the Campanelle Pasta
When the Ace Hotel opened in 2016 it brought with it a roster of out-of-state talent. Along with Portland’s third wave coffee pioneer Stumptown, and Seaworthy, a restaurant with DNA from New York’s schooner-based Grand Banks Oyster Bar, came their flagship restaurant Josephine Estelle, a U.S. Southern/Italian concept by James Beard-nominated Memphis Chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. With this all-star team behind it, the Ace quickly established itself as a serious player on the local dining scene.
And now there is a new executive chef at the helm. All foodservice operations at the hotel now fall on the shoulders of Chris Borges, a New Orleans native recently returned from a high-end catering career in the San Francisco Bay Area. His experience working with clients like Pixar plays well with the progressive vibe of the Ace, which itself plays host to its fair share of celebs.
The Portland-based Ace has a practice of pairing with notable chefs to create stand-alone type restaurants, which adds cachet and helps to differentiate them in a crowded market. “For Josephine Estelle, their model is Italian cooking with Southern roots,” Borges explains. “Ticer and Hudman are both of Italian lineages but are also from the Greater Memphis area. So the idea is to fuse classic Italian home-style cooking with southern sensibility.” Call it a Southern osteria with a little bit of West Coast style.
A hallmark of Josephine Estelle is its extensive in-house pasta program, which typically offers eight or so pastas in a variety of shapes, including a couple of stuffed versions. “We also follow classic Italian techniques for pairing the type of sauce with the particular shapes, though in terms of ingredients we do add some twists to make them more contemporary,” Borges explains. Recent pastas include a visually striking squid ink campanelle, tossed with an octopus Bolognese sauce perked up with pepper vinegar, n’juda (a spicy Italian pork spread) and salsa verde. “That one quickly became the staff favorite,” Borges says. Dishes rotate frequently, but other pastas that highlight the Southern U.S. / Italian connection recently included a turkey rigatoni with collard greens and a Gulf Shrimp version that incorporated green tomatoes. “The housemade pasta list is what we are most proud of – we spend a lot of time on it and put a lot of thought into it,” Borges says.
Borges also brings to the menu many dishes with a lighter touch and California sensibilities. These include his fried brussels sprouts salad, a compelling haystack augmented with toasted sourdough and lima beans and a chewy sweetness courtesy of golden raisins, all bound together with a cardamom-spiked yogurt dressing. Another is an entrée built around an imposing double-cut pork chop atop a of bed of what he calls ‘shrimp rice’ – a spin on traditional dirty rice. Borges’ version gets its earthiness from a compound butter built with uni that gets stirred into the rice. The seafood spin results in a lighter dish while still maintaining it connection to Italy and the US South.
Going into the New Year, watch for Josephine Estelle to begin rolling out a series of Family Dinners served on Monday nights. Think shared platters of Italian goodness served Goodfellas/Godfather style; “A big family spread – more food than anyone can eat,” as Borges describes it. Initially slated for one Monday a month, Borges hopes to expand its service to every Monday – call ahead for details.
Josephine Estelle, 600 Carondelet Street, CBD, 930-3070. B, L, D Daily, Brunch weekends, JosephineEstelle.com
MEET THE CHEFS
After graduating from Newman, New Orleans native Chris Borges went to Stanford University and along the way fell in love with the restaurant business. He went on to become the executive chef of Taste Catering, working with clients such as Pixar and Barack Obama. But as his family grew, he got the itch to return to New Orleans so that his children could grow up in the city he calls home. “For me, it was just a perfect fit – I love the vibe of the Ace, which fits in with my California sensibilities,” Borges says. “The Ace does a good job of balancing traditional New Orleans tastes with a progressive mentality.”
AN ITALIAN MARRIAGE
Another place that melds Southern and Italian cuisine with a California sensibility is Palladar 511. This Marigny gem serves dishes such as Braised Rabbit with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and offers a terrific house-made pappardelle with a spicy pork ragu. A pizza menu has compositions that will tempt adults and children alike.