Bywater and Marigny neighborhood dining
Brisket lasagna at Café Henri
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
The Cheezy Cajun (TheCheezyCajun.com) does double-duty as both a casual spot for a bite as well as somewhere to grab prepared food to take home. Part butcher and part cheese shop with an overall emphasis on southern cuisine, here you’ll find boudin, crackin’, homemade Tasso and more. The pimento cheese spread is recommended, as is the potato salad. Be sure to check out the cheese case stocked with items from Wisconsin.
Few neighborhoods have undergone transformative pressures as have the Bywater and Marigny. Their laissez-faire stasis was part of the appeal, which drew newcomers in like moths to a low-wattage artisan light bulb. When a corresponding wave of restaurants arose to cater to a perceived demand, some gained a reputation of being pretentious and inhospitable – qualities that doubtless contributed to the closing of more than a few. Moving into this space are places that put an emphasis on approachable food, casual appeal and customer service. Here is a look at a few.
Café Henri is the latest effort on the part of Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Nick Detrich – the team behind Cure on Freret Street, which is often credited with spearheading the local craft cocktail movement. For this project, they wanted to do something different.
“This is a departure from the kind of stuff we’ve done at Cure and Cane and Table,” Bodenheimer explains. “And that’s by design. Growing up in New Orleans there were neighborhood restaurants we would go to every week and we felt like that was disappearing.”
So when the former Booty’s space became available, they jumped on it. Detrich, a former resident of the Bywater, recognized the need for a family friendly, service-based restaurant in the area. Café Henri was born. A makeover of the space provides a much brighter palette that complements the abundance of natural light. The approachable menu offers a lot of familiar fare, with a few dishes that feature a twist. For example, the lasagna uses brisket in lieu of ground beef. Built with quality San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil, this dish has proved popular since they opened the doors.
For appetizers, consider the iceberg wedge salad, a retro classic distinguished with their thin, slightly spicy homemade Russian dressing. A simple dish of buttered soba noodles makes use of jumbo lump blue crabmeat and Champagne butter sauce – the nuttiness of the buckwheat noodles complementing the sweetness of the blue crab. For the kid’s menu, many of the existing dishes get modified for simpler palates. The seafood in the linguine gets swapped out with meat sauce, and grilled peanut butter and jelly makes an appearance.
As a special treat, kids also get a cookie,with icing and sprinkles served separately that they can use to decorate it at the table.
Adult beverages, as you might expect, are well-represented. The full bar program emphasizes classic cocktails with a focus on execution, not exoticism. Favorites include a Tom Collins, a Moscow Mule and a popular Frozen Negroni. Café Henri is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with brunch served on weekends. Price points are modest for a full-service restaurant, as befits the neighborhood vibe.
In the nearby Marigny, Bao & Noodle is closing in on its two year anniversary. And while a Chinese restaurant might seem an odd selection for a neighborhood spot, one visit here will convince you. The atmosphere is low-key and inviting with a cozy vibe akin to a coffee shop. And then there’s the food. Chef and owner Douglas Crowell, whose wife is Chinese, came to his craft by way of family. “That is just a very comfortable way to learn about cooking,” Crowell explains.
Noodles, of course, loom large. Crowell features about eight different varieties, all made in-house and each made with its own specific dough. Pairing each noodle with each dish is a big part of the overall composition. “We use egg noodles for our Shrimp with XO Sauce, because shrimp is a lean protein, we use a noodle that is made with egg yolk to provide some richness. For our Braised Lamb, which is very rich, we use a hand-pulled noodle made with just flour and water.”
It’s the simple dishes here that please. The scallion pancakes, which are vegan, are crispy and chewy at the same time, and each bite lights up in the mouth following a swift dip in the accompanying sauce of vinegar and soy. His Scallion Bun, a traditional Chinese savory bakery item, is topped with a fluffy nest of “pork floss” – imagine if jerky came in cotton candy form and you get a sense of the taste. The Ma Po Tofu, made with fermented black soy beans and spicy chili paste with pork and soft tofu, is Crowell’s personal favorite. “It’s spicy, salty rich and complex all at once,” he says.
After multiple visits, Paladar 511 continues to impress. It is grander than a typical neighborhood joint, with its soaring ceiling and voluminous dining room, yet the overall shabby-chic feel keeps it from feeling formal. The menu, an ingredient-driven canvas that reflects the ethos of the owners’ San Francisco roots, is worthy of exploration, although some dishes do tend to stay put. An appetizer of Yellowfin Tuna Conserva, poached slowly in olive oil and plated with salty tapenade and intensely herbaceous basil aioli, is recommended. For the entrées, the housemade pappardelle with spicy pork ragu is full of comforting warmth. There is no kids menu here, but they’re happy to strip down one of their fancy pizzas to mozzarella and pepperoni to satisfy the little ones. Few restaurants hit all the right notes from appetizer through desserts, but Paladar 511 is one of them.
800 Louisa St.
Lunch and dinner daily; brunch on weekends
Bao & Noodle
2700 Chartres St.
Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays
511 Marigny St.
Dinner Wednesdays-Mondays; brunch on weekends