A Torch and the Loneliest Number

The Flaming Torch puzzles me sometimes. It’s in a category of restaurants that have a loyal following and produce excellent food yet still fly under the radar of most folks. The restaurant’s location, 737 Octavia St., may have something to do with that; it’s in an area that people associate more with shopping than dining, and parking nearby can be problematic.

Like a lot of restaurants in New Orleans, a local following has been enough to make the Flaming Torch a success. The following, of course, is only there because the kitchen turns out some very good food.

I suppose if anyone were paying attention, I might receive complaints that I’ve been covering French restaurants too frequently lately. It’s a fair cop. I’m not sure why, but I’ve had a recent fascination with the way French cuisine is presented here in New Orleans. The Flaming Torch is a French restaurant, that’s for sure, but the menu is different enough that it stands out.

The restaurant is located on Octavia, a half-block from a relatively quiet section of Magazine Street. The dining room is long and narrow and has windows that open onto the street. Awnings allow enough light into the room to brighten things up comfortably. The walls are the requisite shade of reddish-brown, and the tables are set with white linen, but the atmosphere is more casual than that sounds.

Service is appropriately friendly, by which I mean the servers are polite, attentive and not under the impression that you are dining at the restaurant to make new friends. The best service is effective but unobtrusive, and that’s been my experience at the Flaming Torch.

My experience with the food has also been generally good. The menu is full of French standards such as sweetbreads, onion soup, coq au vin and veal liver lyonnaise. But there are a number of classic ingredients that are given interesting twists, such as escargots served in a martini glass with Armagnac and lemon zest or fried oysters wrapped in eggplant and served with a tomato sauce.

Veal liver is a particularly difficult item to cook properly. It’s best cooked very quickly, to sear the exterior while keeping the center pink. I would recommend ordering it rare at the Flaming Torch because ordering it even medium-rare runs the risk that it will be dry.

On a recent visit, I was disappointed that the cheese plate was unavailable, but when I substituted the selection of sausages (andouille, alligator and crawfish), I could hardly complain. The sausages are cooked on a very high heat so that there is a beautiful sear on the exterior without compromising the interior moisture. The mustard that’s served with the sausages may seem like an afterthought, but don’t pass it by. It adds a piquant kick to the dish.

You can contact the restaurant for more information or to make reservations at 895-0900.

One Restaurant, which is located at 8132 Hampson Street in the Riverbend, is starting a special this week that will run Monday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. All appetizers and specialty cocktails will be half-price, and though the deal is limited to bar service, that’s not a sacrifice. Dining at the bar can be a communal experience, and the aforementioned specialty cocktails don’t hurt.

The restaurant is also rolling out a new menu, which should be available today. New items include an arugula and roasted golden beet salad with candied pecans, goat cheese and strawberries; a marinated crabmeat salad with a Creole stuffed egg and cherry tomatoes; beer-braised rabbit with wild mushrooms and dirty rice; and pan-roasted grouper with basil pesto and smoked salmon, served with basmati rice and grilled baby bok choy.

Call One at 301-9061 to find out more.

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