I have never met chef Thorsten Leighty, but from his name I imagine he resembles some sort of cross between a viking and a fairy. When I do eventually meet him I will try not to let my disappointment show if he does not have a full beard, carry a battle axe and trail gossamer wings behind his shoulders. If, like me, you are looking to meet chef Leighty, your best bet is to visit 5 fifty 5, the restaurant in the New Orleans Marriot, where he was recently named executive chef.
Leighty hails from Weisbaden, Germany, and spent much of his career in Europe before coming to the U.S. to work with chef Joachim Splichal in Los Angeles. He comes to New Orleans from Hawaii, where he served as executive chef of the JW Marriot Ihilani Resort & Spa in Kapolei.
If you've ever traveled in Germany, you probably know that German food gets a bum rap in this country. It's about a lot more than sausages, sauerkraut and beer, and while I don't imagine chef Leighty will be making locals mistake the Mississippi for the Rhine, I hope that he gets to add some of the cuisine of his homeland to the restaurant's Cajun and Creole standards. I am not going to insult your intelligence by giving you the address of the New Orleans Marriot, save to say that it's on Canal St. I will tell you that you can visit 555canal.com or call (504) 553-5638 for more information.
Chef Greg Sonnier is back in charge of the kitchen at a full-service restaurant. Kingfish opened recently at 337 Chartres St., and if Sonnier's participation wasn't enough to make you take notice, the bar program will be headed by Chris McMillian, most recently of the Ritz-Carlton's Library Lounge and Bar UnCommon in the Renaissance Pere Marquette. The venture is operated by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, which has heretofore been known more for restaurants that cater more to visitors than to locals. Kingfish is, therefore, a marked departure for the group, and it's hard to imagine how they could have done better than to hire Sonnier and McMillian.
Because it's been so long since the closing of Gabrielle, Sonnier's popular Esplanade Avenue restaurant, you may not be familiar with his cooking. Take a gander at the menu Kingfish has online at the moment. Tempura-battered, deviled duck egg served over arugula with a candied pecan vinaigrette; smoked rabbit gumbo with sorrel sausage and dirty brown basmati rice; pompano served over a block of Himalayan salt with lemon, roasted pecan butter and red onion marmalade; and of course, duck. There were a number of dishes for which Sonnier was known at Gabrielle, but his slow-roasted duck was likely the most popular. At Kingfish, Sonnier has duck on the menu, but now it's boneless, seasoned with crab boil and honey and served over ramen noodles with preserved lemon and duck-skin cracklins.
I first met McMillian when he was at the Library Bar, at least as far as I can remember. That was a hell of a place, at least while he was there. It shouldn't be difficult to describe why he is such a great bartender; he makes great drinks and he's a bastion of knowledge about libations. He's one of the founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail, after all. What I'm having trouble describing is, I think, is a contradiction I've seen in McMillian. I remember a conversation we had about the Pimm's Cup, and its origins in England, where the drink once commonly included the herb borage. I've also seen McMillian deal, calm as a monk, with drunken assholes. I guess his zen-like ability to deal with problem customers is the result of long experience, and that his enthusiasm is his more natural state, but regardless, his pairing with Sonnier looks like a pretty sweet deal.
Hopefully that's how it works out. I'm certainly going to give the place a few looks; although they're only doing dinner at the moment, lunch is on the horizon, and I intend to check out both. Call (504) 598-5005 to find out more about Kingfish.