Best New Restaurants
New Places; New Choices; Clear Winners
Miami’s Loss; New Orleans’ Triumph
When your grandchildren ask you about the urban myths of a mournful female apparition along a place called Mona Lisa Drive, or whether you have ever encountered a loup guru, or about the story of a couple of business men who stopped over in New Orleans on their way to open a restaurant in Miami, saw a bigger opportunity, so stayed and let the opportunity in Miami go by, you can tell them you aren’t certain about the first two things, but as for the latter, you were here for the entire episode and it’s true – not a myth.
Partners Itai Ben Eli and Doris Reba Chia enjoyed grand success with previous restaurant efforts in Israel, Costa Rica and California.
Before embarking on a new project, Chia came to New Orleans for a bit of rest and a scenery change. After about four days he called Itai and said, “Get over here.” Itai was hesitant, and noted that he had plenty to do with the company’s properties as well as assure that the plan for development of a location in Florida was a workable schedule.
“I’m not asking you to get over here for vacation,” Chia noted. “I think we should do the next project in New Orleans instead of Miami.” Itai was amenable to the trip, but not convinced that the Crescent City was the direction the company should head. He came. And within two days saw what Chia was so excited about. They agreed New Orleans was something very special and the partners’ project could fit perfectly into the dynamic dining and cocktail scene alive all over town.
And they settled on a place that had been for years a breakfast destination, the shuttered Alpine Restaurant on Chartres Street, just off of Jackson Square. Lots of work, but here was an historic building they could fashion for their own purposes.
Doris Metropolitan’s trademark is aged steak. The steaks at Doris are butchered and aged to the restaurant’s specifications. They created a room facing Chartres Street to serve as the dry aging space. According to Itai, “Dry aging beef allows it to develop flavors more slowly and with more complexity. We keep it for a minimum of 21 days and some of our cuts, the bone-in New York strip and the ribeye, are also aged to 31 days. Both time-frames provide the development we’re seeking.”
The surprising discoveries about this steak house menu are the fish offerings. “Look where we ended up,” Itai notes. “We could not turn our back on the finest seafood to be found anywhere that is literally at our doorstep.”
The appetizers are Mediterranean-rooted, with carpaccio, calamari, eggplant, artichoke and sweetbreads all playing central starring roles in various preparations.
In addition to the open kitchen design, the bar also became a point of emphasis, with the usual offerings as well as more innovative creations, such as the Aviation Ball. The wine list is literally on display on all the walls, with bottles placed in individual racks to entice the diner to select the perfect liquid accompaniment from around the world, including the owner’s native Israel.
If al fresco is your mood, the courtyard has been completed with the same excellent and comfortable taste as the interior.
– Tim McNally
BEST OF THE BEST NEW ORLEANS RESTAURANTS
620 Chartres St. / 267-3500 / DorisMetropolitan.com
Ringing In the Harrison Avenue Revival
Definitely on the rebound since the ravages of the floodwaters of Katrina, Lakeview continues unabated with grander homes replacing ranch-style designs, more diversity in commercial activity and new restaurants alongside old standards opening at an upbeat pace.
Cava has been a while in coming but the wait has not been in vain. Cava, replacing the old location of Landry’s, which made a darn fine poor boy but “ain’t there no more” since Katrina, is ringing all the right bells, with due respect to the ones at St. Dominic’s Church practically next door.
Proprietor Danny Millan, longtime New Orleans restaurant host, manager and owner, has put together the place and the team he has long desired. A complete overhaul and redesign of the space has yielded a restaurant that is Cajun/Creole in cuisine style and metropolitan/cosmopolitan in the decor. Modern, with minimalist fixtures and surroundings, the tout ensemble is tastefully integrated, featuring a welcoming bar at the entrance and opening to a 65-seat dining room. Cava even offers a second floor loft that opens to an outdoor gallery seating area.
The cuisine is already knock-your-socks-off stunning. A couple of local guys, executive chef Adam Asher and chef de cuisine Donovan Tullier Sr., are to cooking what computer geeks are to digital code. These guys look at all the angles. Local ingredients, combinations, preparations and presentations are what these incredibly creative and gifted cuisine experts dream about.
Frog legs, tender like you’ve never had them. Crawfish meatball pasta or lobster and wild mushroom risotto are not the dishes you thought about when you came in the door, but now you can’t live without them. Barbecue salmon is something you’ve likely never enjoyed, but see if you can stop talking about it after just one bite.
Keep in mind that while this place is in its infancy, Cava acts like it’s been here a long, long time.
– Tim McNally
789 Harrison Ave. / 304-9034
Blooms Along the Vine
Slotted along a quiet stretch of Magazine Street is Ivy, the small plate and libation lounge established by restaurateurs Patrick and Rebecca Singley. It is helmed by chef Sue Zemanick, who is also the chef at Gautreau’s and on a roll following her 2014 James Beard Award for “Best Chef South.”
