Competition keeps restaurants inventive, often at bargain prices
Eggplant Crawfish Fritters with Sangria, GG’s Dine-O-Rama, New Orleans
Sara Essex Bradley Photography
Two years ago Kelly Cusimano, a partner with Louisiana Fresh, a wholesale New Orleans produce purveyor, expressed amazement at the number of restaurants opening in the New Orleans area and the success with which the vast majority of them are met. “The purveyors are the first to know when a restaurant is suffering but pretty much everyone is paying their bills on time. This is amazing: We have to hit saturation soon.”
That saturation point has yet to come. According to John Williams, Dean of the University of New Orleans’ College of Business Administration and Co-Director of the university’s Hospitality Research Center, as of May 1, 343 seated restaurants were operating in the area, with more opening every week. This number doesn’t take into account the many pop-ups, food trucks, sidewalk vendors and Mom-and-Pop farmers’ market endeavors that have cropped up to meet the ever-growing demand for inventive, exciting foods. Fierce competition for the seemingly limitless supply of dining dollars also compels established restaurants to keep things fresh and interesting.
With its exposed brick, balloon chandeliers and owner Margaret Schnexnayder’s impressive collection of muted Aboriginal art, since opening in 2009, Le Foret has been as well noted for its refined elegance as for its carefully studied contemporary interpretations of French and Creole cuisine – a place to dine when it’s time to make a serious impression. The CBD eatery recently introduced an array of new seasonal menu items and artisanal libations as well as a collection of original, colorful, off-the-wall contemporary art from Gallery Orange that forms a vivid juxtaposition to the understated surroundings.
The result is sexy and fun – still impressive but more lighthearted, a place to blow it out with friends or dazzle a hot date. It is the first in the city to introduce digital, interactive menu tablets featuring Tastevin, a program that offers guests suggested wine pairings, plate images and the like. At $65, chef Brandon Felder’s ever-changing four-course tasting menu is a relative bargain. Look for offerings such as cornmeal dusted, lightly fried oysters in a truffle aioli with ghost pepper bowfin caviar; plump diver scallops on the half-shell; sweetbreads with beet purée, oven roasted beets and Brussels sprouts with a veal demi; seared beef tenderloin with Covey Rise root vegetables, baby lima beans and oven roasted fingerling potatoes; and chocolate coffee mousse with chocolate cake, cherry reduction and a chicory coffee mist. This “Bargain Betty” is further reduced by 25 percent on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Optional wine pairings are $40 per person.
A recent trip to the Oyster Bar in New York’s Grand Central Station inspired Dickie Brennan to change up the game at the central oyster bar at his French Quarter Bourbon House eatery. Now, in addition to icy, plump, just-shucked oysters diners can dash in for quick bites from the new Oyster Bar lunch menu. Lunch at the bar can be an interactive experience with shuckers popping the bivalves into steamer pots of chowder set before guests or a quick break from the office with a croissant club sandwich of Nueske’s smoked turkey breast, bacon, Creole tomatoes and Swiss cheese. Also offered are paninis and both shrimp and oyster three-way samplers.
“Lunch at the Oyster Bar is for diners looking for an express meal that isn’t short on flavor or quality,” says chef Darrin Nesbit. “The main dining room offers a more relaxed experience.” Fresh additions to the main menu include roasted Oysters Bordelaise on the half-shell; a grilled Covey Rise pork sandwich with molasses barbecue sauce and Creole slaw; and a citrus-marinated flank steak salad.
GG’s Dine-O-Rama (formerly Gott Gourmet) has introduced Sunset on Magazine with cocktail and appetizer specials and $2 beers every Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Apps are $5 each and include eggplant and crawfish fritters; fried artichoke hearts with truffle black pepper aioli sauce for dipping; Sriracha & sweet chili garlic hummus with grilled pita; wedge fries with truffle-black pepper aioli and Sriracha mustard; and barbecue chicken verde nachos. Tuesdays bring $2 specialty Tito’s vodka cocktails; Wednesdays, $5 glasses of Sangria; Thursdays are for $5 specialty shrub (fruit infused vinegar) cocktails; and on Fridays there are half-priced bourbon cocktails and specialty burgers.