It seems like a long time ago, but it was truly only in June when I recall people complaining about the unseasonably cool temperatures. It was only a few people, and they were quickly silenced by glares from the rest of us, but now that we’re well settled into the heat, I wonder what they’re thinking? Because it’s around this time every year that I start anticipating the upcoming “fall” holidays, when I’ll be wearing shorts and a T-shirt to take my kids trick or treating, and almost certainly the same when we sit down to turkey on Thanksgiving. It is a long, slow time in New Orleans, but if there’s any benefit, remember that this is also a slow season for restaurants, and many of them have specials designed to bring locals in the door. Take advantage of those specials, people, and get out of the house. You can at least be sure a restaurant will have air conditioning; some of them are cold enough that you might want to bring a wrap.
For decades the CBD has been a place where New Orleanians came to work, but recent re-development of several former office buildings into condominiums means that’s changing. The influx of people calling downtown home means that there are a lot of folks down there who need services we take for granted in the more traditional residential areas of the city. It isn’t likely we’ll see a gas station pop up on the river side of Loyola Avenue, between Canal and Poydras streets any time soon, but Cleo’s (165 University Place) provides at least one suburban talisman – a 24 hour, seven day a week convenience store that doubles as a Mediterranean restaurant. Neither of those two things is unique, even to the CBD, but throw in breakfast service and residents are going to be grateful. For those of us who simply work downtown, Cleo’s provides another fairly inexpensive place to get good food.
The menu is indistinguishable from most of the other restaurants serving the food common to the eastern Mediterranean region. You will find hummus, baba ghanouj, gyros, kebabs and salads accompanied by pita bread and cured olives. What I’ve tried has been particularly good, however, and showed some clear attention to detail. The kibby, for example, is a bit more highly spiced with cinnamon than most, and the crunchy exterior of the falafel reveal a bright green interior colored by parsley. Prices are about $1 less expensive on average than comparable joints, and there are a half-dozen or so tables for dining in. If you do not like chilies, be sure to mention that to your server because most of the dishes come garnished with a healthy squirt of a chili paste that, while not all that hot, could be off-putting if you’re not expecting it.
You can call Cleo’s at 522-4504.
Cibugnú (709 St. Charles Ave.) has replaced Leonardo Trattoria adjacent to Herbsaint. The restaurant aims for a more innovative approach to Sicilian cooking than the former tenant. That starts with the name, which is a combination of Italian words for food and dream, but with a Sicilian twist; it’s pronounced ch’ boo noo.
The restaurant features a wood-burning oven and makes pasta and salumi in-house. The chef is Octavio Ycaza; if that name is familiar to you, it could be because his brother Chris is one of the city’s best maître d’. Octavio clearly prefers the kitchen, though one of the renovations to the restaurant’s space has been to open pasta and salumi stations to public view. My memory of Leonardo was of reasonably good, if standard, food and about a dozen flat-screen televisions ringing the dining room. It was a cross between a fine-dining restaurant and a sports bar, and I was a bit surprised to learn that the televisions are staying. They will be playing pre-recorded scenes from Cibugnú’s kitchen, but it still seems a bit odd.
The menu is abbreviated at the moment, with a couple of pizzas, a couple of pastas and three or four entrées. What is there, however, is interesting. There is a pizza with grilled ramps, shrimp, egg and fresh mozzarella, and a squid ink pasta with crab, cream, asparagus, lemon zest and prosciutto di parma. There is a braciola made with flank rolled around speck, gorgonzola and potatoes with a roasted garlic cream, and pasta with wine-braised oxtail and bone marrow. This isn’t your Mama’s spaghetti and meatballs.
As I write, the restaurant is only open for dinner, but by the time you read this column lunch should also be available.
Call 558-8990 to learn more, and visit cibugnu.com to see the menu.
The folks behind the popular West Bank restaurant Tan Dinh have opened Ba Chi Canteen (7900 Maple St.) in the low, wide building that used to be home to Figaro’s. The restaurant expands a bit on the Tan Dinh menu by offering dishes like “bacos,” in which steamed rice-flour buns are used like thick tortillas to hold various fillings. Like Tan Dinh, there are some Korean touches to the menu, particularly the use of kimchee to garnish some dishes, and the tendency for the kitchen to employ sweet-savory flavors on grilled meats. The restaurant has only been open a short time as I write, but the food I’ve sampled has been excellent.
Ba Chi Canteen is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5:30 to 10 p.m. It is open until 3:30 p.m. for lunch on Saturday, and until 11 p.m. for dinner on Friday and Saturday. Call 373-5628 to find out more.