Best of Dining

Best of 2010 Chefs, Restaurants, Front of the House, Behind the Bar, Ethnic and More

One thing we know about our readers: Y’all sure like to eat. We know that not just from surveys but also from newsstand sales. Last year’s revamped Best of Dining issue was the year’s top-selling edition in a year in which issues overall sold well. Since we like to eat, too, we have approached this edition with relish, offering our choices of the year’s best in a range of areas. n A committee consisting of our editors and our dining and spirits writers made the selections. For our purposes, the “year” encompassed the period from October 2009, when the selections were made for last year’s issue, to the present. n We continue our Honor Roll category in which we spotlight a long-established restaurant. This year’s choice has made the adventure of crossing the Huey P. Long Bridge worth the trip. n We know that the competition is keen and in every category there are worthy contenders, yet we feel good about this year’s choices. They should be aware however, that there are many aspiring restaurateurs out there with the talent and drive to become even better than the bests.

CHEF OF THE YEAR
SUSAN SPICER

Susan Spicer is no stranger to publicity. One of our best-known chefs, she’s been an integral part of New Orleans dining since her landmark restaurant Bayona burst onto the scene more than 20 years ago. She has also entered the zeitgeist as a basis for the character Janette Desautel on the HBO series “Treme” (“very loosely based,” she’s quick to add) and served as a restaurant consultant for the show. Yet what distinguishes her from our other famous chefs is that her style is global rather than regional. You can’t pigeonhole her as Cajun, Creole or Southern, although threads from these do contribute to her overall tapestry. Perusing her menus, one is struck more by the Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences. Despite such worldly inspirations, she remains closely identified with New Orleans cooking. In this way she adds to our culinary culture, broadening and enriching it while helping to keep it from being typecast. Active on the board of the Gulf Restoration Network and Share Our Strength, over the summer she opened her newest restaurant Mondo in Lakeview and is New Orleans Magazine’s Chef of the Year.

With Mondo, Susan put her stamp on a neighborhood whose long restoration is now in full bloom. Upon opening, it sent a message that this stretch of Harrison Avenue wasn’t just back in business, but thriving. “I live in the area, and my neighborhood is like a little village, but the makeup has shifted since the storm,” she says. “When I first moved here before [Hurricane] Katrina, there were a lot of older people, but now there are a lot more families and young professionals – a nice mix.”

Drawing on the new demographics and celeb-chef cachet, Mondo boomed off to a strong start. Envisioned as a more casual destination than Bayona but with equally ambitious food, Spicer shrewdly supplemented the adult fare with a kids’ menu, along with crowd-pleasing favorites like wood-fired pizzas. Brunch service was added early on and lunch started in mid-October. “We’re trying to build more business; for example, to have people come out to watch the Saints games in the bar for brunch. Drink specials are a part of that.”

Mondo’s menu casts a wide net. The Pork and Shrimp Meatballs on Lemongrass Skewers quickly became a signature item. “A lot of our inspiration is ingredient-driven,” Spicer says. “And a lot of it comes from just talking to my chef Cindy Crosbie and sous chef Paul Chell. Both are like me – they’re always reading and thinking and seeing what other people are doing. We’re all interested in cuisine from around the world. It’s similar to what I do with my crew at Bayona – inspiration comes out of conversations and collaborations.”

Over the past 20 years, Bayona’s kitchen has turned out a remarkable collection of alumni who have gone on to be household names in their own right. Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon fame is one; John Harris of Lilette is another. “I love how so many have stayed on here in New Orleans,” Spicer says. And despite being more than 20 years old, Bayona still maintains its reputation for innovation. (Asked if she can believe it has been that long, the answer is a quick, flat and unequivocal “yes.”) “My goal now is to look forward to the next 20 years,” Spicer says.

“I want to do new things. I’ve spent 20 years teaching people, and now I’m at the point where I’m hiring people that bring in their own experience and ideas. We’ve got our signature items of course, but I want to freshen those up as well. Technique-wise, I’m not really trying to do anything crazy but I’m always ready to learn new stuff.” 

