As Valentine’s Day creeps its way into greeting card sections and fancy chocolates outweigh the slices of King Cake adding to my kickboxing time, one question comes to mind: Where can I force my manservant to take me out to dinner on February 14? I am sure I won’t really have to force him; I do know kickboxing.
From the street, Dominique’s on Magazine can be missed in the blink of an eye, but step inside this newly renovated house to discover a vibrant and intimate dining experience. With an emphasis on making world-class cuisine approachable and reasonable, Chef Dominique Macquet’s new venture already feels like a charming old classic. A subdued whimsical ambience reminiscent of Carnival is evident in the servers’ formal dress humored with colorful rainbow ties. Banana-flavored cotton candy is placed on the table after the entrées have been cleared. Mixologist Kimberly Patton Bragg’s “Godfrey” cocktail arrives with a “D” stamped on the froth. The fennel-cured Niman Ranch pork belly appetizer, served skewered to a mojito-spiked watermelon, is sin on a stick.
Sweetbreads play foil to the impeccable chimichurri sauce rubbed atop them. The chimichurri, an herbaceous and garlicky oil originated in the steak epicenter of Argentina, is also found on the grilled pork chop entrée, served here with grilled local pumpkin, black kale and pork confit fricassee. Seared black drum is served with a mildly sweet corn and mirliton risotto balanced by a ring of tart sauce, a grapefruit and scotch-bonnet mojo. Such guilty pleasures don’t break the bank, with all entrées between $19 and $26, leaving plenty of room for the citrus floating-island dessert, or the goat cheesecake served with local “honey from the hood.” Also, the ladies’ room is one of the nicest in town, with dark wallpaper and very warm lighting that makes you look gorgeous even in the unexpected wall-mounted magnifying mirror.
Sylvain, a swanky new bar and restaurant – called a “gastropub” – in the French Quarter, is housed in a building once home to a brothel run by the famed madame Aunt Rose Arnold. Sylvain’s historical location and lore is enough to enamor any history buff. The restaurant itself is named after the comedic opera performed in New Orleans in the late 1700s, the same time the very building was erected on Chartres Street. It is no surprise that the cocktail list harkens back to the days of yore, with classics such as the Sazerac and Aviation. Lancelot’s Deception, a tincture of Bols Genever, Yellow Chartreuse, Death’s Door Gin, lime and rhubarb bitters is deceptively tasty, but strong enough to put some hair on a madame’s chest. A dark interior, accented by heavy wooden tables, glowing candles, a few taxidermic wonders (not including the bartenders) and a beautifully lit courtyard, make for an unassumingly romantic dining experience. The food is sexy, but the hottest couple in town – hand-cut fries and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label – will end up costing you $50 to $90 depending on how fatty you want to get. The chicken liver pâté with Maras Farm sprouts is a more reasonable approach to indulgence. The shaved Brussels sprout salad with apples, pecorino and hazelnuts is the sweet new Caesar: Et tu, Brussels sprouts? This Valentine’s Day though, my heart belongs to the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with house-made pickles and thin fries.
Each bite is a test in human restraint. If it’s wrong to finish a sandwich that big then forgive me; it’s been a long time since such sinful acts have taken place in those quarters.
For all of you that can no longer stand the sound of your sweetheart’s inane conversation at the dinner table, Gusto, the house café at the Theatres at Canal Place, will muzzle any discontent on this special day. Featuring a plethora of delicious seasonal cocktails like the Cinema Cider – whisky, apple schnapps, and cinnamon – and flavorful food by Chef Adolfo Garcia (of A Mano and Rio Mar fame), dine while you leave the whining at home. While the normal movie concessions still abound, one can spruce up the popcorn choice with the likes of truffle oil or Parmesan and black pepper. Flatbread pizzas – try the Iberian with chorizo, serrano and manchego – and panini are easy to share. The Italian cookie plate from Angelo Brocato’s will satisfy your sweetheart’s sweet tooth.
Try this: Crabmeat salad with fennel, grapefruit and arugula at Café Degas – the perfect light lunch for patio dining.