Orleans Best New Restaurants
2011 Best New Restaurants by New Orleans Magazine
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Avocado Tomato Salad with chili-lime marinated cucumber
Inspired by Champagne Houses
Leon Touzet III and Pierre Touzet opened Ste. Marie with Robert LeBlanc early this year in a sleek space at 930 Poydras St. The Touzet brothers have a hand in Patois, where chef Aaron Burgau has been working wonders since 2007. LeBlanc’s company, LRG, operates Capdeville and the ultra chic lounge LePhare. LeBlanc has an interest in Sylvain as well, one of the best new gastropubs in town. With that kind of pedigree, it’s no surprise that Ste. Marie has taken off.
The restaurant’s décor melds modern and traditional. Architects Steve Dumez and Jack Sawyer didn’t shy away from the almost-industrial feeling of the building, but softened the space with plush window dressings and natural wood grains. A Sanborn map dating from the late 19th-century adorns the walls, giving the dining room a more traditional feel than the hard surfaces of the structure might otherwise present. It isn’t an intimate space, but it’s comfortable, and when the early evening light filters through the partially covered windows that face Poydras Street, it can be very nice indeed.
The restaurant named Chris Foster executive chef this spring, hiring him away from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain in New York City, where he had served as sous chef for years. Foster is originally from California but received his culinary training at the French Culinary Institute while working for Flay. His training is a good fit for the menu at Ste. Marie, which LeBlanc and the Touzet brothers claim was inspired by the champagne houses of France.
Escargot come over grilled ciabatta with bone marrow and parsley. Calf’s liver is served with cipollini in a take on the classic Lyonnaise preparation. Sharable portions of French fries, Gruyère and Emmentaler fondue and steamed mussels with chorizo and white wine are also available. The hanger steak with fries can be ordered with a choice between maître d’ butter, au poivre or bordelaise sauces, and foie gras can be added for an additional $18.
The menu isn’t all Gallic; Foster adds avocado mousse and ground coriander to a spicy tuna tartare that’s served over grilled country bread. Braised pork belly comes over truffled grits, and a simple avocado and tomato salad is accompanied by chile-lime-marinated cucumbers. Pasta is a good bet at Ste. Marie; the Parisienne gnocchi made with pâte à choux are light despite the cauliflower-cream sauce that drapes them, and the house-made pappardelle sauced with rabbit ragout is excellent.
The restaurant’s wine list is well thought out and fairly extensive, with a notably large selection of champagne and other sparkling wines. Prices are reasonable both for bottles and for the many choices available by the glass.
Specialty cocktails – de rigeur for restaurants these days – are named for actresses. The Loren is made from Campari, cherry heering, St. Germain and a splash of pineapple juice and garnished with an orange twist. The Welch is Svedka vodka, a splash of Glenlivet Scotch whisky and a lemon twist, and the Kelly is made from Sauza silver tequila, falernum, lime juice and simple syrup and garnished with sage.
Ste. Marie is a sophisticated spot that is a welcomed addition to the Central Business District and to the dining scene in New Orleans as a whole.
Ste. Marie, 930 Poydras St., 304-6988, stemarienola.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday; dinner Tuesday-Saturday
Thai Shrimp and Pork Meatballs on lemongrass skewers with dipping sauce
Mondo celebrated its first birthday in mid-June. I caught up with chef and owner Susan Spicer recently, who was preparing to leave for France after wrapping some filming on the set of “Treme.” I commented on her exciting life.
“Tell me about it,” she laughed. “I was thinking about that as I wiped down the floor of Bayona’s walk-in cooler around midnight last night. I was thinking, ‘Boy, this celebrity chef business sure is exciting!’”
Mondo has been barreling along, gathering accolades as well as expanded hours along the way. It now offers lunch Wednesday through Friday as well as Sunday brunch. And while Spicer’s name is the one most closely identified with Mondo, she’s quick to pass the credit to her chef de cuisine Cindy Crosbie, who handles its day-to-day operations. “All those great specials on the menu” Spicer says, “that’s all Cindy and her sous chef, Paul Chell. The best thing I did for Mondo was hire really talented people to run the show.” Crosbie brings her experience from top-notch resorts out in Colorado and on the West Coast. Chell brings his long relationship with Spicer from Bayona. General Manager Jenni Lynch, who brings her experience from both Gautreau’s and Bayona, as well as New York’s Aquagrill, rounds out the talent pool.