– Jay Forman
Bayona, 430 Dauphine St., 525-4455, bayona.com; Mondo, 900 Harrison Ave., 224-2633, mondoneworleans.com

BEST NEW (to new orleans) CHEF OF THE YEAR
JAMES CORWELL

Before Le Foret opened in late 2009, it released a menu that was as ambitious as anything seen in New Orleans in a decade. The restaurant’s owners also issued a press release identifying James Corwell as the restaurant’s chef, touting his experience as an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in Napa, Calif. The release mentioned that Corwell is a Certified Master Chef.

To understand how impressive that certification is, you need to know what it takes to achieve it. Once a year, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., administers a week-long test to established professional chefs, measuring the participants’ skills, knowledge, creativity and endurance. Much of the cooking involves recipes taken from the classic French repertoire, dishes made culinary canon by Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier that are very rarely seen in modern restaurants.

In reading an account of the test written by author Michael Ruhlman in his book The Soul of a Chef, I was left with the impression that the test wasn’t the best measure of a modern chef; that there was too great an emphasis on a cuisine with hidebound rules that stifle creativity. The fact that Corwell was the only Certified Master Chef in Louisiana didn’t impress me as it should have.

It took one meal at Le Foret to convince me that I was mistaken. While certification as a Master Chef doesn’t necessarily indicate one is a great cook, Corwell certainly is. There is a level of refinement to his cooking. He demonstrates attention to detail, precise technique and, most importantly, a marriage on the plate of those skills to excellent ingredients and imaginative cooking.

That first visit to Le Foret was a revelation. Corwell took something as simple as French onion soup and made it sublime with the addition of a Gruyère soufflé. The venerable dish of braised leeks – surely a nod to the classical training Corwell received at the CIA – was an eye-opener. The tender leeks were served cold and paired with figs, walnuts, a roquefort mousse and thinly sliced beets. Lobster and sweetbreads were served in a puff pastry cup, with a cream sauce that never threatened to overwhelm the subtlety of the ingredients.

More recently I sampled a trio of farm-raised rabbit consisting of a roasted rack, a loin stuffed with fig and a braised leg served in a fresh pasta terrine, all with a mustard and pumpkin conserve. Every item on the plate was perfectly cooked, and the dish highlighted three different ways to cook the light, lean meat.

At that same meal, a colleague had the grilled noisettes of veal saltimbocca. My colleague is from New York, and is very familiar with top-flight Italian cooking. He was most impressed with the dish, which included a classic risotto Milanese, autumn vegetable stew, sweetbreads and shaved truffle.

Corwell is a native of Atlanta, and has worked in France, Germany, Southeast Asia, New York City, San Francisco and the Napa Valley, where he was the lead instructor and executive chef of the Greystone Restaurant on the campus of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. He has, to put it mildly, his bona fides.

– Robert Peyton
Le Foret, 129 Camp St., 553-6738, leforetneworleans.com

UNDER THE RADAR
SAZERAC

When The Roosevelt New Orleans hotel re-opened after extensive renovations in July 2009, it received a great deal of attention. The Blue Room, John Besh and Alon Shaya’s modern Italian restaurant Domenica and the Sazerac bar all generated substantial buzz. The Sazerac restaurant, on the other hand, didn’t receive as much notice. That is a shame because it’s a beautiful space, and under chef Cody Curl the kitchen is turning out excellent food.

The initial concept of the restaurant was to pay homage to the tradition and history of both the hotel and the city. It was a challenge to honor both the memories and to make the restaurant relevant to today’s diners. When I spoke to the hotel’s general manager Tod Chambers, he told me that they could have skewed too far toward honoring tradition with the original menu.

He might be right: Though the food I sampled shortly after the restaurant began service was uniformly good, it lacked much to distinguish it from any number of other traditional New Orleans restaurants. The current menu strikes a balance between celebrating the restaurant’s history and paying attention to modern culinary trends.
Stefan Kauth is the hotel’s executive chef, but Curl was recently installed as chef de cuisine, and he has the greatest influence on the day-to-day operation of the kitchen. Curl is a native of Dallas, where he attended culinary school and worked with chef Dean Fearing at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. He grasps the concept of both maintaining respect for what’s gone before and satisfying diners who expect the restaurant in a hotel like The Roosevelt to provide more challenging offerings.

