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Comforting and Cozy Restaurants
In fall, comforting meals served in cozy environments just seem to fit the season. Scattered around Uptown are several places that satisfy this urge, among them Dick & Jenny’s and Martinique Bistro.
Both are owned by business partners Kelly Barker and Cristiano Raffignone, who purchased Dick & Jenny’s several months back in a fortuitous bit of kismet, according to their executive chef Lyndsay Mason.
“We initially wanted to bring Cristiano’s (their Italian restaurant in Houma) to New Orleans,” Mason says. “So we started with a Christiano’s pop-up once a week at Martinique’s for six months. Then we learned that Dick & Jenny’s was for sale and it was a perfect fit.”
The new owners were savvy enough not to tamper too much with what already worked. They retained Dick & Jenny’s chef Stacy Hall in the kitchen, as well as most of the other staff. Intact too is much of the pre-existing menu, although now it includes a large selection of northern Italian dishes that Mason brought with him from Christiano’s.
“Dick & Jenny’s is a beautiful place. A little gem,” Mason says. “The menu is a wonderful menu that people have grown to love over the years. There are certain dishes that have been there since they opened and we didn’t want to take those away.”
Now alongside the corn-fried oysters and fried green tomatoes with lump crab and dill remoulade, you’ll find options like beef carpaccio with lemon, caper and arugula as well as an uber-rich raviolini with black truffle and jumbo lump crab in a decadent fontina cream sauce. Among the more popular Italian dishes is a pappardelle featuring duck confit, charred red peppers and mustard greens.
Chef Mason strikes a balance, marrying the foods of Italy and Louisiana and altering them slightly to bring them more into harmony under one tent. Going into fall, look for Mason to feature items with deeper flavors such as osso bucco and other low-and-slow-braised dishes highlighting earthier meats like bison or rabbit. “Think dishes that will make you want to curl up with a bottle of red wine and hang out,” Mason says.
Hanging out is fun at Dick & Jenny’s, which maintains its casual, almost residential dining room feel with unique plates commemorating its founding customers hung above the main bar. A beefed up cocktail program begs exploring, and the low-ceilinged bar in the back is perfect for lounging with friends. Keep an eye open for a new Sunday brunch service, which Mason hopes to have up and running by press time. And contrary to popular perception, Dick & Jenny’s does take reservations.
Over at Martinique Bistro, chef Eric LaBouchere’s French-Colonial inspired fare has reached a wider range of influence of late. Sharing menu space with Parisian classics such as escargots aux champignons in late summer were innovations like a chilled watermelon gazpacho with blue crab. An icy melon ball-sized scoop of cucumber-lime granita in the middle acted like a cooling time release capsule, infusing the soup with a bright top note of citrus.
“We like to try and bring in watermelon when it’s in season and this was a refreshing way to feature it,” LaBouchere says of the dish. “The crabmeat sinks to the bottom so you have this marinated crab meat sort of thing going on when you get to the end that people really love.”
While the gazpacho will have rolled off the menu by November, it highlights LaBouchere’s creative approach to cuisine. Working mostly through French techniques, he tackles non-traditional (and more regional) ingredients. “We’ve always been classified as a French bistro kind of place, but I’ve never wanted to be pigeonholed by that. I like to look to Marseille, as well as Algeria and Tunisia. Wherever there was French colonization going on, I consider it fair game,” LaBouchere says.
Diners will see this in his socca, a chickpea crêpe filled unconventionally with feta, hummus and ratatouille, then drizzled with chili oil. Marseille gets a nod with the fish stew, spiked with a sharp, garlicy rouille. A lot of his widespread inspiration gets its flavor from produce sourced from the VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative in New Orleans East, which connects small Vietnamese farmers with area restaurants and markets. “I’m always looking for some new herb or product, and these guys are all about that. They’ve got stuff I’d never heard of before. Love it.” LaBouchere works the new items into his menu, swapping out the mirliton in his slaw with a more unconventional Vietnamese squash, for example. Sometimes all the various influences come together in dishes like his Gulf shrimp and Maine lobster with green papaya-vermicelli salad, toasted cashews, coconut, lemon grass and lobster broth.
This autumn, look for regional Cushaw squash to appear in a soup preparation featuring orange zest and saffron accents. A roasted oyster mushroom beignet rolls on as well, its namesake ingredients sourced from a purveyor on the Northshore who also brings in Muscadine grapes, which LaBouchere boils down to use in a gastrique. Shrimp and charred eggplant figure into a soup which references classic New Orleans dishes like shrimp and eggplant dressing.
The charming patio at Martinique is tented now, a bit of a mixed blessing. It stabilizes and opens up the seating capacity of the small indoor dining room, especially in inclement weather, but on clear nights one might miss the skies above. The owners are looking to strike a balance with a retractable system in the near term, but in the meantime the tent does mean that outdoor dining there is an option going deep into fall.
Other Cool Vibes
Other comforting nooks to seek out fall dining include Café Degas on Esplanade Avenue, right, Mat and Naddie’s on River Road and Dante’s Kitchen in the Riverbend. All offer either open or covered outdoor dining areas as well as indoor dining rooms that feel more like a living room than a restaurant, typically filled with local art and an eclectic vibe.