The Fulton Street corridor adjacent to the Harrah’s Hotel continues to blossom, most lately with the addition of Grand Isle (575 Convention Center Blvd.), the latest
venture from local restaurateur Joel Dondis. Designed by architect Lee Ledbetter, the sharp décor is softened through the exclusive use of Fonville Winans’s evocative black and white photographs, which offer windows into the character and culture of Louisiana’s most famous barrier island during the 1920s and ‘30s.

Grand Isle’s chef Jens Jordan

While the concept of the restaurant was inspired by these photos, its menu was
initially culled from the large collection of recipes Dondis had collected over the course of his career. “One day I was looking at the photos and pouring a little wine, and I came across the ‘Tonging for Oysters’ photo. I realized that many of the recipes
I had were seafood-related, and I asked myself, ‘Could I bring this all together in one restaurant which would be called Grand Isle?’ I made some calls and found that the name was indeed available and that was how all this started.”

Dondis tracked down Winans’s son Bob in California and secured exclusive rights to his father’s photographs. With the pictures taken care of, Dondis turned his focus to the menu. Dondis brought Jens Jordan over from his catering company and installed him as his business partner and executive chef. Together they worked to
create a menu that would highlight the wonderful seafood of the region but with tweaks to distinguish it from ordinary seafood places. In the course of refining the menu, they drew on both their experiences cooking abroad, including Germany. They looked to the cuisines which have contributed to the region’s culinary
landscape, such as the French and Spanish influences, and they also made use of the sturdy fare cooked by farmers who worked the rich alluvial soils adjacent to the river.

Shrimp Romesco
at Grand Isle

The central theme of the menu is seafood, but many of the dishes receive subtle shadings which distinguish them from other versions found around the city.

One example of this is the turtle stew. Instead of being bought pre-ground like most places, the turtle meat at Grand Isle is picked off the bone in-house, ensuring that
the meat is preserved in generous chunks. “Turtle meat gets stringy if you are not careful,” Dondis explains. “You can’t overwork it.” But the real surprise here is the oxtail, which is braised together with the turtle meat. “Oxtail cooks about the same as turtle meat,” Jordan explains, “and it also has gelatin, which gives the stew a
little more body.”

Likewise, the seafood gumbo is set apart from other preparations in the city by
the fact that it uses a light roux and no andouille or okra. “This brings the flavor of the seafood forward,” Dondis explains. “Our roux would never be so dark as to
overpower it.” Prepared in this way, the focus shines on the central ingredient of
the gumbo: Fresh seafood.

A dish of potted crab presents jumbo lump crabmeat lightly seasoned with shallot butter and lemon. Baked and then topped with a bit of hollandaise, it is served
with crusty French bread. Also good is a duck debris poor-boy. Peppery slices of succulent duck are stewed in rich gravy then served on French bread garnished with crisp coleslaw, which offers some snap and tanginess. Other off-the-beaten path
poor-boys include a BBQ chicken version with bacon, ham and cheese on it.

“We did that one just to have a little something different,” Jordan says.

Entrées can get more complex than the sandwiches. A dish of roasted chicken is first cooked in a rotisserie until the breast is cooked medium well. The legs are then removed, braised separately and deboned. When that is done, the breast is finished off in the oven to crispness and is then served with the stewed leg meat and a German-inspired potato hash.

Fresh raw oysters are part of the menu at Grand Isle.
photo: Elizabeth Dondis

“Making that chicken dish sounds like a lot of work,” I say.
“It’s not that hard,” Jordan shrugs.
“We serve it with French green beans, which have all been split in half lengthwise,” Dondis adds.
“Now that’s labor intensive,” says Jordan.
“You have to cut all the beans in half?” I ask.
“Not me,” Jordan laughs.

The fresh fish of the day entrée can be dressed up with any one of four sauces: a Creole meuniere, a roasted shrimp, a Creole mustard butter or a lemon beurre blanc. The entrée selection is rounded out with an opulent dish of lobster Grand Isle. The cooked lobster is removed from its shell and broken down, shrimp and lump crabmeat are added along with a little trinity (that’s onions, bell pepper and
celery). A glacage of roasted shrimp sauce is then folded in and the mixture is put back into the shell, topped with hollandaise and finished quickly in the broiler.
“I tell you, it is a divine dish,” Dondis says.

Desserts include a tasty and unpretentious lemon icebox pie and a popcorn rice pudding. Made with Ellis Stansel’s aromatic “popcorn” rice, here is another
variation on a humble dish that highlights a single, unique regional ingredient to
set it apart from the pack.

A Toast to Galatoire’s
Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St.) excellent and rapidly evolving wine cellar has been honored with Wine Spectator Magazine’s Award of Excellence. What better way to celebrate this accolade than by attending Galatoire’s Summer Wine Dinner Series? The event is in full stride now, with two upcoming seatings on Aug. 28 and Sept. 25. Chef Brian Landry’s custom menus will vary for each tasting to best take advantage of the wines offered, but some of his recent creations include pan-seared scallops with chanterelle mushrooms, drizzled with sage-vermouth butter and paired with a 2005 Pine Ridge “Dijon Clones” Chardonnay. The all-inclusive dinners are
hosted in the upstairs dining rooms. To treat yourself to these special events, call Christi Gaudet at 525-2021 or for more information,
including upcoming menus.

try this
The gazpacho at Vega Tapas Café (2051 Metairie Rd.) is healthy, refreshing and delicious, making it a great way to kick off a steamy summer evening meal. Seafood lovers can dress it up with the lump crabmeat option for a little extra kick.