There is a Creole gumbo on the current menu, but also a salad of watermelon and arugula with serrano ham, marcona almonds and lemon-jalapeño vinaigrette. There are tasting plates that can be ordered in small or large sizes, such as: crispy sweetbreads with a leek and potato puree; crawfish tails and sauce Nantua; and garlic-roasted giant prawns with a saffron paella and crawfish-cognac sauce. The menu also has a menu of plates to share that include lobster “BLT” sliders, duck liver pâté and warm raclette cheese served with duck confit, fig jam and toasted sourdough bread.

Curl says that guests have described the buttermilk marinated fried poussin served with garlic mashed potatoes, greens and a cream gravy as the best fried chicken they’ve ever had. He has received similar accolades from diners who’ve tried the lavender honey glazed duck, which features a seared breast and confit of the leg over a purée of yam, foie gras bread dumplings and a Sazerac whiskey sauce.

The décor of the dining room is consistent with that of the hotel. It is a large room, with high ceilings and light-colored walls decorated with sketches by artist Paul Ninas, whose original mural still adorns a wall of the Sazerac bar. Sheer curtains hang between large columns and open onto the hotel lobby. When the restaurant opened the curtains were closed, but these days they’re pulled back and give the restaurant a more open feeling. The restaurant is an excellent complement to the Sazerac bar, and more folks should sit down to a meal there after a cocktail or two at the famous watering hole.

Every aspect of the restaurant has been designed to provide a feeling that is formal yet casual. The wait staff wears tailored uniforms and the pace of service is relaxed, but the serving ware is modern and relatively unadorned in order to emphasize the food rather than the plate.

Because the Sazerac restaurant deserves to be better known than it is, we’re delighted to present it with the “Under the Radar” award for 2010.

– R.P.
Sazerac restaurant, The Roosevelt New Orleans, 123 Baronne St., 568-1200

HONOR ROLL
MOSCA’S RESTAURANT

Merriam-Webster defines “icon” as “an object of uncritical devotion,” and right next to the definition is a picture of Mosca’s – at least in the eyes of the many devotees, it should be.

Mosca’s Restaurant opened in 1946 on Highway 90 in a most unimpressive location: west of Avondale, in the unincorporated area of Waggaman.

Provino Mosca immigrated to America in 1913 from his home in San Benedetto del Tronto, along Italy’s central Adriatic coast, in the province of Ascoli Piceno. He settled in Chicago Heights, Ill., and married an Italian woman, Lisa, whose mother ran a restaurant in Indiana. Provino and Lisa soon opened their own restaurant in Chicago Heights and settled into the business of raising a family.

Mary, the only daughter of three siblings, met her husband, Vincent Marconi, a South Louisiana oyster fisherman, during a family visit to Louisiana relatives. Provino liked the area very much, its fresh seafood and love of good food reminded him of his home in Italy.

Also unfolding was the saga of son John, who was called to action in World War II and wounded on the front lines of the Mediterranean Theatre. Because of his restaurant experience, John was tapped to assist in palaces and villas where he served such luminaries as Sir Winston Churchill, General Charles de Gaulle, Marshall Tito and Clare Boothe Luce.

About the time of John’s return from the war, Provino and Lisa decided to open a restaurant in their new found home, Louisiana. Mosca’s Willswood opened in 1946, right where it sits today.

The place was an immediate hit, and was particularly popular because Provino kept Mosca’s open late. He worked in the kitchen, with Lisa and John supplying assistance in both the back and the front of the house. The cuisine became quite famous, not only because it was fresh and creative, but because of the loving care this family put into every dish.

To Provino, Lisa, John, Mary and Mary’s husband, Vincent, this was important work, and it was family business.

All of the accolades and the recognition felt good, but providing excellent Italian fare was the main order.

