BEST OF THE BEST
Bywater American Bistro
Nina Compton’s Caribbean-inspired cuisine at Compère Lapin has been surfing a wave of accolades since it opened, and this year she won the James Beard Award for Best Chef South. So a second restaurant was always a question not of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
That question was answered in March when Bywater American Bistro opened its doors.
For “BABs”, as it has become known, Compton and her husband Larry Miller brought on Chef Levi Raines as a partner. Raines had proven himself to be an integral part of Compere Lapin and Compton envisioned the restaurant to be a platform for this rising star. Compere Lapin and BABs therefore share connections, but they are not clones. While both are rooted in the French and Italian techniques Compton and Raines acquired at Johnson and Wales in Miami, BABs features a more market-driven contemporary American approach. “To differentiate it, we wanted the restaurant made sense with the space itself. For example, we put a focus on rice and grains because the building is a former rice mill,” Raines explained. “Here we focus more on regional ingredients, like fresh milled flour from Bellegarde and a lot of produce from Covey Rise.” BABs also swaps out a charcuterie and cheese section in lieu of Lapin’s raw bar; a bit more turf to the latter’s surf.
Raines’ approach is multi-dimensional, often reinforcing ingredients by employing them in multiple but differentiated ways in the same dish. An appetizer of blue crab dip is not what you might expect. Here it lighter; more like a scoop-able salad. He starts with a vinegar cream paired with mustards in both chiffonade and prepared forms. The chiffonade is dressed in a horseradish vinaigrette spiked with Zatarain’s Creole mustard. “For me it made sense – mustard greens with mustard,” Raines points out.
“And horseradish just goes great with seafood.” The crabmeat itself is dressed simply with olive oil and salt. Tackle it with the accompanying sourdough crackers and what you get is a light, nuanced approach that doesn’t skimp on flavor.
From the “Rice, Grains and Noodles” section, consider the crab fat rice, prepared in a modified risotto style that employs coconut milk and fish sauce for silkiness and umami, spiked with lime juice for bite. The dish is finished with green apples and nasturtium.
A recommended entrée is the pork belly with juniper, apples and wild rice. The belly first gets brined and rubbed with juniper, garlic, thyme and brown sugar, then slow-roasted and portioned for pickup. Topped with chicharrons dusted with powdered green apple along with a compote of caramelized onion, apple and celery root, the belly slices are served over a bed of herbed wild rice and quinoa.
As you might expect from Larry Miller, the drink menu is superb. Larry and Nina both live in the building and recognized the need for a neighborhood spot that catered to residents rather than trends. BABs is that restaurant, and once again they’ve struck gold.2900 Chartres St.
Boil Seafood House
Just when you thought you’d seen it all with seafood, along comes a place that sets something new on the table. Say hello to Boil Seafood House, the latest offering of restaurateur Hieu Doan, which heralds the arrival of this Viet-Cajun dining trend that began in Houston.
“My idea was to give the city more options,” says Doan. “I’m not trying to change traditions. I think New Orleans is more open to this kind of thing now.”
This cross-cultural mashup adds an extra layer of taste to the traditional crawfish boil thanks to a final toss in the seasoning of your choice. Choose from Caribbean, Cajun or Garlic Butter. Can’t decide? The Boil House blend mixes up all three. Finalize it with the level of heat you prefer from mild to extra-spicy.
The seafood is not limited to crawfish – you can pick Dungeness crab, lobster and more. A wide array of appetizers and sides are available to accompany the peel-and-eat items.3340 Magazine St.,
A big backyard, light-filled rooms and a welcoming porch – these are all amenities near the courthouse building on South Broad. Coffee Science, an urban oasis by barista Tom Oliver, brings all this and more to this underserved niche.
Coffee Science takes full advantage of New Orleans’s burgeoning small-batch roaster scene, sourcing beans from French Truck, Mojo, Congregation Coffee and more. Shots are pulled on his gleaming Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine and black coffee comes by way of his custom-modded drip brewer, which produces pour-over quality product without the typical wait.
Nostalgia buffs will love his Venetian and Bavarian Crèmes, inspired by the ‘Ain’t Dere No More’ Kaldi’s on Decatur. “Ours is a coconut-milk based iced latte finished with a little cream,” Oliver says. “It’s a real texture drink.” Yet Coffee Science looks forward, not back – guests here will enjoy a rotating cast of pop-ups serving BBQ, tacos and more with DJs to boot. Artisan pastries and retail beans round out the appeal.410 S Broad St.,
“Food courts” in malls and offices are designed for convenience; the former to keep folks shopping and the latter to encourage quick lunches. The Food Hall at the Auction House Market, like the St. Roch Market (which is also operated by Will Donaldson and Barre Tanguis) is a destination itself. Light from windows on two sides and a skylight keep it bright, and there’s enough space to comfortably browse the offerings or sit and eat.
Among the places to choose from are The Mayhaw, which in addition to craft cocktails and beer offers wines by the glass or bottle occupies the center of the space, and Coast Roast, which like the Mayhaw also has a location at St. Roch, serves a range of brewed beverages with beans roasted in-house.
