The perfect dining entrée for summer, fresh caught Gulf fish can be found on the menu at many New Orleans restaurants, but two new additions are giving the competition a run for their money. From the wood-fired grill at Peche or a sizzling Himalayan salt brick at Kingfish, here are two reasons to embrace your inner pescetarian this July.
Peche is the newest addition to the Link Group restaurants, which include Cochon and Herbsaint. Inspired by their travels and study of Asado, the South American tradition of cooking over an open-flame, chefs Donald Link, Stephen Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt have now opened a seafood restaurant (Peche actually means fish), where the center of attention is on local sourcing and dishes prepared on a wood-fired grill that was crafted by Link’s cousin.
The grill doesn’t disappoint. On a recent visit, a whole redfish (enough to feed at least two to three people) arrived to the table with a crispy skin and impeccably soft flesh, which fled the bone with only the slightest touch. My mother, sister and I picked apart the red fish so fast that a server actually gave us fist bumps before he carted off its skeletal remainder, amazed at our proficiency.
And while it’s easy to gobble up nearly everything on the menu at Peche, the great thing is that most menu options aren’t so burdensome, considering the dreaded heat of summer. Seasonal vegetables such as grilled eggplant dressed with chili es an d garlic , or a s imple feta and arugula salad tossed in a lemon vin aigrette , keep dining on the lighter side, though naturally you can sate a carb-lover with savory hush puppies and dec adent, buttery fried brea d, whic h is similar to a beignet and sprinkled with salt.
The atmosphere is more Cochon-style, totally casual with no table cloths. A lunchtime jaunt with a group of coworkers or a dinner with friends both work well here, as the menu is geared toward plate-sharing with lots of small plate choices, snacks and even a seafood platter from the oyster bar featuring fish crudo (thinly sliced, sashimi-like raw fish) oysters , salads and dips meant for many hands.
But save room for dessert, because this is actually one of the few places in town you’ll find a take on the pineapple upside-down cake, courtesy of pastry chef Rhonda Ruckman, and you don’t want to skip it.
At Kingfish in the Frenc h Quarter, chef Greg Sonnier creates hearty dishes steeped in Louisiana tradition and flavors, but with an element of the exotic. Sonnier honed his craft working for cooking greats like Paul Prudhomme before opening Gabrielle, a Mid-City favorite that closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But he’s still up to his kitchen wizardry, creating classic dishes such as oysters Thermidor and seafood cassoulet that harken back to the days of Huey P. Long but also fit comfortably alongside effortless, quirky dishes such as tempura-fried deviled duck egg, and an alligator ragout topped with a free-range egg.
Sonnier’s signature entrée, Every Man a Fish, is a showstopper. Here, a delicate filet of pompano is seared over a piping hot Himalayan salt brick (and brought to the table on it) accompanied by tender, warm lemon wedges that are actually edible on their own, having soaked up the sweet juice of a red onion marmalade and roasted pecan butter. On a menu of hearty fare, the pompano is a delicate surprise, served with the sort of bravado you’d expect for a restaurant named after the mighty Huey P. Long.
It is hard to resist temptation here because the guava butter and garlic fries are a must-try side for the table, just as the housemade andouille served with a lavender honey mustard is also an irresistible appetizer. The restaurant itself has a bit of a man cave feel, dark with sultry woods and leather and pictures of Huey P Long. The entry opens up onto the bar, where you’ll find legendary bartender Chris McMillian creating classic, Prohibition-era drinks, like his signature Mint Julep, and of course some newer concoctions that are just as pleasing.
The Lacinato kale and smoked drum salad at Herbsaint is simply a divine starter, with creamy onion dressing and local citrus that balance perfectly with the smoked drum, all of which seems to hint at summers at the fishing camp.