 In 1981, John married Mary Jo Angelotti, of Chicago Heights, and Lisa, now called Mama Mosca, taught the new bride how to prepare every dish. To this day, the second generation, John and Mary, alongside Mary Jo, is still in the kitchen and in the restaurant every night it’s open. Provino died in 1962; Momma Mosca passed in ’79; and Vincent in 2004.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita weren’t kind, and the restaurant took a beating. But the clapboard roadhouse was put back together; the materials are new, but the weathered look that makes the place feel like home is still there. The long bar running along the back of one of the dining rooms still has florescent lights and “rocks” glasses in which you can have your cocktail or your wine.

The menu is simple and absolutely inspired. Garlic is a main ingredient here, with crab, oysters, chicken and shrimp in support positions. Begin the meal with the crab salad. The Shrimp Mosca, Oysters Mosca, Chicken a la Grande and the Chicken Cacciatore are on everyone’s list of great New Orleans dishes.

Little secret: Some folks don’t know to order the Mosca’s Sausage. Next time you go, get it. It is homemade and not to be missed.
Another little secret: Play the juke box. One of the best selections of early rock-n-roll in town.
One more thing: it’s pronounced “Musca’s,” not “Mawsca’s.”

John, Mary and Mary Jo are the next-generation essence of every immigrant’s American dream, and they’re the dearest examples of New Orleans hospitality. Staff members are chosen because they are committed to this place and to this family.

If you’re heading from the East Bank of the Mississippi River for a night at Mosca’s, it’s worth every scary moment of driving over the under-construction Huey P. Long Bridge.

– Tim McNally
Mosca’s Restaurant, 4137 U.S. Highway 90 West, Westwego, 436-9942, www.moscasrestaurant.com

 

MAÎTRE D’ OF THE YEAR
LARRY NGUYEN

Larry Nguyen is from New Orleans – the first generation of his family to be born here. He is a graduate of West Jefferson High School and received a degree in marketing from Louisiana State University in 1999. But perhaps a more important part of his education came from growing up in a big family that operated restaurants and groceries on the West Bank and in New Orleans East. Those places are no longer around, and in fact Nguyen was so young when they closed that he doesn’t remember their names. He does remember being in fifth grade and working a cash register; he was so small that he needed a stepstool to reach the register, which he said customers found adorable. It is clear from watching Nguyen work that he places a great deal of value on making people feel comfortable, which is a perfect trait for a maître d’

Maître d’ isn’t his formal title; he’s the general manager of Café Minh – but he has always been the kind of manager who walks the floor and interacts with patrons. When he started at Lemongrass Café, chef Minh Bui’s former restaurant in the International House Hotel (and the precursor to Café Minh), he was an expediter. Typically that involves standing between the dining room and the kitchen, relaying orders. Nguyen, of course, took on a more active role. “I love multitasking,” he says. He monitored the staff to make sure that customers were receiving the proper attention and interacted with diners as well. “You can’t just define a person by a title,” he told me.

There was a time when he wanted to get out of the restaurant business. When he went to college in Baton Rouge, he intended to leave food service behind, but he was at LSU on a work study program, and his first assignment was the cafeteria. He briefly transferred to the entomology department but soon decided that food was better than bugs. He started working in the kitchen of a Thai restaurant in Baton Rouge, and one day the owner asked if he could wait tables. He had never done it before but agreed to give it a shot. He hasn’t looked back.

After college he never gave much thought to leaving New Orleans. He returned in 2000, and some friends recommended he check out Lemongrass. He worked there for a while but eventually wanted to branch out and took positions at Rene Bistrot, Cobalt and Cuvée, where he was working when Hurricane Katrina hit. After the storm, Cuvée reopened for dinner only, and Lemongrass came back serving only lunch. Nguyen worked at both restaurants until chef Cynthia Tran of Lemongrass told him the workload was killing him and that he should choose between the two restaurants.

Nguyen chose Lemongrass and stayed there through the restaurant’s closing in August 2006. When Cafe Minh opened around Thanksgiving ’06, Nguyen was on board as the general manager.

He names Raymond Naquin, who managed Lemongrass when he started there; Jeff Kundinger, the former manager and sommelier at Cuvée; and Chris Ycaza, also of Cuvée and now at Galatoire’s, as his mentors.

