Doldrums?

This is supposed to be the time of year when the restaurant world is stagnant. The seasonal rise in temperatures ushers in a corresponding decline in convention and other tourism related business, and typically that bodes ill for even the most local-centric eateries.

And yet over the last month several new restaurants have opened, and more are on the way. We have more restaurants now than we did in early 2005, and that’s with a reduced population. Is there a crest to this wave? I have no clue, but I’m going to “surf” this “wave” until I am “crushed” beneath the “breakers” of … shit, I lost it.

Adolfo Garcia is bullish on the revitalization of Freret St., and this month he opened both the High Hat Café (a riff on Delta Cuisine) and, in the space adjacent, Ancora (an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria). Garcia partnered with Chip Apperson on High Hat, where you can order fried catfish, pork tamales, slow-cooked greens and an interesting take on potato salad made with sweet potatoes. It’s a casual restaurant that takes its cues from Apperson’s experience in Memphis, Tenn., and is open for lunch and dinner daily. High Hat’s phone number is something of a mystery. Indeed, when I called Garcia’s Rio Mar, I was told that the restaurant had only just gotten its phone, and even the manager didn’t know the number. I’d expect that will change shortly, and I’ll provide more information when I do a more thorough review of the place.

For Ancora, Garcia teamed up with Jeff Talbot, and though the restaurant is next door to High Hat (the two spots share the former site of Antoine’s bakery at 4508 and 4500 Freret St, respectively), it’s an entirely different operation. The two imported a huge oven from Naples, Italy and the menu is limited to five pizzas and five house-made salumi. The restaurant is open for dinner only, and Garcia has no plans to open for lunch. He told me that the dough takes two days to make, and that once they’ve run out of their daily allotment, that’s it. That doesn’t mean you have to get there by 6 to score a pie; they generally make around 100 per night. Ancora is open Monday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m., and you can call 324-1636 for more information.

Aaron Burgau, Marcus Woodham, and brothers Leon and Pierre Touzet opened Tru Burger on Oak St last week. It’s a casual burger joint that adds yet another to the list of excellent venues on the revitalized street. The restaurant grinds its own meat, and serves burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes and not much else; which is fine. A burger joint should do burgers, and do them well. I can’t report first-hand on the offerings at Tru Burger, but given the folks behind it, I’m looking forward to checking it out. Tru Burger is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Taste of the Caribbean also opened recently in Gretna at 505 Gretna blvd, #10. The restaurant is owned by Elianne Charles, and serves mostly Haitian and Honduran food, with selections from other islands in the region. Check out the menu at the restaurant’s website. Taste of the Caribbean is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Call 265-8946 for more information.

Finally, Chef Dominique Macquet is offering a four-course tasting menu of Argentine food Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through the end of the month. The meal costs $38, and there are suggested pairings of Argentine wines available.

The first course is an escabeche of local eggplant with garlic-parsley croutons. It’s a light, flavorful way to start the meal, and the chilled dish is perfect for the high temperatures. Next up is a choice between pieces of house-made chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and sweetbreads with chimichurri and criolla sauces and crispy fried potatoes, or traditional empanadas with Morgan Ranch Wagyu beef and braised Vidalia onion. The sweetbreads in particular were the stars of this course, though when I had a chance to check out the menu Macquet’s kitchen also turned out a beautiful version of the empanada made with locally sourced sweet white corn in addition to the meaty beef pie. The beef filling was good, but the corn was stellar; the flaky pastry is reminiscent of the best Natchitoches meat pies, which is to say outstanding. For an entree there is another choice: grilled Morgan Ranch Wagyu flank steak with roasted local irish potatoes, or pimenton-dusted drum served with a saffron and roatsed vegetable rice pilaf, a cucumber and Creole tomato relish, and a lemon-thyme beurre blanc. Both entrees were delicious, but the rice pilaf was probably the second favorite thing I put in my mouth that night, coming in just behind the sweetbreads. The roasted vegetables (including calabasa squash) are, like most everything else served at Dominique’s, procured from local sources. Combined with the saffron and rice and roasted so that they retained some measure of their texture, the pilaf was a great accompaniment to the fish.

Dessert is a vanilla flan with dulce de leche and toasted almond chantilly. Most flans I’ve been served are more like the “cup custard” I remember from my childhood – light and with a slightly bitter flavor from the caramel used to top the dish. This flan was a revelation, with a more dense texture; the dulce de leche and cream that accompanied the flan did not overwhelm the dish with sweetness. The meal is prepared by chef Macquet’s Argentine sous chef Agustin Echazarreta and his countryman Pablo Guarna; desserts are made by Brenda Howlin, also a native of Argentina. Macquet has plans to feature the cuisines of Peru and Brazil in upcoming months, but I would highly recommend checking out the Argentine menu while it’s still available. Call the restaurant at 894-8881 to make a reservation.

Digital Sponsors

Become a MyNewOrleans.com sponsor ...

Sign up for our FREE

New Orleans Magazine email newsletter

Get the the best in New Orleans dining, shopping, events and more delivered to your inbox.