Loaves and Fishes
Tenney Flynn is a native of Georgia and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He started cooking professionally in Atlanta before being hired by the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse chain as their director of culinary operations. He held that position for seven years before leaving with fellow Ruth's employee Gary Wollerman to open GW Fins in March, 2001.
GW Fins is something of an anomaly in New Orleans. It's a high-end seafood restaurant that emphasizes seafood taken from beyond local waters; in some cases, far beyond.
Flynn's philosophy is simple. He puts the best fish he can get in-season on the plate. That doesn't mean local products aren't featured; just that when pompano isn't fresh, it's not on the menu. Indeed, apart from the lobster, none of the fish on the menu at GW Fins is frozen. Flynn's purveyors are able to get him fish from the other side of the globe so rapidly that freezing is unnecessary. When I last asked him about it, he said that for a price you can get just about anything you want. That may be something of an outré sentiment in these days of "locavores" and the "green"-ing of menus, but there's certainly a place for that kind of restaurant.
Just about any chef to whom you speak will tout the importance of using good products in the kitchen. Not all of them make the same effort Flynn puts into sourcing the fish and shellfish served in his restaurant. Every day there are changes to the menu based on what he can get from his purveyors. Given this focus on securing the best fish possible, it makes sense that Flynn's approach to cooking is minimalist. Even where the menu description suggests something more complicated, such as with the wood-grilled butterfish with a pineapple-basil glaze, sweet potato hash, roasted corn butter and crispy plantains that I had recently, the fish is the star. The thick, mild fillet is accentuated by the sauces and garnishes, but its flavor is never masked.
Another example of this is the Alaskan king crab legs that show up in GW Fins' dining room once a year or so. Flynn picked some up to serve over the first weekend in December, and presented them with a Creole-mustard-cream sauce or as a part of a tower of chilled seafood that also included Maine lobster, stone crab claws, shrimp, scallop ceviche and marinated blue crab claws.
My main complaint about GW Fins is that they are not open for lunch for the most part. Flynn told me that because the restaurant's kitchen is very small, adding lunch service takes away space that is normally used to prep for the night's dinner service. “It turns a grueling 12 hour day into a grueling 16 hour day,” he said. While I sympathize with the chef, I tend to eat out more often at lunch, so on the limited occasions when it's an option (the Friday before Mardi Gras and Fridays in December) I try to take advantage. The first opportunity this month has already passed, but the restaurant will also be open for lunch on December 16 and 23. Last Friday, Flynn told me, almost half of the orders were for the fried lobster po-boy, served dressed with a Crystal butter, remoulade slaw and hand-cut fries. It's a perennial favorite at the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, and it doesn't appear on the menu at GW Fins as a regular item.
One of the things for which GW Fins is best known is the biscuits served before the meal. They're slightly sweet, crumbly and, spread with a little butter, they're fantastic. They're a great start to the experience, and one which indicates an attention to detail that carries through the meals I've had there.
Service is generally excellent. I have some vague memory of a meal where my server was a little off, but it was years ago. Since I can't remember the details, I doubt it was all that bad, and it's also possible that I hallucinated it. (Sometimes I wonder why my hallucinations always involve poor restaurant service.)
Anyway, last Friday I had a little over an hour for lunch during a break in a continuing legal education course at the Windsor Court. I wanted to eat somewhere that would allow me to spread out some work while I ate, and I remembered that GW Fins was open. The place was busy, but they were able to give me a table, and when I mentioned that I was on something of a tight schedule, my server expedited things. He also brought me a couple of magazines to read, which was a nice touch, particularly since one of the magazines he brought me was the current issue of New Orleans Magazine. I am particularly fond of that publication's restaurant reporter.
After a meal at GW Fins, I always wonder why it's been so long since my last visit. I just wish they could work out a way to open for lunch more often. The restaurant is located at 808 Bienville St., and you can call them at (504) 581-3467.