Although it may not be his formal title, Nguyen’s role at Cafe Minh certainly fits the current definition of maître d’. He interacts with customers, makes sure that guests are having a good time and makes them laugh. “If that means I have to do a little dance, I’ll do a little dance,” he says. “I think I put a lot of people at ease just by being goofy.” 

– R.P.
Café Minh 4139 Canal St. 482-6266

BARTENDER OF THE YEAR
TIFFANY SOLES

Visitors and locals alike shuffle in and settle down. The lights dim, and the first notes of New Orleans jazz emanate from the stage. Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street is an every-night kind of place; a happy place presenting live music as only New Orleans can truly offer. Nothing artificial; everything authentic.

Guests at Irvin Mayfield’s may not realize it when they enter, but by the time they leave, they know they have experienced a solid evening of wonderful sounds, and have also enjoyed some amazing drinks. Again, nothing artificial; everything authentic.

It is easy to discern that mixologist Tiffany Soles is an integral part of the Jazz Playhouse sensory experience. The location and its guests are the fortunate recipients of Soles’ talents and her smile. When she smiles, there’s joy throughout the room.  

Soles becoming a force behind the bar was pre-destined, sort-of. She has a degree in psychology from Texas Christian University in her birth city of Ft. Worth. It makes you want to be careful what you tell this girl during your time at her bar. She initially thought that sports medicine would be a good fit for her, and maybe mixing drinks is still a step in that direction.

Like so many before her, Soles came to New Orleans for “only one week” to celebrate her birthday. She never gave a thought to serving cocktails, and she gave even less thought to living in New Orleans. Now it seems like she had planned the course of her life, which was to be here, doing this.

Her interest in cocktails began at a lower level, just tending bar for extra cash. Along came Tales of the Cocktail, the annual festival of spirits held here, and that led to her interest in the activities at the Museum of the American Cocktail, located in the Riverwalk.

Hook, line and sinker. She was all in, studying her newly found craft and experimenting with what works, and what does not.

She is a true believer in the “Gospel of Fresh.” Every ingredient has to be as fresh as it can be.

“You can make a drink from packaged ingredients and canned juices, and you can make the same drink with all fresh ingredients. They will taste like two different drinks. I love to see the expression on our guest’s faces when they taste the drink they always order, and we make it for them fresh, from scratch. Suddenly they ‘discover’ a drink they know, and enjoy it in a whole new light,” Soles explains.

Soles isn’t afraid of experimentation, which has become the hallmark of today’s new breed of mixologists. She continually seeks flavors that work well together, and seeks those that seemingly don’t. The popular watermelon jalapeño margarita, a great creation of flavors that can’t possibly work (but it really does), proves that point beyond discussion.

She likes preparing New Orleans-style drinks for the visiting crowd. “Hurricanes aren’t my favorite, but they are one of our most requested drinks. I know when I get an order for that drink that locals are probably not involved.

Yet, I want to make the best Hurricane that can be made, and I strive to do it many times every night.”

Soles does like the fact that Irvin Mayfield’s is attracting a regular crowd of New Orleanians. “We are seeing more neighbors coming in and enjoying the music, along with bar snacks and good drinks. It means a lot to the club to have ‘regulars’ who are locals.”

There is nothing shabby about Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans jazz interpretations; and nothing shabby about the drinks being created and concocted by Tiffany Soles, New Orleans Magazine’s Bartender of the Year.

– T.M.
Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon St., www.sonesta.com

COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR
P&J OYSTER COOKBOOK

BY KIT WOHL AND THE SUNSERI FAMILY

It hasn’t been a great year for oysters; one of the most desired raw ingredients of New Orleans cuisine took a terrible blow from the oil disaster in the Gulf. An entire oyster season was wiped out, denying oyster fishermen income and limiting access by a hungry public. This doesn’t even begin to consider the environmental damage, not to mention the other terrible results of the explosion and the spill.

Fortunately for all of us, it’s been a great year for oyster cookbooks and, because there will no doubt be a comeback of the bivalves, we can appreciate what we’re now missing by reading and relishing recipes featuring our favorite source of protein.

