August is one of the three or four best restaurants in New Orleans. It’s a beautifully designed space, with a classic dark wood bar at the entrance, high ceilings in the main dining room and a smaller wood-paneled room adjacent. There’s ample light from huge windows during the day and chandeliers at night. Red-patterned fabric covering the chairs recalls the brick that comprises the walls. In its décor, August would not be out of place in New York. But August is unmistakably a New Orleans restaurant.
That’s true because even Besh’s most fanciful dishes are centered on the use of excellent local ingredients. Some of those ingredients are sourced from local producers, and some come from the farm surrounding La Provence, Besh’s restaurant in Lacombe. There, Besh also raises chickens, pigs, cows and goats for his six restaurants.
When talented chefs prepare cuts of meat that are more associated with peasant cuisine, it always piques my curiosity. Besh excels in preparation of offal and the kind of cuts that require long, slow cooking.
For example, some months ago at August, I had a dish of veal breast served over horseradish whipped potatoes with a sauce enriched with porcini mushrooms and fresh cherries. It was unctuous, tender and had a richness just barely contained by the cherries and horseradish.
More recently the kitchen turned out a bowl of handmade cavatelli pasta with tripe, rapini, bone marrow and a pipérade sauce. Tripe can be a difficult item to do properly. If it’s undercooked, it can be tough. If it’s overcooked, it can be mushy. The tripe I had was meltingly tender and rich, the perfect foil for the slightly spicy sauce of peppers, tomatoes and onions. The cavatelli was cooked through, with just enough resistance for me to use the word “resistance” in this sentence. Damn, that was meta.
There’s currently a fascination among restaurants for house-cured products, and August is not immune. A house-smoked salmon and potato “latke” appetizer I ordered during my last lunch at August was served with a bright purple beet crème fraîche and small balls of “caramel apples” topped with micro-greens. The salmon was folded, sandwiched between crispy rounds of potato in the style of a napoleon and placed above a wider circle of crème fraîche ringed by a deep-green parsley oil. The result was a visually stunning dish that was also delicious.
Lunch at August is now available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there is both a prix fixe menu for $20.10 and a la carte selections. The fixed menu offers three choices for each course, and in addition to the salmon and tripe I mentioned above, the menu from my last lunch also included a white shrimp bisque with shrimp-stuffed mirliton “dumplings,” a pâté de campagne of Berkshire pork from the farm at La Provence garnished with candied quince and a porcini marmalade.
The other entrees when I was at August last were stewed green lentils with bacon (also from La Provence, which has a large smokehouse on the premises), and olive oil-poached lemon fish with a Meyer lemon risotto and celery heart salad. I honestly could have ordered any of the dishes above and eaten happily.
Tell me you’re serving something that is “fried” and “chocolate,” and I will eat it nine times out of 10, despite the fact that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. So to complete the meal I ordered the dark chocolate-filled pastry fritters. One fritter was served with finely shaved chocolate over an apple compote, another with quince, and a third with a citrus cream and slivers of candied lemon peel. In the interest of completeness, the other desserts were fresh cheese crepes with green apple-cardamom ice cream and spiced rum and Everona Dairy Piedmont cheese dipped in a tempura batter, fried and served with Louisiana strawberries. I’ve had the tempura-fried cheese on a previous occasion, and it is the only thing I wouldn’t recommend. Although the cheese may have changed since I had the dish, what I was served was not improved by frying, and I don’t think dipping it in chocolate would have helped.
Chef John Besh is sometimes criticized for being an absentee chef, but that’s such a facile criticism that it doesn’t really warrant a response beyond the observation that success breeds jealousy. Regardless of how you feel about his frequent appearances in the media or the number of his restaurants, the evidence of his ability as a chef is on display at August. Every meal I have there reinforces the conclusion I stated in the first sentence of this piece –– that August is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans.
Dinner is served at August from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., nightly. The menus change frequently, but you can get a sense of the food by clicking on the sample menus here. Contact the restaurant at (504) 299-9777 for reservations, or more information.