New Orleans is full of hidden restaurants; here are a few favorites.
It is spring break time but there’s no beach access in Uptown, so I’ve doused myself in spray tan, put on my Ray-Bans and headed out to wander the streets with my metal detector, in search of the finest hidden treasures the city has to offer. You know, gourmet gold. We are lucky to live in a city with most nooks and crannies filled by delicious restaurants on the down low, too many to mention here.
Located above the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, Adolfo’s is perhaps the city’s best-kept secret from tourists. You don’t need to take a ghost tour to see this is a favorite local haunt. Climbing the stairs, one often prays to see an empty table upon opening the door to the small, dimly lit dining area filled with an eclectic crowd: tables of young hipsters, smitten couples sharing mussels in marinara and perhaps a local artist clad in a marching band uniform and fox fur downing a sautéed softshell crab. My foodie friend says everybody knows to order the fish at Adolfo’s.
Everybody should also know they take cash only. I say order the fish or veal with Ocean Sauce – this creamy indulgence, which Chef Adolfo prepares in a kitchen smaller than your bathtub, features crawfish, crab meat and shrimp and is the reason I now wear elastic-waisted shorts when I dine here. Because I grew up in an anti-garlic household (vampires maybe, but Mom’s reasoning: “bad breath”) I find it a pleasure to eat the entire basket of Adolfo’s garlic bread to ward off unwarranted suitors with odorous post-dinner conversation in the small music venue below – often cluttered with people waiting to dine upstairs. My advice would be to avoid the weekend, unless you don’t mind waiting in a line longer than Thunder Mountain’s, but at least your hunger pains will be accompanied by the blues. It is worth the wait. Adolfo never overcooks fish and the myriad sauces are decadent enough to please everyone in-house, making you happy to be home.
On the other side of town, Sara’s is the gem of Dublin Street in the Riverbend. Featuring Thai-, Indian- and Creole-influenced dishes and a killer mango daiquiri, Sara’s never disappoints those in need of something to spice up their lives and palates, and at a very reasonable price. Sara’s, located in a cute renovated house, has a quiet, romantic vibe and unique dining rooms with large tables and loungey, admiral-club chairs. Chef Ganesh Ayyengar’s scope of flavors is reflected in the starters alone, and you can’t go wrong with any of them: crispy crawfish eggrolls, an oyster tort that brings to mind Thanksgiving stuffing and my favorite samosas in New Orleans, stuffed with coriander-spiced veggies and served with a tamarind sauce. The lemongrass crab bisque – jumbo lump crab in a coconut-based broth – is a spicy and satisfying remedy for spring allergies, or when you can’t make up your mind which salad you want to try: some folks swear by the grilled portabella salad, and the rich fried goat cheese salad is best when shared. The honey-ginger scallops are a must try entrée, but here is a real hidden treasure – the scallops with green curry sauce aren’t on the menu, but if you ask nicely the kitchen might whip them up for you. For those overly abashed, try the coconut shrimp in green curry instead, or the duck breast with a port plum reduction, but make sure you leave room for the cardamom-flavored rice pudding.
On that sweet note, a great stop for coffee and pastries before a day spent strolling the quarter, Croissant D’or Patisserie is a treasure trove of early day noshing (Wed.-Sun., 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) with croissants of all kinds: almond, raspberry and ham and cheese with béchamel sauce to name a few. Located on Ursulines Avenue, Croissant D’or is tucked away in a quiet part of the French Quarter, with charming décor that’s like stepping into an ornate cake. I am a fan of the potatoes au gratin with tomato and French onion soup for lunch, along with a seat in the picture window for lots of people watching. This is the type of bakery girls of all ages dream about. Next time I’m bringing
my teddy bears. F