In developing The P&J Oyster Cookbook, the Sunseri family of P&J Oyster fame brought into the project noted local author of seven other books about dining and gastronomy, Kit Wohl. The collaboration yielded what is probably the most beautiful and delightful oyster book ever published. With the involvement of publisher, Pelican Press, there was a full, local team creating and producing this book. The timing of the book’s release makes the volume even more deserving of our respect.

P&J Oyster Company is the oldest business of its kind in the United States, approaching 130 years of operation.

Back in the mid-1800s, John Popich was one of the many immigrants from Croatia who found his way to New Orleans, quickly joining his fellow countrymen harvesting the beautiful and wild oyster beds of southern Louisiana.

Joseph Jurisich was the orphaned son of a couple who owned and operated an oyster saloon in the French Quarter.

In 1876, the men joined up and concentrated on what each did best. Popich harvested and Jurisich sold. They prospered and, in 1921, took two important steps.

The first was to purchase a building on the corner of North Rampart and Toulouse streets on the edge of the French Quarter (still the company’s main office and preparation center). And they brought into the business a part-time salesman and bookkeeper, the husband of Jurisich’s first cousin, Alfred Sunseri.

The successful collaboration only stumbled once. While “moonlighting” at P&J, Sunseri remained an employee of United Fruit Company, the Chiquita Banana people. In the early 1930s, Sunseri was offered a better position with United Fruit if he would move to Baltimore. Less than six months after Sunseri’s departure, the business at P&J declined. The partners now realized that Sunseri was using his United Fruit contacts to assist their business. They contacted Sunseri in Baltimore, offered him more money and a one-third partnership. Sunseri jumped at the chance to return to his beloved New Orleans.

The rest, as they say, is history. Continuing the family theme, The P&J Oyster Cookbook was a dream of Bobbie, mother of the current Sunseri clan: Al, Sal, Merri and Blake. Over the years Bobbie assembled bits and scraps of recipes in hopes of one day bringing them together. She passed away in 2004, but not before extracting a promise from her family that they would create an oyster cookbook.

The P&J Oyster Cookbook would make Bobbie very proud indeed; it’s dedicated to her. This is a stunning, oversized volume, filled with photographs of dishes suitable for framing, mostly taken by the author herself. 

The 200 recipes are from a variety of sources, including great New Orleans restaurants, their noted chefs and from the Sunseri family. It is a love poem to oysters as told by people who passionately adore them.   

One of the hallmarks of being a New Orleanian is remembering first encounters. These include memories of Carnival, escapades with the opposite sex, grand dining experiences, hurricanes and that first oyster eaten. We savor those moments.

The P&J Oyster Cookbook lays out for us whole new vistas of enjoying our favorite seafood, raw or meticulously prepared. Let us hope those days are very near. We look forward to once again enjoying a kiss with the sea. 
    
– T.M.
P&J Oyster Cookbook by Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family, Pelican Press, Gretna

SPECIALTY SHOP OF THE YEAR
RARE CUTS

It has been a busy year for Henry Albert, owner of Rare Cuts. Within the last 12 months he has opened stores in three locations – Mandeville, River Ridge and Uptown, respectively – delivering his high-quality steaks customers on both sides of the lake. Combining a quality product with a clever business model, which essentially functions as a restaurant-grade purveyor aimed at the retail market, this burgeoning hybrid butcher shop won our nomination for Specialty Shop of the Year.

Albert reports that business is booming. “Our repeat business at all locations has been spectacular. The trick is getting new faces in the door. Coming into the holidays, we are expecting it to be our busiest time of the year.”

Football season has ignited sales. Outside of typical tailgating purchases – ribs, burgers and sausage – Albert has been moving meat for the more hardcore (and literal) pigskin fans. “One of the things that jumps out are the whole pigs,” he says. “We sold seven on a recent Saturday ranging from 30-pound sucklings to 110-pound hogs. We’ve gotten the traditional tailgate requests, but if anything stands out, it’s the pigs.”

The bread and butter (or more accurately steak and potatoes) of Albert’s offerings concern dry and wet aged beef, cut to spec and Cryovac-ed into take-away sized portions. The aging is key: Wet aging takes place inside the Cryovac bag, making the meat far more tender. Dry aging, on the other hand, is done on the bone in the Mandeville shop, enhancing the flavor of the beef with a pronounced nuttiness and complexity. The Black Angus beef is sourced from a handful of carefully selected purveyors, primarily Harris Ranch and Brandt Beef in California.

