Location, Location, Location

Has Chef Kevin Vizard finally found a home? Following this talented chef around town has become something of a sport among diners in New Orleans. All this rambling hasn’t fazed his devoted clientele, who enthusiastically tag along wherever he leads. His new perch, Vizard’s, is the site of the former Alberta’s on Magazine Street and initial impressions are that he may have finally found a place that fits.
“All these years, people have been pounding into me ‘location, location, location,’” Kevin says. “And now I really feel that they are right. Location really does matter. It took me long enough,” he adds with a laugh. Even a cursory appraisal reveals that this most recent move is a good one. His prior location was awkward, jammed into a hotel lobby at a busy intersection with little street parking and not much exposure. Now he’s tucked away on Magazine Street in an understated, vine-draped boîte, seemingly predisposed to embrace his Mediterranean-influenced style of cooking.

Indeed, the ambiance of the new location may help to shape the food. “I am a huge believer in the feel of things,” Kevin says. “You can walk into a restaurant and try and ‘force’ a personality but it kind of takes a life of its own; it steers its own path. You’ve either got to follow it or you are going to be stuck fighting it.”

One way in which the personality of his diners has played itself out is with the BYOB policy that Kevin established upon opening, enthusiastically embraced by his patrons. Some guests took it to the next level, bringing in elaborate martini kits so they can concoct cocktails just the way they enjoy them at home.

“Heck, when they opened ’em up they had all their olives and onions and toothpicks,” Kevin says. “People came prepared, man! And it was people of all ages. The best were been some of the older people. Let me tell you, they’ve got the drill down; they’ve got it down to a ‘T.’ We said, OK we’ll make it for you and they are like, oh no, no, no, no … I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how I like it.”

Fans of his former location will feel comfortable with the menu. His popular Greens, Eggs and Ham, an amped-up salad made of baby spinach, frisee, fried egg, lardon and mellow, full-flavored manchego cheese is still on there, dressed in its roasted shallot vinaigrette. Also present is his unique and creamy Scallop Flan. An entrée of Glazed Duck showcases medium-rare duck breast rolled in crushed pistachios and drizzled with a dried-cherry sauce. A molded dome of accompanying polenta is stuffed with duck confit, tying it all together into one duck-intensive package.

Along with his more daring stuff, like his infamous Black and Blue dessert – a cake pairing chocolate and bleu cheese – you’ll find dishes that speak to the food memories of locals. His ability to execute such classics is part of the reason for his devoted following. His Gulf Fish Amandine comes with Brabant-style sweet potatoes and a meaty filet drizzled with a lemon beurre noisette and garnished with toasted almonds. A dish like this, a simple but elegant classic, helps ground the menu.
“You can look in Escoffier or the Larousse Gastronomique and see that this is something that has been prepared for years and years. And all along the way New Orleans has been doing its own slight variations of it. It is just this perfect marriage of flavors: a wonderful fish, a crispy outside and all that lemon and browned butter. It is just the perfect combination.”

Look for Kevin’s menu to morph a bit as he adapts his cooking to, and is influenced by, his new surroundings. “We stayed with what we were familiar with for the transition,” he says. “But the feel of the new space, with the vines and all, has a very Provençal-type of feeling and I think that will be reflected in our new focus over time.” Especially going into April, when seafood such as mussels will assume more of a feature role on the menu, echoing the Provençal atmosphere.

Grocery shoppers who have a hard time swallowing high produce prices and are looking for neat ways to tweak their pantry should check out the Hong Kong Food Market on the West Bank. A goliath Asian supermarket the size of a Rouses, it has quickly been embraced as a great resource for local chefs and food lovers.

The produce section is worth the trip alone. You’ll find great buys on items like purple yams, baby bok choy, fresh bunches of herbs and different (and much tastier) varieties of mangoes. Especially good deals can be had with the mushrooms; fresh oyster mushrooms are available for a fraction of the price elsewhere. The more adventurous can tackle a durian, the notoriously stinky fruit shaped like a medieval weapon, found in the cooler cases in the back.

The Hong Kong Food Market is also a great resource for condiments, bulk spices and sauces. Try the Indonesian sauce called ketjap manis, a favorite ingredient of Susan Spicer, which tastes like balanced blend of molasses and soy sauce and is great for grilling and glazing. Chili, black bean pastes and other seasoning rubs will give backyard barbecue masters a competitive advantage. Those of us with smokers can take advantage of bulk and hard-to-find spices to mix up unique dry rubs at terrific prices.
The Pork Chorizo Tacos at El Gato Negro are simple but satisfying –
crumbles of spicy fried pork sausage wrapped in a fragrant corn tortilla with sautéed bell pepper and onion. Top it off with a spoonful of pico de gallo.
Vizard’s | 505 Magazine St. | 529-9912
Hong Kong Food Market | 925 Behrman Highway |394-7075
El Gato Negro | 81 French Market Place |525-9752

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