Exploring the Possibilities
September is the first month when we allow for the possibility that the heat will one day subside, and we can go back to enjoying the outdoors without risking sunstroke. It is a ruse, of course, because September is damn-near always as hot as August. Still, at least the commercials on national television are starting to look like fall, and that’s something. Something that fills me with jealous rage, but still… something.
Chef Chris DeBarr has been cooking in New Orleans for a long time now, though for much of his career he was behind the scenes at restaurants such as Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s and Christian’s. When he took a gig cooking at the Delachaise wine bar, it came with a higher profile. He had a lot of freedom to design the menu, where most people discovered what a wildly inventive and talented cook he is. In 2009, he and Paul Artigues opened the Green Goddess in a tiny space at 307 Exchange Alley where DeBarr handled the dinner service and selected the wines. He garnered more attention, but the restaurant’s size and limited kitchen led many to predict he’d be moving on eventually. “Eventually” turned into August 2012, assuming DeBarr’s new restaurant Serendipity (3700 Orleans Ave.) opens on time in the American Can Company condominium building.
Serendipity takes the place of an Italian restaurant that never really stood out, but that’s not something DeBarr has to worry about. His food may not appeal to everyone, but nobody will accuse him of being boring or staid. DeBarr told me that while he has big plans for the place, those plans don’t include scaling back the kind of cooking he’s become known for. He will continue to make eclectic food in a larger setting.
As I write, the restaurant is close to opening its doors; the phone number isn’t active yet, but DeBarr told me that it will be 407-0818 – so give them a call to find out what’s going on.
Nile (2130 Magazine St.) is the second Ethiopian restaurant to open in the last couple of years in New Orleans. The restaurant is located near the other Ethiopian restaurant, Café Abyssinia, whose address is at 3511 on the same thoroughfare. The food of the East African nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea (Ethiopia’s neighbor and culinary twin) is remarkable; it bears some resemblance to the food of the Indian subcontinent in the free use of chilies, slow-cooked legumes and heavily-spiced foods generally, but the similarity is mostly superficial.
Ethiopian food starts with injera, a spongy, crêpe-like bread that serves as a base on which stews, pulses and sautéed dishes are presented, as well as the principal utensil for eating them. Ethiopians eat with their right hands, tearing off bits of the sourdough injera and using it to pick up morsels of food. The bread is made from a wheat native to East Africa, teff; its slightly sour flavor complements the often fiery dishes served on and with it. The injera at Nile is very good, and like the semi-dry crumbled cheese that accompanies some of the dishes, it’s made in-house.
The menu, as I write, is rather basic; with an abbreviated Ethiopian repertoire of entrées and no separate section for appetizers, side-dishes or desserts. Folks at the restaurant told me those were in the works, as is a liquor license. What is on offer now is best experienced with a few friends along for the ride, so that you can sample a few different items at once. A party of four could order a wot, which is a thick stew that’s available in lamb, chicken or beef versions, a sautéed dish of Tibs (beef or lamb) and the combination vegetable plate called Yesom Beyaynetu, which, when I had it, included two varieties of lentil pulses, greens, a dish of potatoes and peppers and another dish with cabbage, potatoes, peppers and onions.
There is more to the menu, and you should check it out by calling 281-0859.
St. Lawrence (219 N. St. Peters St.) is the patron saint of cooks, among other things. It is also the name of a restaurant and bar that opened in the French Quarter. That block and those surrounding it are more frequented by tourists than locals, but St. Lawrence is aiming for the former. Given the food, the drinks and the hours it keeps, the place should generate a loyal following.
Caleb Cook is the chef, above, and he earned his chops under Susan Spicer (one could have a worse mentor). There are a few indications of his tutelage; there’s a daily vegetable curry that could be on the menu at Mondo or Bayona, but Cook’s menu is distinctively his. There are spring rolls on the appetizer portion of the menu that include corned beef, chow-chow, Gruyère cheese and Thousand Island dressing; there’s also a poor boy made with fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese and bacon.
St. Lawrence is open from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Call 525-4111 to find out what they’re doing today.