“They have full control of their animals from birth to process, and produce a consistently great steak.” The beef is hormone- and antibiotic-free and raised on a 100-percent vegetarian diet. In addition to the Black Angus, Kobe-style American Wagyu beef is offered as well, with its terrific, flavorful marbling.

Albert has broadened his offerings for the holidays. October saw flocks of pre-ordered, all-natural free range Thanksgiving turkeys arrive from Tanglewood Farms. “Fresh, not frozen,” Albert explains. “Basically, they go from the field to your table in three days.” Going into December, look for lamb crown roasts for special occasions along with his new boutique ‘Black Label’ line. “That is essentially for Christmas – I’m taking filets that I usually age for 20 days and aging them for 50 instead, and then hand-selecting them after I cut. Ribeyes I’m aging for 60 and strips I’m aging for 70. They are going to be packaged in nice gift-style boxes.” Given the long aging process, time pre-ordering is recommended, although he plans to stock some on the shelf to accommodate last-minute purchases; more information is available on their website.

Along with the meats in the shop, look for a small assortment of sides including double stuffed baked potatoes with Niman Ranch bacon and Three Cheese and Shitake Mushroom Scalloped Potatoes. “We’re also going to start carrying some fresh greens, like asparagus, in small quantities, for one-stop shopping.” And meat lovers, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the grill outside the Magazine Street location – if it’s fired up, it means free samples.

– J.F.
Rare Cuts, 801 Nashville Ave.
267-4687; 5860 Citrus Blvd., Suite V, Harahan, 309-8391; 1600 W. Causeway Approach, Suite 5, Mandeville, (985) 778-0800; store.rarecuts.com.

All photos above: MARYLOU UTTERMOHLEN

CLASSIC NEW ORLEANS FINE DINING RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
BRENNAN’S

This year marked the centennial of founder Owen Brennan’s birth. He would be proud of his legacy. Along the way this phenomenally influential restaurant has elevated not just dinner, but breakfast into an art form and given the city Bananas Foster, arguably its most famous dessert. A Brandy Milk Punch or two during brunch on the beautiful courtyard remains one of the most pleasurable ways to pass a long morning in the French Quarter.

– J.F.
417 Royal St., 525-9711, brennansneworleans.com

 

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
MANDINA’S

Gussied-up interior aside, which has been the subject of controversy with patrons since its post-Katrina reopening, you won’t find anyone complaining about Mandina’s quintessential New Orleans fare, including amazing turtle soup and perfectly spiced Shrimp Creole. When friends come in from out of town asking to see the real New Orleans, this is where to take them. 

– J.F.
3800 Canal St., 482-9179, mandinasrestaurant.com

CONTINENTAL ITALIAN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
MAXIMO’S ITALIAN GRILL

Back strong after Hurricane Katrina, chef Thomas Woods is leading a true renaissance of cuisine and atmosphere in this very comfortable French Quarter restaurant. Enjoy a seat at the counter in front of the completely open show kitchen and watch every dish being prepared. Better than a night at the movies and with much more flavor and style.

– T.M.
1117 Decatur St., 586-8883, maximosgrill.com

STEAKHOUSE OF THE YEAR
LABOCA

Chef Adolfo Garcia’s Argentine steak house, La Boca, serves the best beef in town. In addition to New York strip, ribeye and a bone-in fillet, the restaurant serves less common cuts such as the entraña fina – a skirt steak that can be ordered with or without its “skin” – a hanger steak and a USDA prime flank steak from Niman Ranch. La Boca is open for dinner only, and make certain to find out about one of the always-excellent nightly specials.

– R.P.
857 Fulton St., 525-8205

CHINESE RESTAURANTOF THE YEAR
JUNG’S GOLDEN DRAGON

Jung’s Golden Dragon recently upgraded its Veterans Memorial Boulevard location to new digs on Magazine Street. Its authentic Chinese menu, offering a far broader range of dishes than the usual Americanized fare found in New Orleans, and personable hostess set it apart from the pack. The dumplings alone are reason to go.