If Gautreau’s is the gala, then Ivy is the after-party. Whereas Gautreau’s feels formal, Ivy is celebratory. True, it carries some of the same aura of Uptown pedigree, but the ambiance is far more egalitarian. The small room pops with action and the décor is quirky-romantic, with wallpaper patterned in velvet and a pair of cream-colored banquettes to collect larger groups. On pleasant evenings al fresco tables along the restaurant’s vine-draped flank capture the spillover.
On the menu, refined choices such as Hamachi Crudo with slivers of fennel and jewel-like grapefruit sections share space with eclectic dishes such as Spicy Fried Baby Back Ribs with celery and blue cheese. The later, a riff on Buffalo wings tastes something concocted during the later hours of Service Industry Night. You would never find this on the menu at Gautreau’s but it’s what they might be snacking on in the back.
An array of delicate seafood dishes tempt: the Grilled Lobster, half a crustacean split lengthwise, is complemented by components that enhance its flavor. Corn picks up the sweetness of the lobster while arugula adds peppery notes. It is all bound together with a cilantro-spiked crème fraiche. Simpler dishes, like the chilled Snow Crab Claws with melted butter and snipped chive, let the ingredients shine.
The cocktail menu hews close to the classics and is supplemented by an elegant wine list. Underscoring the romantic vibe is a “Wedding Cake for Two” dessert. Ivy is dinner only but reservations are now accepted. Limited parking is available but fills up quickly.
– Jay Forman
5015 Magazine St. / 899-1330
Tallying The Votes
One of the criteria when determining a Best New Restaurant award is style done properly with excellence in the right place.
Kingfish wins on all counts. The name refers to Huey Long, one of the most flamboyant, outrageous and important political figures in Louisiana’s long history. As you step into the restaurant you’re met with the image of a grand piano; an upbeat, boisterous bar scene; and a more-than-life size photo of Long, all bug-eyed, railing about something. The ex-governor would be proud.
Noted mixologist, cocktail historian and native, Chris McMillian, holds court over the bar area. A wide range of first-rate and historic cocktails is created along with tales of how the drink was created and where in New Orleans it all happened. Classic versions of the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Pimm’s Cup and French 75 are as good here as you will get anywhere. The wine list is diverse, decently priced and quite adequate.
The long, narrow dining room is defined on one end by the kitchen behind large picture windows, and at the other features French doors opening onto Chartres Street. The decidedly Creole menu has important notes of Cajun and Southern cuisines.
The kitchen’s king and local lad through and through, chef Greg Sonnier, is a long-time staple of the New Orleans dining scene, and he’s continually altering the menu to reflect the season and what’s freshly available. The gumbo is a must-do, along with the Hoppin’ John crawfish salad. There is a Cajun farmhouse sausage wonton on a bed of creamy cheese grits that will have you considering another order of the same. The chargrilled marinated lamb loin is tough to pass up, so don’t.
Kingfish to its credit is open late most nights, which is fitting given the proclivities of its namesake and its location in the middle of the French Quarter.
337 Chartres St. / 598-5005 / CocktailBarNewOrleans.com
In opening Marti’s on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine streets, restaurateurs Patrick and Rebecca Singley counterintuitively reference the past (a former establishment with the same name operated in the location until the late 1980s) to chart the future. To head up the kitchen, they brought in chef Drew Lockett, a New Orleanian recently returned from Oregon with a resume that includes stints with the Link Restaurant Group as well as Ristorante Del Porto in downtown Covington.
“Our menu is grounded in French brasserie classics but prepared with a contemporary touch,” Lockett says. “We want to cook food that fits the feel of the room.” Seafood figures prominently, with chilled Fruits de Mer platters and some of the best oysters in town. Raw, they come to the table with a trio of accouterments, including an effervescent champagne mignonette. If you prefer cooked, a recommended oyster roast comes topped with pimento, herbed compound butter and breadcrumbs fired at a high temperature.
The dinner-only menu is largely traditional but notably well executed, with great attention to detail. The Gulf Fish Amandine is a case in point. You can find this dish easily enough in New Orleans, but almost nowhere as well prepared as it is here, where the bright acidity of the lemon perfectly balances out the nuttiness of the browned butter. For more contemporary selections, look to the small plates menu, which offers up interesting selections like Grilled Rabbit Sausage with Pickled Peaches and a take on the French-Canadian comfort dish poutine – this version made with short rib gravy and aged goat cheese in lieu of the traditional curds.
Marti’s is enchanting. The elegant restaurant’s feel is old-world genteel, with robin egg-blue walls and gold drapes. And in its establishment a storied location, also once home to Anne Kearney’s Peristyle, has returned to form.
