The neighborhoods surrounding Tulane and Loyola universities offer diners a slew of quirky and idiosyncratic dining options. Price points are often reasonable, making them attractive to students, and there seems to be a willingness to experiment on the part of chefs that can make for a refreshing change of pace. Lately the scope of offerings has broadened to include bakeries and tapas-style dining, as well as expansion into more typically underserved areas such as the one surrounding Uptown Square. Not covered in this piece but still noteworthy is relative newcomer Little Morocco at 7457 St. Charles Ave., which has a small but interesting selection of groceries for sale in the back to go along with its tasty tagines.
Tucked away on Perrier Street just above Uptown Square is Tartine, a new bakery and sandwich shop owned and operated by Cara Benson. (See related story, facing page). With a professional background in pastry – she graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City and worked as the pastry chef at Muriel’s for three-and-a-half years – she uses this expertise to serve up an impressive selection of homemade breads, sandwiches and delicious desserts.
The shop is warm, cheery and full of natural light, sharpened slightly by a contemporary edge from the dark tile floor and blonde wooden counter. A small shaded patio allows for outdoor dining and the tables inside are widely spaced.
While working for others, the idea of owning her own shop was always in the back of her mind. “I’d always wanted to do it,” says Benson. “After I had my baby, my priorities changed a bit. I didn’t want to work holidays. While I knew I’d be working hard at my own place, at the same time it gave me a little bit more control over my life.”
Try the Pork Rillette, an unctuous open-faced assemblage of house-made rillette generously heaped atop a split baguette and dressed with caramelized onion marmalade and garnished with tart cornichons. Also good is the House Smoked Turkey, served on a large homemade roll with Gruyère, avocado and garlic spread. The sandwiches I ordered came with black-eyed pea salad in a refreshing citrusy vinaigrette. You can count on house-made goodness; Cara Benson arrives each morning at 4:45 a.m. to bake the breads, and her husband, Evan, works the smoker on the patio to prepare smoked turkey breast, ham and Portobello mushrooms for the grilled vegetable sandwich. For dessert, try the éclairs or chocolate mousse. Muffins, scones and crème brûlée are offered as well.
Tartine is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.
If you’re unable to decide between breakfast and Thai food, relax – Chill Out Café on the corner of Burdette and Maple streets offers both. At first pass it’s either a very weird or a very shrewd concept – but I’d guess the latter, as both cuisines are delicious and in regular demand by the college crowd.
The menu is a bit short and doesn’t offer many surprises, but what they do offer is typically well-executed. The Thai side veers into fusion occasionally, as in the Japanese-inspired Udon dish. From the appetizer menu, try the barbecue ribs, which are meaty and served with a sticky-sweet sauce with a bit of chili kick. The curries are solid here as is the Phat Thai, which arrives in a generous portion. Stick with the fresh spring rolls over the fried version, and be sure to enjoy the dense homemade Shumai dumplings. Enjoy a sweet Thai Iced Tea – it swings both ways between Thai and breakfast, and works for each as a dessert.
From the breakfast side, the Coconut Waffle is uncommonly delicious, perhaps born of the Thai menu’s reliance upon large stores of delicious coconut milk. The combination brought to mind the old Reese Peanut Butter Cup ad campaign. And like that campaign, Chill Out indeed offers two great tastes that taste great together.
When Chef Xavier Laurentino closed his Spanish destination, Laurentino’s, in Metairie a while back, fans of his excellent paella were distraught, myself included. Happily, he has since returned to the restaurant scene with Barcelona Tapas in Riverbend neighborhood. Where Laurentino’s was rustic and no-frills, Barcelona is sleeker and more contemporary in feel, looking nothing at all like the old Café Volage in which the new space is located.
Laurentino’s new menu is expansive, offering an enormous variety of hot, cold and vegetarian tapas, all in varying portion sizes via a sushi bar-style card. It is a socially driven dining experience, fun for a group who wants to mix and match and sample the assortment of dishes. Both the Garlic Shrimp and the Garlic Chicken Casserole come bathed in a decadent piquant sauce, perfect for mopping up with the bread. Wedges of paprika-dusted Patatas Aioli come with squiggles of the garlicky condiment. Garlic Tomato Bread can be customized with a variety of upgrades, including two types of aged Serrano ham and Spanish Chorizo. A fun part of the menu to play around in is the Barcelona Canoes section, which offers a lot of the savory options atop toasted bread at reasonable prices. And as with his old restaurant in Metairie, the paellas at Barcelona are worth the trip alone. The restaurant is cash-only but an ATM is located on-site.