At Tava, vegetarian and omnivorous fillings are served in delicate, crepe-like dosas, heartier uttapam, and kati rolls: layered bread similar to paratha. Elysian Seafood, as at St. Roch, serves local seafood and raw oysters. At Empanola, flaky pastry surrounds fillings both traditional – ground beef with olives – and innovative, such as crawfish etouffee, ratatouille or beef bourguignon.
The Mediterranean food at Alpha comes in the form of small plates like hummus and labneh, salads such as fattoush and pita wraps and plates of chicken shawarma or shakshouka. Sola Deli sells sandwiches, salads and wraps as well as retail sale of specialty products and charcuterie.
The “mac” at Mac & Moon refers to macarons, the airy French delicacy which like the other baked goods available at the shop, are vegan. Toasts are the focus at HappyJaxx, where chef Patrick Kearney serves multiple versions of the fashionable dish as well as salads, omelettes, teas and fruit smoothies.
Each of the above could merit inclusion in our list individually, but together there’s no doubt that the Food Hall at Auction House Market is among the best new offerings of the year.801 Magazine St.,
Chef Greg Sonnier’s earthy, sophisticated cooking made Gabrielle one of the most cherished restaurants in New Orleans. Its original location on Esplanade Avenue was damaged during Katrina, and like so many other locals, Sonnier and his equally-talented wife Mary, were stymied in their efforts to reopen. They tried to start again with the Uptowner, but Byzantine zoning laws and neighborhood opposition proved insurmountable hurdles.
In September of last year, their dream became a reality when Gabrielle reopened on Orleans Avenue, with Gabie now running the front of the house. The location has changed, and chef Sonnier’s food has evolved, but Gabrielle remains a welcoming, family-oriented place, and the bold, rich flavors will be familiar to anyone who dined with the Sonniers on Esplanade.
Chef Sonnier’s experience working with chefs Paul Prudhomme and Frank Brigtsen is evident on each plate. The food tends toward rustic, full-bodied flavors, and many dishes benefit from long, slow cooking. Though each element of every dish is carefully considered and artfully presented, the flavors are reminiscent of the best of our region’s home cooking. From the dark, smoky gumbo to Sonnier’s renowned slow-roasted duck, the food is unmistakably from south Louisiana.2441 Orleans Ave.,
A lineup of national poke chains are bearing down on New Orleans. But on St. Claude Avenue you will find Poke-chan, a local independent that serves up colorful bowls of the marinated fish and whose care and attention to detail will put such interlopers to shame.
Owned by a trio of sisters, Loan, Lien and Susan Nguyen, the concept came about while working at N7, where they met their other business partner, Dalena Vo. A scattering of Japanese dishes such as takoyaki, from N7’s chef Yuki Yamaguchi, complete the menu.
Loan views poke as an affordable, casual alternative to sushi. “Also it’s healthy,” Loan says, “A lot of classic New Orleans food is so heavy.” Choose from a selection of composed bowls or else build you own from an array of options. There are also cooked bowls featuring unagi as well as karaage, flavorful morsels of Japanese fried chicken.
Popular options include the Honey Garlic bowl, an assemblage of rice, tuna, salmon and snow crab seasoned with honey-garlic marinade, pickled daikon and a spicy aioli. House-made Jasmine and Thai-style milk teas help to complete the experience.2809 St. Claude Ave.,
Inclusion among the best new restaurants for Jack Rose is deserved, but it’s a bit unusual. The predecessor Caribbean Room opened in the Pontchartrain Hotel in 1948 to high accolades. Despite a steady stream of locals and visitors from around the world, the Caribbean Room went dark in 1994.
The reopening in 2016 was cause for much celebration, but difficult operating circumstances with the parent corporation, and some missteps with menu and presentation, caused the Caribbean Room to close earlier this year.
Happily, it has found its voice once again, and this time the effort reinforces an important statement: New Orleans understands and appreciates top-notch dining in comfortable surroundings. The re-birth has been quite the success.
The room has been renamed and designed as an homage to a great play set in our city, “The Rose Tattoo,” written by one of this town’s most illustrious playwrights, Tennessee Williams, who also lived for a while at the Pontchartrain Hotel, in which the restaurant is located. To make matters practically perfect when applied to this cocktail-mad community, the Jack Rose mixed drink is as fine a use of brandy, fresh citrus juices and grenadine as you will find anywhere.
The restaurant has returned to its true purpose, placing an emphasis on local ingredients creatively served without pretension. Still there is a new, more casual atmosphere, approachable and comfortable. It works very well.
Brian Landry and Emery Whalen have hit a home run with Jack Rose, their first venture for the fledgling QED Hospitality Group, of which they are founders. Both are experienced restaurateurs and know their way around a kitchen and a dining room. It took them about a day to decide to return the Mile-High Pie to its previous glories with home-made ice creams, particularly the peppermint, presented in the traditional slice, not a tower as was done by the previous proprietor.2031 St. Charles Ave.,
Great pizza starts with the crust. Like a beautiful house built on sand, even the finest toppings cannot support a weak foundation. Great crust starts with the dough, and dough is the domain of bakers.
