The holiday season is well upon us, and I’ve broken out my sweaters. For a man who lives in a sub-tropical climate, I have a lot of sweaters. Most of them were Christmas gifts, and unlike most of the gifts I’ve received over the years, they never seem to wear out. Or at least they don’t wear out to the point that I consider discarding them. Still, having a lot of sweaters is a good thing for a man in my position. Not only do they keep me warm, they serve to hide the weight I gain this time of year as a result of eating the heartier fare that shows up on restaurant menus.
The Midwest is known for hearty fare regardless of the season. It isn’t a style of cooking that we see much of down here, but when Indiana natives Kevin Fruits and Matt Cummings opened Prime Grille (3162 Dauphine St.) in Bywater recently, they decided to cook the food they know and love.
Fruits serves as the chef at the restaurant, and he told me that he and Cummings have been in New Orleans for almost nine years. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love it,” he says, but at the same time, they didn’t want to open another nouveau-Creole eatery. Instead he described his cooking as Midwestern with a New Orleans flair. For example, Fruits is serving a bison rib-eye steak with Creole seasoning and a blue cheese-potato gratin. Their fillet of beef is crusted with coffee and chicory, and the blackened redfish is stuffed with crabmeat that has also been blackened.
Fruits has no formal culinary training, but he credits a former graduate of (and current instructor at) the Culinary Institute of America, Brannon Soileau, as a mentor. Fruits said he learned a great deal from Soileau, with whom he worked at Maize, an American Grill in Lafayette, Ind. Soileau is from Cajun country, and from him Fruits picked up some of the flavors of South Louisiana. Soileau also showed him the value of integrating local flavors into his personal style, which is a lesson well learned.
As I write, Prime Grille is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday, and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Call 301-1740 to make sure those hours are up to date or to make a reservation.
New Orleans has a lot of Japanese restaurants, so when a new sushi joint opens it had better have something unique to set it apart from its competitors. Kakkoii Japanese Bistreaux (7537 Maple St.) which opened not long ago, has a couple of things going for it on that end. In addition to the standard options for a Japanese restaurant, you’ll find fish tacos (“taceaux de pascado”) that hearken back to a time when the structure which houses Kakkoii was home to the Mexican restaurant Vera Cruz, and the sweet-glazed baby-back “Monki” ribs would be more familiar in a barbecue joint. There are a couple of Thai dishes on the menu as well, including an interesting version of Pad Thai made with tempura-style fried fish. The restaurant is essentially one large room, with a sushi chef stationed on the back wall and a long bar along the wall running parallel to Hillary Street. The décor is modern, with an aesthetic that looks to graffiti for inspiration, but it’s a comfortable space in the end. If you’re curious, you can call 570-6440 to find out more.
Emeril’s Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Ave.) has also named a new chef de cuisine. Anthony Scanio has been promoted from within the restaurant, replacing Spencer Minch. Scanio started as a line cook at Delmonico, so this is truly an inside hire. You can call 525-4937 to make a reservation. And if you’re thinking of going to Delmonico, you really should make a reservation. That kind of tip, and my overwhelming personal magnetism, are what got me the job as “Restaurant Insider.”
Chef Jared Tees has replaced Anthony Spizale at Manning’s (519 Fulton St.). Tees was most recently executive chef at Besh Steakhouse, so he didn’t have to travel far when he took the same position at the sports-themed restaurant opened by Archie Manning last year. The sports bar is located near Harrah’s casino, and you can call 593-8118 to find out what’s on tap this week.