– J.F.
3009 Magazine St., 887-6081, jungsgoldendragon2.com

 

CREOLE SOUL RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
DUNBAR’S

Relocating from their pre-Katrina Freret Street location to the Broadway Campus of Loyola University, the Dunbar family continues to dish up some of the tastiest red beans and awesome-est fried chicken in the city at prices that even leaves change in the pockets of college students. – J.F.

501 Pine St., 861-5451

FRENCH RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
CAFÉ DEGAS

The masterpiece of proprietor Jacques Soulas, an artist and a restaurateur, and his friend Jerry Edgar, this creative bistro overlooking Forcier Park and romantic Esplanade Avenue is an authentic French jewel. The openness of the dining room, the intimacy of the bar, a live oak tree rising through the floor and a complete wine list adding pleasure to the French menu have guests looking up from their plates of moules et frites, checking the door to see when Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas will arrive. – T.M.

3127 Esplanade Ave., 945-5635, cafedegas.com

MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
LITTLE MOROCCO

One of a very few places offering North African cuisine, Little Morocco serves up exotically spiced Tajines, lamb and couscous dishes. Try the Morozia – lamb with plums and honey seasoned with Ras el Hanout – and BYOB as there’s no corkage fee (or liquor license). A small grocery store in the back rounds out the experience. – J.F.

7457 St. Charles Ave., 301-9184

TRADITIONAL NEW ORLEANS ITALIAN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
TONY ANGELLO’S

“Mr. Tony’s House” is a modest ranch-style design, complete with photos of famous guests, breakfronts and even a private dining room with a lone, bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. But the graciousness of the surroundings, the friendly bar scene and the comfort of the larger rooms make diners appreciate the special gift that “Mr. Tony” has given this city for many, many years. Even the 12 feet of water from flooding after Hurricane Katrina and the multi-year project to completely replace Fleur de Lis Drive haven’t dimmed the classic Italian dishes that flow from the kitchen and the heart.  – T.M.

6262 Fleur de Lis Drive, 488-0888

JAPANESE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
LITTLE TOKYO

The Little Tokyo family of restaurants is our choice for Japanese restaurant of 2010. With four locations serving sushi (in Mid-City, Uptown, Metairie and Boutte) and the newly opened Little Tokyo Small Plates and Noodle Shop on South Carrollton, there’s ample opportunity to sample some of the best Japanese cuisine and the freshest fish in town. – R.P.

310 N. Carrollton Ave., 485-5658; 1340 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-6088;
1521 N. Causeway Blvd., 831-6788; 13371 US Highway 90, Boutte, (985) 331-0887, littletokyonola.com

LATIN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
FIESTA LATINA

Fiesta Latina serves the cuisine of Mexico and Central America, and does both very well. Tacos, burritos, tamales and pupusas with fried plantains are only some of your options at the restaurant’s two locations.  – R.P.

1924 Airline Highway, Kenner, 468-2384; 133 N. Carrollton Ave., 484-0590

VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
TAN DINH

Tan Dinh stands out among the many local Vietnamese restaurants for the overall excellence of its food, and for some items not found on other Vietnamese menus such as a curry of frog legs, goat in a satay sauce with Vietnamese herbs and the spicily addictive fried ribs with lemongrass and chili. – R.P.

1705 Lafayette St., 361-8088

MEXICAN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
PANCHITA’S

Thie décor is the four rows of stately oaks lining South Carrollton Avenue, and the soundtrack is often the clanging of streetcars, but the cuisine is pure and authentic Mexican, with emphasis on the ingredients and dishes of Veracruz, Mexico’s oldest and largest port, located on the Gulf of Mexico. Panchita’s interpretations of the culinary connections between that city and this one aren’t subtle, and the amazing blend of fresh flavors and bold ingredients will bring you to the conclusion that you’ve never before experienced the authentic cuisine of Mexico unless, of course, you’ve been there. – T.M.

1434 S. Carrollton Ave., 281-4127

All photos above: JEFFERY JOHNSTON

 

Categories: Dining Features