At Echo’s Pizza in Mid-City, the pizzas (and breads) are baked by Kate Heller, of Leo’s Bread. Heller and her partners at Echo’s, Theresa Galli and Gavin Cady, began their relationship at 1000 Figs, the outstanding, small Mediterranean restaurant Galli and Cady operate off Esplanade Avenue near City Park. Heller’s bread proved to be a big hit there, and fortunately for New Orleans diners the trio have continued their collaboration.
The talented kitchen team at Echo’s puts out food that matches the quality of Heller’s wonderful breads and blistered, thin pizza crusts. The food and drinks are simple and direct, focusing on high-quality and largely local products rather than over-complicated or fussy presentations.
The wood fired oven that dominates the center of the restaurant’s dining room turns out the pizzas and breads, but many other items on the small menu are touched by its intense heat. This is not a one-trick pony, though; at Echo’s small plates include items like pickled carrots, dandelion greens with yogurt and beer-battered zucchini with aioli.
But pizza is in the restaurant’s name, and it does not disappoint. From classics like the Margherita to innovative pies topped with miso, roasted onion, mushroom and lemon, there’s not a weak entry to be had.
The restaurant’s décor is restrained, with light-colored walls and pale wood that focus attention on the few more colorful elements. A rear patio with hanging lights and custom-made planters provides more space for dining. It’s a comforting space that fits into the restaurant’s goal of being a neighborhood hangout.
These are some of the reasons that we feel Echo’s Pizza is not only the best new pizza restaurant in New Orleans, it’s one of the best, period.3200 Banks St.,
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of French restaurants are greatly exaggerated. In this case, there is cause for a grand Second Line because Vyoone’s is most certainly alive, well and setting the pace for a wonderful re-emphasis of this style of cooking and service. Vyoone’s Segue Lewis is the owner. She is Canadian French, African Creole and Cherokee Indian – a one-woman United Nations. Among other pursuits, a Pediatric Geneticist trained at Tulane University. Her friend and partner, Zohreh Khaleghi, was a key element at the long-successful Flaming Torch restaurant. From the kitchen at Vyoone’s, comes excellent versions of coq au vin, poisson, duck breast chambord, poulet a la provençal, and even a few nods to Vietnamese cuisine.
Vyoone’s will be an important part of the unfolding Warehouse District dining destination story and a main retort when “French cuisine is over” becomes a topic.412 Girod St.,
Tito's Ceviche and Pisco
Anyone thinking that a Peruvian restaurant has both feet in South America, is in for an historic and pleasant surprise at Tito’s. The long, close relationship between Japan and Peru is on full display. To be sure, European influence is not ignored which makes for a most interesting and varied tasting dining experience. Then, of course, there are the many presentations of the national beverage of Peru, a mostly colorless, seductive brandy, Pisco, made from plentiful native grape varietals.
To enjoy a simple dish, like ceviche, highlighted with New Orleans’ fresh local seafood, and pairing it with the pride of Peru, Tito’s is to understand an entire nation in just one sitting. The menu at Tito’s is varied and authentic. It’s an absolute culinary treasure.5015 Magazine St.,
Paloma, where Café Henri held forth in the Bywater, is not just a new operation, it is a trend-setter. The culinary creations of chefs Justin Rodriguez (Dominican Republic), and Danny Alas (Venezuela) are the next important step for our city’s involvement with the cuisines of South and Latin America.
These supremely talented professionals, who first met at Cordon Bleu in Miami and then hitched their star to Nina Compton, joining the new Compere Lapin when she pulled up stakes in South Florida to come here. Rodriquez and Alas are now ready to place their own imprints on the profession. Dishes include chorizo-stuffed dates, amazing cauliflower in a romesco and manchego marriage, salt cod fritter with aioli, and a layered salad punctuated with pistachio that will tempt you not to order anything else.
The dinner menu really gets interesting with both small plate offerings and full-scale entrees, suitable for sharing. The Yuca Frita is a carryover from lunch, and positively delicious in a garlic cilantro aioli. Carrying the succulent theme forward, the pork chop in a yucca puree with pearl onions melts on the palate. The camarones con tomate head for an authentic south-of-the-border yet still authentically New Orleans sensation: local shrimp with charred tomato, maso and chili butter.
There is the not quite soup/not quite solid, appropriate given our soggy land texture, mix of octopus and shrimp in an herb broth. You will be reaching for the bread to soak up every drop.
Desserts are not about quantity but flavors, and the churros coated with cinnamon ready for dipping into the chocolate bowl will give rise to another order, please.
Paloma is serving three meals daily, and brunch, served during an extra long 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. timeframe on weekends. The full and creative bar offers a fine selection of wines, along with properly prepared cocktails, many of Paloma’s own design. .800 Louisa Street