The neighborhood formerly referred to as Warehouse District
Mesón 923’s Pork Belly appetizer
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
At a recent party I made the faux pas of referring to the Warehouse District as the Warehouse District. “We call it the ‘American Sector’ now,” a resident corrected me. Ouch, but fair enough. Historically, that’s what the neighborhood was once called, and I’m nothing if not a stickler for historic verisimilitude. Give credit to John Besh, who jumped on the phrase for his outpost in The National World War II Museum, referencing both New Orleans and the war’s history in one creative swoop. The moniker also makes sense from a restaurant perspective, since the neighborhood offers some of the most diverse and progressive dining our city has to offer. More places keep opening, as well. Here are two more fun options for dining in the, ahem, “Sector”:
The fine dining end of the spectrum has a new addition in the sleek Mesón 923, headed by Executive Chef Chris Lynch. He brings his years of experience at Emeril’s, which he helped reopen after Hurricane Katrina and worked as sous chef for the next five years. “I learned a tremendous amount at Emeril’s,” Lynch says. “There is this misconception that Emeril’s serves heavy, old-school New Orleans food. Actually, it’s quite progressive. My menu at Mesón isn’t too far off from the stuff that I came up with there for specials and tastings. It is all ingredient-driven, seasonal cuisine.”
Lynch’s menu is striking in its deft assemblage of Spanish, French and Mediterranean cuisine – the primary building blocks of “New Orleans” cooking. But these influences are teased out of the heavy mix and treated lightly, weighted toward fresh seafood, herbs and produce that are unencumbered from the heavier styling of more traditional New Orleans fare.
To showcase his affection for things that swim in the sea, Lynch rounds up his menu with a seafood-centric Crudo section for starters. Try the Diver Scallops, sliced thin and drizzled with an emulsion including truffle oil and soy sauce, dressing with micro-herbs and plated upon an airy purée of cauliflower. Tuna Carpaccio gets paired with pickled onion, fennel and lemon, and accompanied with grilled sections of baguette. “I really have an affinity for raw fish,” Lynch says.
Diners who want to stay on dry land can choose from several poultry, pork and steak options, many of which are prepared sous vide, like his ultra-tender beef filet that gets paired with parmesan-potato mousse and a truffle-flavored Perigord sauce. “We are starting to sous vide our vegetables a good bit as well; that way they retain a lot of their natural intensity in the cooking process,” Lynch says. “Also, our 12-hour Pork Belly appetizer is done sous vide. Our vacuum machine and thermo-circulators have seen a lot of action.”
The newly built space is very attractive. The dining room is on the second floor, accessed by an elevator, and parking, the Achilles heel of the neighborhood, can be accommodated by valet service. The restaurant draws strength from its kitchen staff, to which Lynch gives much respect. “I lucked out with the cooks. I put out an anonymous ad and I got some of the best cooks I’ve ever worked with. They are coming from Donald Link, from Scott Boswell, from Tory McPhail. I lucked out. They are bringing a lot to the table and I’m learning from them as well.”
Father’s Day is upon us, and if Dad likes his drinks straight and his music rockin’, then Capdeville is the place for him. An American interpretation of a British social house, it’s the latest offering from Lifestyle Revolution Group, creators of Loa and LePhare. Owner Robert LeBlanc envisions it as a male counterpart to these other properties – one that caters to more of a lunch and happy hour crowd. “Capdeville is designed well but it isn’t delicate,” LeBlanc says. “We wanted to celebrate whiskey and rock ‘n’ roll while doing accessible gourmet interpretations of traditional bar food.”
The space was formerly the cafeteria for McGlinchey Stafford, but the subsequent renovation transformed it into a spacious and contemporary shrine to music and good times. Grab a table along a wall hung with classic album covers and dive into an inspired pub menu put together by Marcus Wooden, the sous chef from Patois. Dad’s cardiologist will be aghast to learn that Wooden has concocted an appetizer of Fried Red Beans and Rice, shaped into spheres and served with aioli and deliciously smoky Chipotle Tabasco. Fried Green Tomatoes get dressed up with an Oyster and Tasso cream sauce, and if you must eat something light Capdeville offers a Chicken Lettuce Wrap inspired by a blend of different cultures.
Capdeville is unique in that it’s the only place in New Orleans I’ve seen that serves Poutine: a Québécois cousin of cheese fries made with cheese curds and smothered in peppery gravy. These are made with a softer mozzarella curd as opposed to the more traditional cheddar, which doesn’t impart the same “squeak” when you bite into it. If Poutine isn’t your cup of tea, try the Spanish-influenced Chorizo and Manchego Fries. Their Mayor Burger gets some sauciness from Balsamic Red Onions and Chipotle Ketchup, and the Black and Blue Burger gets its complex flavor from bacon, blue cheese, Cajun spice mix and Worcestershire Mayo. A specialty drink menu revolves primarily around whiskey, including LeBlanc’s favorite: the Dietzen’s Whiskey Smash, made with Rebel Reserve, Orange Curacao, sugar, lemon juice and mint. “That one was named for a lawyer friend of ours,” LeBlanc says.
“He kept us legal.”
More than anything else, LeBlanc is proud to be a witness to the burst of creative energy centered in the building and surrounding area, including organizations such as Launch Pad and Idea Village. “It has been great to see all the synergy developed by these young, dynamic tech companies. They are really sharing resources, and there are just some amazing things happening. And we’re the ones who get to buy them the beer to toast their success.”