I was born in 1968 when my sister, Beth, was 13. She was pretty and graceful, able to dance en pointe under the tutelage of Tony Bevinetto, the Broadway dance legend who retired to New Orleans to coax the inner dancers from little girls. He suggested to our mother that Beth pursue a career in dance. Years later when I flopped into his brilliant, gleaming white studio on Metairie Road he advised my mother to save her money.
Beth and I were and remain different in most ways, sharing in common only the scars we bear for having survived our childhoods (another story).
In 1984, Beth moved to Chicago and started a veterinary practice. Young, petulant and self-absorbed, I didn’t think too much of her going. We weren’t very close.
I grew up thinking everyone sustained themselves on crawfish boils, sun-soaked festivals and chanting, wild men in feathered suits. I was a street rat with a fake ID sneaking into Tipitina’s and the Rose Tatoo to suck up music and Dixie long necks.
Eventually my sister started to long for the oddities of New Orleans and sought an escape route. After 31 years in Chicago she made her way home at the end of 2015, settling into a cottage on Octavia Street just two blocks from my own home in the neighborhood where our great grandparents settled when they immigrated from Sweden in 1894.
We were thrilled, both having longed for what we witnessed between other sisters. I think each of us secretly, idealistically, thought the other had the power to heal old wounds.
The reality was very different. The 13-year chasm, vastly different life experiences and polarized political ideologies came screaming into focus. It was a disaster. Whatever Band-Aids either of us had used to hold ourselves together were ripped off. By the middle of 2017 we had scrapped the relationship and each avoided the other’s routes within the same neighborhood.
Long story short, I believe it was a mutual friend’s determined prayers to Buddha, Ganesha, the Goddess and other deities she keeps in her arsenal that healed my relationship with my sister.
At the end of this past, particularly brutal winter Beth showed up with a salve for the most persistent and deeply rooted of my wounds. We began to heal, but we had to find more than biology and pain in common.
So, we started with dinner.
My daughter Cecilia joined us at Avo. It was a sparkling, rain-drenched evening made all the more exciting by a beautifully assembled menu that made decisions nearly impossible. So we ordered pretty much everything. Chef Nick Lama’s pan-fried squash blossoms were stuffed mozzarella and puffed grains atop a sauce of zucchini purée; meatballs of pork and beef were laced Fontina fonduta and a spicy tomato sauce. Cecilia’s scallops were paired daringly with apple, olives and cauliflower and sauced with Romanesco sauce and brown butter. My soft shell crab was fried shatter-crisp, lightly sauced with Parmesan aioli and served with asparagus and prosciutto. Beth’s Halibut was set atop a celery root purée dotted with minced tomato and capers with a side of fiddle head ferns in a gloss of brown butter, berries, rhubarb and sumac.
We shared a portion of creamy cheese cake finished with lemon curd and fresh berries and toasted a new beginning with cups of chamomile tea and sweet liqueur.
Saba is well deserving of its hype and the effort needed to score a reservation. The service is attentive and cheerful, executed by proud, well-compensated and cared-for employees. The environment provides a chic, though comfortable backdrop for beautifully executed fare that hits all price points from couscous with dried cherries and Persian lime butter ($8) to foie gras with date honey and Marcona almonds ($30).
If this sweltering heat ever passes, enjoy your meal of the front patio while taking in the scene on Magazine Street.
Avo5908 Magazine St.
Saba5757 Magazine St.