Where seafood is the specialty
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
Weary of the same old seafood dishes? The thought may be hard to fathom, but it happens. Luckily, New Orleans has several places with fresh takes if the idea of yet another blackened redfish or trout amandine fills you with ennui. And with fall flipping the switch for richer, more complex flavors, now is a good time to dive into some of the more diverse seafood menus around town.
GW Fins has long been a go-to place for seafood lovers, with a menu that offers a wider array of choices than just about anywhere else. The volume is high and the sourcing top-notch, both good indicators of quality. Fresh off a kitchen renovation, owner Tenney Flynn recently stepped down from his longtime role as executive chef, promoting his longtime chef de cuisine Mike Nelson into the position.
“Mike is doing a lot of really interesting stuff. But then again the chef de cuisine usually does a lot of interesting stuff that the executive chef takes credit for, right?” Flynn points out.
“So now he’s got his due.”
Chef Nelson has already made his mark, punching up the menu with innovations like Fins Wings, a way to trim a fish collar so that it can be held and eaten like a chicken wing, making a cut like collar (delicious and popular in Japanese cuisine) more accessible. Preparations vary, but recently included tempura-style with a Korean glaze. Such methods aren’t just tasty, they represent a sustainable ethos that has long been a focus of GW Fins, which features a remarkable array of primarily Gulf seafood.
“Many places only have three or four fish on the menu,” Flynn points out. “We buy our fish whole and always have at least 10 or 12, just with the entrées.” Variety is one thing; the menu is another. The kitchen at GW Fins is set up more like a steakhouse rather than a seafood restaurant, with standardized preparations that can be applied to a variety of fish, giving them flexibility to adapt to the best of what the market has to offer. “If the tuna boats aren’t coming in and I don’t want to import tuna, tuna comes off the menu,” Flynn explains.
Recent appetizers there included a terrific tuna tartare, served in a molded cylinder veneered with micro-planed sections of watermelon radish and garnished with diced mango and microgreens. An entrée of local drum was crosshatched and pan-fried to yield a distinctive “cracklin’ crust,” then plated atop butternut squash, green beans, shitakes and pecans with a nutty splash of brown butter bringing it together – a wonderfully seasonal dish. For dessert, consider the Salty Malty: an ice cream pie with a pretzel crust and caramel whipped cream.
Like GW Fins, Pêche shines a light on Gulf seafood. This seafood-centric outpost of Donald Link’s Restaurant Group also buys their fish whole and breaks them down in-house, with an emphasis on using all off the parts – the aquatic equivalent of nose-to-tail. Unlike GW Fins, though, their menu has a more regional focus. “We definitely have a southern slant,” says Executive Chef Ryan Prewitt. “We try to keep things straightforward – the idea is just to let the seafood speak for itself and then use what we have around us to augment the flavor.” Augmentations include regional produce and accoutrements such as house-made pickles and hot sauces. Much as Cajun and Southern influences shape the menu at Cochon, they shape them at Pêche.
For appetizers, consider their smoked drum salad, which is a canvas for seasonal expression. While its composition shifts frequently – recently it featured watercress, pumpkin seeds and bacon – the core element remains constant. Trimmings from drum filets are cubed, cured overnight and then smoked. The result yields a firm, meaty texture that lends itself well to small plate-type preparations.
Some international flourishes do appear. The spicy ground shrimp small plate – modeled on Chinese Dan Dan noodles – is one. Built on rich, chewy noodles and featuring ground shrimp cooked down to a bolognese-type consistency, it’s recommended. “We use ginger, citrus zest and chili oil, which kind of pushes it into Asian territory, but not so far that it doesn’t have a place in the dishes we’re doing here,” Prewitt explains.
Pêche is also known for its whole fish. Like much on the menu the preparation changes often, but recently included whole roasted red snapper garnished with fried garlic in fermented chili vinaigrette. Fresh fish off the bone is far more succulent than the more traditional filet, so the extra care required to eat it is worth the effort. Plus, it just fits the vibe.
Seaworthy, the new seafood-centric offshoot of the Ace Hotel comes courtesy of the team behind New York’s Grand Banks Oyster House, a wooden schooner-based restaurant that literally docks in Manhattan. Seaworthy is more conventionally housed in a two-story cottage with the antiquated nautical patina of place that has been around for decades. While operated by the New York group, Seaworthy is helmed by chef de cuisine Daniel Causgrove, formerly of the Windsor Court Grill Room.
Oysters are a specialty here, and this is one of a handful of places that allow locals to sample bivalves from waters beyond the Gulf of Mexico. Locals, too, may blanche at the price per piece, but it can be worth it to try something new like a meaty Fanny Bay from the icy waters of British Columbia’s inland passage or a briny, deep-cupped Pacific kumamoto.
For main courses, consider the lobster roll, a split roll overflowing with chopped Main lobster in an herbed dressing and served with excellent fries. The butter poached sheepshead is a good choice as well – a local fish that’s gaining more traction in restaurants and prepared in a manner that expounds the flavor. A chili sauce adds some heat.
At first blush, Cuzco – a new Peruvian restaurant on Freret Street – may seem an odd choice for seafood. But dishes like the Parihuela, a Peruvian take on bouillabaisse, takes diners in an unexpected directions. Ditto that for the Arroz Con Mariscos, which is akin to Peruvian paella.
Catch a Dish
808 Bienville St.
Pêche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St.
Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays
630 Carondelet St.
Happy Hour and dinner Wednesdays-Mondays