Local restaurants are blooming – and not just in name.
Seared Tuna and the Pontchartrain cocktail from Iris
April showers bring May flowers, so they say. We all know they bring mud to Jazz Fest and lines up to your knees in water (at least I hope that’s water).
While some of us are willing to risk an electrical storm to see Bon Jovi’s hair in person and down countless softshell crab poor boys, after it’s over and all the tourists have crammed the summer of love back into their fanny packs, the only flower power I yearn for can be found at the following fabulous restaurants.
Iris. Not just a flowering plant with showy flowers, that sometimes resemble a fleur-de-lis, but also a restaurant located at 321 N. Peters St., where exceptional cuisine resembles no other in town, thanks to the unrivaled talents of Chef Ian Schnoebelen and Bar Chef Alan Walter. Try and pinpoint Iris’ cuisine, I dare you. The influences range from French to Asian to your elderly Italian neighbor’s overgrown backyard, making for delicious innovation. Chef Schnoebelen’s dishes are both decadent and light at the same time, with an emphasis on local and organic meats and fish served with farmers market vegetables more often than ubiquitous starchy sides. The yellowfin tuna, seared rare with its crispy shiitake mushrooms, stewed baby leeks with fennel and tomato emulsions, is a delicate entrée sure to please, but not engorge. You get the idea he knows his way around a garden as well as the kitchen, and what lurks in the garden besides snails. The Escargot de Bourgogne arrives in a brandy cream but it’s not your typical overwhelming sauce. Here the cream, garlic toast and wild mushrooms highlight the earthy flavor of the snail and its velvety texture, rather than masking it, creating a dish that actually tastes like escargot. Like trying your first farmhouse cheese or beer, this forthright escargot might not please everyone on their first try, but it’s the real deal.
While you watch the foot traffic move in the curtains like a black and white art film, try one of Bar Chef Alan Walter’s cocktails. The Pontchartrain is the best smoothie you never had with fresh Louisiana strawberries, rum and Lakeview pine needles (They aren’t just for kindling anymore, darlings). The Rosalind – Hendrick’s Gin, celery and rose – sounds so simple it seems like trickery. The taste is more complex – think crisp wet grass; think a hint of perfume on a new silk scarf.
End your meal with the salted caramel ice cream and poached pears or try the huckleberry jelly doughnuts with lemon custard, accompanied by the soft light from a candelabra glowing in the fireplace, where its melted wax webs to the ground, drawn so intricately it seems spiders must have done it overnight. This is New Orleans dining at its greatest.
Bistro Daisy, located in a renovated shotgun Uptown near Nashville Avenue on Magazine Street, is home to tasty local cuisine with a French influence. There is a casual classiness to the restaurant, in both ambience and menu, the type of place you’d want to take home to your mother. It’s hard to go wrong here. Diane Schulte graciously escorts you to your table with a daisy in her hair and smile on her face, while her husband Chef Anton Schulte whips up some great dishes in back. The jumbo lump crab in horseradish with cucumber and the signature Daisy salad – arugula, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and a light balsamic dressing – are the epitome of springtime noshing. Though my friend was heartbroken to see the crab and beet salad gone from the menu, her faith was restored when she tasted Chef Schulte’s house made crawfish mascarpone ravioli, which is a creamy and mildly sweet must try (repeatedly). The house-made ice creams are light and exceptional when served in a honey tuile, which sounds like a Saturday night dance move, and will in fact leave you dancing with joy.
If you’re in dire need of a slice of pecan pie or a chocolate freeze away from home, there is good news. The New Orleans landmark, Camellia Grill, just expanded, opening their doors in Destin, Fla., nearly two years since they reopened at their original S. Carrollton Avenue after Hurricane Katrina.
I’m not sure how well a chili omelet goes with a beach vacation, but I’m willing to find out.
Bistro Daisy | 5831 Magazine St. | 899-6987 | www.bistrodaisynola.com
Cakes By Beth | Beth Blundo | 782-9736 | www.lilleterestaurant.com
Camellia Grill | 626 S. Carrollton Ave | 309-2679 | www.camelliagrill.net
Camellia Grill, Destin | 2 Harbor Blvd. | Harbor Walk Village | (850) 650-2907
Iris | 321 N. Peters St. | 299-3944 | www.irisneworleans.com