Mondo’s menu casts a wide net and defies categorization. Asian, Mediterranean and Latin fare are all represented here, along with a dash of Southern and a fair sample of local favorites. Best bets include Thai shrimp and pork meatballs, which have become a signature appetizer. Off the lunch menu, Southern comfort comes way of a grilled pimento cheese sandwich dressed with andouille and caramelized onions. Vietnamese meets a N’Awlins classic in the fried shrimp banh mi sandwich. Chef Crosbie’s pasta specials can be particularly inspired, as shown by her recent bowl of tender dumplings nested in a fragrant broth seasoned with soy and scented with star anise then layered with an assortment of mushrooms, both fresh and dried.
Sometimes Spicer and Crosbie’s concoctions happily converge, as in artichoke bread pudding with baked oysters doused with bacon and shallot cream sauce. “I came up with the bread pudding and oysters part, and Cindy came up with the cream that goes over it,” Spicer says. “That part pushes it over the edge into complete decadence.”
Yet for all its globetrotting, Mondo remains a neighborhood destination, for locals wanting to pop in for a wood-fired pizza and some mac-and-cheese for the little ones, they can find it here. And for others that want their Gulf fish dressed with a Uglesich’s-inspired Muddy Water’s sauce or a classic steak tartare, they’ll find that as well. Mondo may reside in Lakeview but, like the name says, it brings Lakeview the world.
Mondo, 900 Harrison Ave., 224-2633, mondoneworleans.com. Lunch Wednesday-Friday; dinner Monday-Saturday; brunch on Sunday; a snack menu is also available
And now, a sampling of “gastropubs”
There has been a surging subgenre of eateries around town lately. Loosely described as “gastropubs,” they fuse high-quality menus with specialty drinks in environments offering far more of a social component than traditional white tablecloth restaurants. A few feature live music. Some are extensions of already established restaurants (Chef John Harris’ Bouligny Tavern) and others are independent pop-ups (Sylvain). All serve ambitious food and are worth a visit, especially for diners looking to break the typical two-top weekend routine.
Sylvain (625 Chartres St., 265-8123, sylvainnola.com) carves out a personable nook in a high-traffic block of the French Quarter. Owner Sean McCusker’s place has already become a destination for locals, as well as a favorite for visiting film crews, who like the quality food along with the non-touristy vibe. “I like to say we serve white tablecloth food without the white tablecloths,” he says. “We keep the mood casual but the food at a high level.”
Chef Alex Harrell plays with French and Italian influences, including a popular pappardelle Bolognese. Comfort foods, such as the eponymous Chick-Syl-Vain sandwich and a porchetta poor boy keep the menu lighthearted. The food is complimented by an equally well-thought-out drink menu. “We’ve paid as much attention to the bar as we have to the food,” he says. “We squeeze our own juice and make our own colas, then branch out with ingredients and challenge our bartenders.”
The sexy, mid-century modern aesthetic of Bouligny (3641 Magazine St., 891-1810, boulignytavern.com) pairs well with John Harris’ menu, which offers a full spectrum of snacks to mix and match with the wines and cocktails (Dragon Milk Punch – rum, coconut milk, lime and fresh basil make this both a drink and a meal). Light appetites will be assuaged by a truffled creamy burrata cheese bruschetta. Others can indulge in fun with the Kobe pigs in a blanket. High-rollers are offered a contemporary reconsideration of that Gilded Age staple, caviar – in this case, a Bowfin version, Americanized with potato chips but with traditional accouterments.
Small plates rule at the sleek Oak Wine Bar (8118 Oak St., 302-1485, oaknola.com), whose menu was put together by chef and co-owner Aaron Burgau of Patois. On past visits I’ve sampled gnocchi laced with crisp Serrano ham and tangy-sweet mascarpone cheese. The fries are very good, as are snacks for noshing such as the salumi plate with fried Marcona almonds. Much of the menu is market-driven, so expect changes to reflect whatever is seasonal.
A specialty drink menu and a wine list categorized by notes (rather than region) fit with the progressive vibe. Live music, primarily jazz and acoustic folk, rounds out the appeal.
Like Oak, The Three Muses (536 Frenchman St., 298-TRIO (8746) thethreemuses.com) features live music. Chef Daniel Esses’ white tablecloth pedigree (stints at Peristyle and August, among others) shines through the casually eclectic menu. Along with low-brow offerings like buttermilk fried pickles, there are braised pork belly, yellowtail hamachi crudo and lamb sliders. A strong vegetarian section offers items such as mushroom gnocchi to accompany choice brews, including Abita’s potent Andygator.