Marigny area discoveries
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
Walk into Paladar 511 and you might notice a different vibe than many of the other eateries scattered throughout the Marigny. First may be the absence of attitude, which can sometimes intrude at restaurants downriver of the French Quarter. The other might be the low-key efficiency that thrums through the kitchen and spills out on the floor. Lastly and most obvious would be the opportunistic menu, which is ingredient-driven but with an eye for affordability – two positions that are often incompatible as the former usually negates the later. This is happily not the case here.
All three points make for a refreshing surprise, and Paladar 511 is a reflection of the trio of restaurateurs behind it. Jack Murphy and Susan Dunn are the pair behind San Francisco’s popular (and famously tiny) Pizzetta 211. Susan’s brother Ed was already a veteran of several Crescent City kitchens when the pair came down to visit a few years back. “Like a lot of people we just fell in love with the city at once and wanted to do a restaurant here,” Jack Murphy says.
Ed, a Marigny resident who knew the landscape and who also formerly worked at Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s, “knew a guy who knew the guy” who was spearheading the redevelopment of 511 Marigny St. The trio had an opportunity to view the raw space. “The tall ceilings, the brick walls, the natural light – we just fell in love. The perfect space to do what we wanted to do right where we wanted to do it,” Murphy says.
Murphy’s cooking ethos stems from San Francisco, which is another way of saying it’s seasonal and produce-driven. “We also have kind of an Italian/New American slant to it,” Murphy says. Think Italian-ish with California flair.” Pizzas, pastas and salads are his primary canvases for framing the goods. The menu changes often, but consider his touchstone pizza with San Marzano tomato, Mascarpone and arugula, a dish that’s also featured at his Bay Area restaurant.
Off the Starters menu, the goose egg-sized Fried Arancini peppered with braised beef short rib ragu and brightened with lemon are popular. “People have threatened to burn us down if we take that off,” Murphy says. The Yellowfin Tuna Conserva, complemented by seasonal produce and dressed in a basil aioli, is a pleaser as well.
Lamb, sourced from Two Run Farm, is a fixture on both the pizza and entrée menus, although its preparation may change. On my last meal I had a Lamb Sausage Pizza studded with dollops of Tzatziki sauce and arugula – a memorable dish. The dessert menu is short but pleasing. Prices are very reasonable, and it’s a good place to go with friends – family-style dining means you get to taste more of the offerings.
Over at the nearby Press Street Station, a recent change in the kitchen put chef James Cullen (formerly of the Tulane Avenue gastropub Trèo) in charge. The restaurant is the expression of a unique partnership with the NOCCA Institute, NOCCA’s nonprofit partner whose mission is to help support and promote NOCCA. “Our money goes back to the school,” Cullen explains. “We also support school events like the recent Marie Antoinette themed prix fixe dinner that ran in conjunction with a play.” Press Street Station helps to synthesize the creative energies of NOCCA as well as offer practical experience in the kitchen. It is one point of a larger culinary constellation that includes Press Street Gardens (where some of the restaurant’s produce is sourced from) and the Boxcar Food Truck (operated by NOCCA students as a senior project).
Upon taking the reins back, Cullen made a few big changes right off the bat. He switched it from a counter-service to a full-service restaurant. He also overhauled the menu, which he felt lacked a common thread. This resulted in a bistro-esque menu with a focused, Contemporary New Orleans vibe, a vision that smartly complements the modern, airy space which has its own artsy diner feel, reinforced by displays of art and products made by NOCCA students.
Brunch is a decidedly good time to visit. Sweet dishes like a Sweet Potato Brioche Pain Perdu, paired with spiced pecans and fruit compote, sit side-by-side with savory choices like the Bywater Benedict featuring a fried Poche’s boudin patty over grilled summer squash, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise with tomatoes. The squash comes from the nearby garden, and expect to see a substantial fall menu change once the produce offerings hit their late-season prime. In particular, keep an eye open for a pork chop plate dressed with chicory coffee gravy, Tasso braised mustard greens and a sweet potato purée.
“I’d also like to do daily plate specials and maybe incorporate more of the New Orleans vibe into the plate du jour,” Cullen says. “I think we’ll also do some themed prix fixe dinner series – those are fun to market, and our location has kind of a pop-up vibe.” Other draws include jazz brunch performances by students and alum on weekend. As this is NOCCA, the quality of the musicianship (as well as the food) is impressive.
Sweet on Satsuma
Satsuma Café on Dauphine Street offers healthy fare, including freshly squeezed juice combos, raw salads and more. Breakfast and brunch offerings are across the spectrum, from vegan-friendly to hangover-restorative bacon-and-cheese infusions. Patio seating during our short but sweet fall season is an additional plus, and the welcoming coffee shop vibe inside is always appealing.
511 Marigny St.
Dinner Wednesdays-Mondays, brunch
Saturdays & Sundays
Press Street Station
5 Press St.
Breakfast & lunch daily, weekend brunch