We are blessed to have an abundance of Vietnamese restaurants in New Orleans. Fifteen years ago, to find banh mi or pho you’d need to go to the West Bank or New Orleans East. Those of us who appreciated the food had no problem making that short trek, but these days it’s no longer an absolute necessity.
In fact, the thing that struck me about Le’s Baguette Banh Mi Café was that they do breakfast, too. In my experience, breakfast places are in high demand, and Le’s location seems prime for a brisk neighborhood business.
They opened less than two weeks ago, and when I visited for a fairly late lunch, they were still reasonably busy. I didn’t get a full sample of the menu; the fried spring rolls are very good, and the pork belly steamed buns (Bao) were also tasty. Based on that admittedly small survey, I can tell you the restaurant knows how to fry things, and that they have the pickled daikon/carrot and pork belly down. I am willing to extrapolate from my experience with a high degree of confidence that their banh mi and bun (noodle) dishes will be good as well.
I will not, at this point, vouch for their pho, because a) I haven’t tasted it; b) it’s an entirely different animal from what I have tasted; and c) my taste in Pho may differ wildly from yours anyway. I will say that the options at Le’s aren’t what you’ll find at restaurants that make their name by the dish. There’s no offal on offer, for example, and yes I do hate myself a little for having written that.
But here’s the thing; this is a place on Dryades Street that opens at 7 a.m. and serves a pretty standard “American” breakfast, as well as doing very good Vietnamese dishes for lunch and early dinner. I have a feeling the place is going to be packed in the mornings once word gets out that it’s open.
In other news, chef Alon Shaya is no longer executive chef at his eponymous restaurant, and I am sorry for that.
I have no inside information about the subject. I am going to go out of my way to avoid hearing about it, because those sorts of things are not within my remit, and even if I do hear something I am not going to write about it. Ordinarily I encourage you to contact me via email, but please do not do so on this topic.
When I was a mere food blogger, chef Besh was one of the first people to recognize me when I dined at August, and he’s always been more friendly and supportive than I deserve in terms of my influence. I understand that being a restaurateur is sometimes about being friendly with the press and bloggers and so forth, but it felt to me that chef Besh was more interested in my opinion because of my interest in the food than because of something I could do for him in terms of marketing. I’ve never forgotten that, and I never will.
I first spoke to chef Shaya when he was in Italy, before Domenica opened, and since then I’ve gotten to know him well enough to say he’s a great guy in addition to being a great chef. I have had conversations with chef Shaya that convinced me he’s entirely genuine in his love for food and cooking. I may be naïve, but I think I can tell when someone is sincere, and that kid is sincere about his love of food and cooking.
Also, I sometimes dream about the bread that comes out of the oven at Shaya. These are good dreams. If you have had that bread, you know what I mean, and you may well have had the same dream.
I am not in a position to pick sides on this if there are even sides to pick, and while I am a very important person, I cannot imagine why anyone would care very much about my opinion. I guess that’s easy to say when I my opinion is “I like ‘em both!” But there it is. I think we’re better off as a city when both chefs Besh and Shaya are operating restaurants, and while that’s not a controversial opinion, I stand by it!
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