1041 Dumaine St. / 522-5478 / MartisNola.com
Flavors of the Philippines
Chef Cristina Quackenbush started her restaurant Milkfish as a pop-up, serving food at places such as Who Dat Coffee and A Mano (now La Boca). This spring she opened her own space in Mid-City and it’s been a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Filipino food is often described by its influences, which include the cooking of Spain, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. The menu at Milkfish is full of items that show multiple influences, but each dish together add up to something uniquely Filipino.
Filipino food often has a significant sour component. Adobo, for example, is a dish flavored with garlic, vinegar and soy sauce and served over rice; but depending on where you get it and what other ingredients are involved, it may have be a brothy stew or almost entirely dry. At Milkfish the chicken adobo is more like a stew, whereas the pork version is more like barbecue ribs in appearance. Quackenbush’s sinigang is another tart dish, a soup made with tamarind, guava, pork and spinach.
Every country in Asia has famous noodle dishes, one of which in the Philippines is a rice noodle dish called Pancit. Milkfish has two varieties on offer; the standard can be ordered with chicken, beef, pork or shrimp sautéed with vegetables, while the version named for chef Quackenbush’s Manilla neighborhood, Malabon, combines thick rice noodles with pork belly, shrimp, squid and milkfish, which is both the national fish of the Philippines and not coincidentally the origin of the restaurant’s name.
Milkfish (the fish) shows up in a number of dishes in addition to the pancit; you can have it with the traditional Filipino breakfast, silog, and it’s also an option in the sinigang, but it’s the star of the show when prepared as ginataang isda, where the whole fish is braised in coconut milk with ginger, garlic, chiles and shrimp, then topped with spicy purple cabbage and bean sprouts.
Milkfish (the restaurant) would be noteworthy for being the only Filipino restaurant in New Orleans, but it’s on our list of the best new restaurants for 2014 because chef Quackenbush and her team are making some of the most delicious food – whatever the origin – in town.
– Robert Peyton
125 N. Carrollton Ave. / 267-4199 / MilkfishNola.com
Discovering Nuevo Latin
A couple of years ago I read an article that predicted the next big food trend would be Nuevo Latin, cooking that takes advantage of the wealth of flavors and ingredients beyond the cooking of the Mexican-American border.
Mizado was designed to expose diners to some of the diversity of the cuisines of Central and South America, including by expanding what we think of as “Mexican” food. It is a bold venture, but one that’s been paying off for chefs Hans Limburg, Gary Darling and Greg Reggio (aka “the Taste Buds”) who are also responsible for Semolina and Zea Rotisserie & Grill.
Mizado’s menu begins with a selection of guacamoles and salsas that start simply before taking off on interesting tangents. Adding pistachios to guacamole might not seem like much of a stretch, but the “India” adds about banana, cumin and date and cashew chutney to the mix. Tomatillo salsa is played straight, with just garlic, onion, Serrano chiles and cilantro flavoring the tomatillos; but there’s also a chile de arbol salsa that includes pumpkin and sesame seeds, apple cider vinegar and cloves. Most of the salsas (particularly the orange-habanero) pack a serious amount of heat, another indication that the restaurant isn’t playing to the lowest common denominator crowd.
Tacos range from the traditional (carnitas, chicken with ancho, grass-fed beef and chorizo) to the adventurous (alligator in adobo, duck confit with caramelized onions and pineapple-melon salsa and grilled scallops). Peruvian-style ceviches include salmon with citrus, habanero and avocado and scallop with tomato, pomegranate and melon. A more modern take on the dish called tiradito includes Gulf tuna with citrus ponzu, cucumber and jalapenos.
The restaurant’s wood-burning grill produces an excellent Gulf fish with crema, chimichurri and Manchego cheese smashed potatoes, and is used to finish a beer-braised tri-tip steak served with smoked pork belly potatoes and more of the chimmicurri sauce that graces the fish. The menu is too large to fully address here, but there are similarly innovative recipes throughout.
The Taste Buds have a deserved reputation for restaurants that produce consistently good food, but with Mizado they’re aiming higher. Fortunately, they’re hitting the mark.
5080 Pontchartrain Blvd. / 885-5555 / MizadoCocina.com
Expanding Vietnamese Cuisine
Chef Michael Gulotta has a deep appreciation for the flavors of Vietnam. Before he opened MoPho, his inventive Mid-City restaurant, he was best known locally as the executive chef at August, so his decision to serve more casual fare took some people by surprise.
MoPho is unpretentious, but the plates bear evidence of Gulotta’s background – the menu includes riffs on traditional recipes that sometimes look odd on paper but which invariably work on the plate.
