I was always fond of Mike's on the Avenue, though I appear to have been in the minority. I had some memorable meals there during its initial run, and I appreciated that Fennelly mostly pulled off the kind of “fusion” cuisine that normally sends me running for the exit. Mike's has given way to Desi Vega's Steakhouse, and although more than a few local diners will miss Fennelly's cooking, the replacement adds another great steakhouse to the scene.
The dining room is also one of the most remarkable in New Orleans, and seemed to fit Fennelly's light style of cooking. With ceilings so high they seem almost non-existent and huge windows opening onto Lafayette Square and St. Charles, the space feels designed for the gauzy drapes and pale color scheme Mike's employed. At first blush, those are not adjectives you'd typically use to describe the décor of a steakhouse, particularly not one as downright traditional as Desi Vega's. I'm told there's some re-decorating still to come, but I don't think it's necessary. A good steak is a good steak whether you're eating it while sinking into a leather armchair and surrounded by dark wood paneling, or in a light-filled room with a huge watercolor painting of Japanese goldfish on one wall. The steak I had at Desi Vega's for lunch recently was very good.
I started with an appetizer that could have been a holdover from Mike's – seared tuna paired with avocado, daikon radish sprouts and a wasabi aioli. The tuna was very good; either I got extremely lucky, or someone took out the connective tissue which tends to mar that particular dish, even when, as here, the tuna is cut into relatively small cubes. It was a fairly large portion for an appetizer, but that's good, as it was also $12.
I'm inconsistent where it comes to discussing the price of menu items in this column. It's partly because I am lazy, but also because it generally feels to me like excess information when the menu is available online, or when the prices aren't either unusually high or low. The prices at Desi Vega aren't unusually high for a high-end steakhouse, but that's cold comfort when the least expensive appetizer on the menu is $11, sides run from $7 for a baked potato to $8.5 for asparagus and no salad is cheaper than $9 (the Caesar, which was very good).
Again, these prices are absolutely in line with Ruth's Chris, Morton's, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, or indeed, Mr. John's Steakhouse, which is owned by the same folks as Desi Vega's. And judged by those standards, Desi Vega's is right in line on price, and in the upper range on execution.
The steaks at Desi Vega's are USDA Prime, with the exception of the fillet, and that's not surprising. You almost never see Prime fillet. That said, while my fillet came out just a bit under the medium rare I requested, it got close to that temperature from the sizzling butter pooled around it on the plate. This is a New Orleans-style steak, in other words, and it's as good a fillet as you'll find here.
I can't say the same for the Crystal hot sauce onion rings, which were too tart to my liking, but the au gratin potatoes were a passable version of the classic, and given the experience these folks have with the genre, I'm confident the other sides won't let you down.
Vicky Bayley, who was a partner in Mike's on the Avenue, is still around at Desi Vega's, which is welcome, because she's a pro. I never got around to sampling the wine list, but I did manage a martini, and that was well-prepared. Desi Vega's is located at 628 St. Charles Ave., in the Lafayette Hotel, and you can call 523-7600 to make a reservation.