Take the soup that gives the restaurant its name: In simplest terms pho is a light beef broth, flavored with star anise and charred onion, served over rice noodles and cuts like brisket, eye of round and flank. At MoPho you can get those things, but you can also order oxtail and chile-braised tripe. The chicken version allows options like cocks comb, duck sausage and grilled chicken thigh, and other choices include head cheese, pork belly and grilled mustard greens.
In New Orleans we call banh mi “Vietnamese poor boys,” and MoPho takes the local connection to a logical conclusion, stuffing the Vietnamese bread with things such as fried shrimp with Chisesi ham and fried P&J oysters with blue cheese, each “dressed” with house-made mayonnaise, pickled vegetables and a spreadable, spicy pork pâté. They are not authentic, but they’re delicious and that’s what counts.
Specials are where Gulotta’s background is most apparent; clams are cooked with lamb lardo, crispy shallots and basil and served with addictive beignets flavored with annatto seed. Lamb neck is slow-roasted and comes in a green curry stew with smoked tofu and beets as well as a creole cream cheese roti. The menu isn’t extensive, but it’s full of interesting plays on classic Vietnamese and southeast Asian cooking.
514 City Park Ave. / 482-6845 / MoPhoNola.com
Earning the Spotlight
A deal struck between the Dickie Brennan Restaurant Group and the board of Le Petite Théâter in 2011 helped stave off a foreclosure facing America’s oldest community theater. For lovers of fine dining, the gustatory result was Tableau, a quintessentially New Orleans beauty carved out of the rambling three-story building anchoring the corner of Chartres and St. Peter streets.
More akin to a mansion than a traditional restaurant, Tableau sprawls across three floors and nine dining rooms. At the helm is chef Ben Thibodeaux, who served as chef de cuisine at Palace Café before being tapped for the role of Tableau’s Executive Chef. Born and raised in Lafayette, Thibodeaux externed in La Rochelle, France and was a natural fit for the new French-Creole restaurant concept.
The core of Tableau’s menu is classic New Orleans. Tourists will find dishes they expect to see in a French Quarter grande dame, such as Crabmeat Ravigote and Creole Courtbouillon. But Thibodeaux gets inventive with options such as his Creole Scotch Eggs. Poached first then battered with an Andouille crust and flash-fried to order, these are served with a Creole mustard cream sauce and poached oysters.
Dishes that stand out include his barbecue shrimp, as well as his Tournedos Rossini Moderne. “Every time we plate one I think to myself, ‘I want to eat you.’ It is just a tempting, decadent dish,” Thibodeaux says.
Tableau offers a deep list of wines served by the carafe, as well as a craft cocktail menu. Pastry chef Stephanie Bernard’s menu is impressive as well. Try the Tart a la Bouille, a rustic Cajun composition of custard and sweet dough. Tableau offers lunch and dinner seven days a week, as well as a Sunday Jazz Brunch. A three-course Pre-Theater Menu complements this quintessentially New Orleans arrangement between great food and great theater.
616 S. Peter St. / 934-3463 / TableauFrenchQuarter.com
Too New to Review, Yet Deemed Worth Trying
Some restaurants that opened near our press date deserve mention, even if we couldn’t fully evaluate them for the Best New Restaurants list. Here are a sample:
At Square Root chef Phillip Lopez is taking the modernist cuisine he cooks at his Warehouse District spot Root to another level. There are 16 seats at a long bar around an open kitchen, and depending on when you dine you’re either getting eight to nine or 12 to 15 small courses, with wine and cocktail pairings available. It is innovative and ambitious cuisine, and we’re betting locals will take to it.
Michael Brewer’s casual restaurant The Sammich is another innovator that takes the humble sandwich as a launchpad for seriously creative and delicious food. Start with french fries cooked in duck fat or tuna dip made with house-smoked fish, and then move on to sandwiches filled with tempura-fried lobster knuckles and spicy mango cream, or duck confit with brie and foie gras mayonnaise.
Carrollton Market opened this year in the space that housed Riverbend standout One, and chef Jason Goodenough’s menu is already gaining fans. The food is inspired by home-style Southern cooking but dishes are pulled off with the aplomb you’d expect from a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. To wit: New Orleans-style cassoulet replaces white beans with red, and features local smoked sausage as well as duck confit and pork belly.
New Orleans native Cara Benson’s breakfast and bakery spot Toast replaced Laurel Bakery earlier this year, giving the chef-owner a second restaurant in addition to Tartine. The menu at the breakfast-lunch spot features baked goods, crêpes and sandwiches, but the highlight may be the abelskivers, a Danish dish that’s a cross between a pancake and a doughnut, and which at Toast come with things like lemon curd, maple syrup or chocolate sauce. They are light, fluffy and reason enough to visit the place.