Masters on Magazine

Lilette, La Petite Grocery & Vizard's

The long renaissance of Magazine Street in part can be attributed to its collection of restaurants, which serve as waypoints between the boutiques, hipster haberdashers and alternative toy depots that pavé this unique indie thoroughfare. Magazine Street offers choices including soul food and tapas, but the independent bistro-esque establishments really shine. These are as likely to garnish their sushi-grade hamachi with locally procured micro greens as to serve tried-and-true bistro standards such as steak and frites. While there are too many to mention in one piece, you can’t go wrong with any of these three below. Keep them in mind especially for lunch, when the best values can be found.

Whenever a new short list of top area restaurants comes out, John Harris’ Lilette is guaranteed to be included. His food is direct, thoughtful and consistently well-executed. He doesn’t go for tricks or gimmicks; typically he lets the ingredients speak for themselves. The savory menu is buttressed by particularly strong desserts, thanks to James Beard award-nominated pastry chef Beth Biundo.

Start with the antipasta plate heaped with silky, prosciutto-like parings of Coppa and medallions of anise-studded salami Toscana. Burrata, basically an Italian mozzarella – a creamy slice of awesome – adds sweetness. The whole is drizzled with quality olive oil, and when these elements mingle atop a hunk of toasted bruschetta garnished with peppery arugula, it’s bliss.

The gnocchi here is very good, with just the right amount of firmness to serve as a framework for the earthy potato flavor. At lunch they get tossed in a cream sauce, rounded out with edamame and shaved Parmesan. Shreds of prosciutto add some salty pop. For lunch, Lilette upgrades its Chicken Salad with figs poached in port, along with an Italian touch of pine nuts and balsamic. A recent special of grilled Black Drum came served on a bed of pearly Israeli couscous in a light, herb-infused broth. Harris’s braised veal cheeks, in any preparation, are justifiably famous. Save room for dessert – the Nutella custard with fleur de sel and a quenelle of caramel cream was fantastic.

Up-and-coming chef Justin Devillier directs the kitchen at La Petite Grocery, while his wife Mia graces the front of the house as general manager. Devillier infuses his menu with some lighthearted touches: The fried quail tossed in Crystal hot sauce butter with Roquefort and pickled onion, a high/low interpretation of Buffalo wings. Managing Partner Joel Dondis keeps a spotlight on underutilized regional ingredients such as wonderfully fragrant and nutty Cajun “Popcorn” rice.

Lunchtime offers many good options. Standout sandwiches include the BLT assembled from Kurobuto porkbelly (the porcine equivalent of Kobe), ripe tomatoes and buttery Bibb lettuce. Adding some oomph is an egg served sunny-side up on top, whose yolk flavors the toasted artisanal bread. The LPG Burger here also enjoys a good reputation, gussied up with homemade pickles, caramelized onion marmalade and Gruyère cheese.

The dinner menu offers an ambitious selection of potato-based pastas including gnocchi and a sweet potato agnolotti in a brown butter sauce. Fried sage and toasted hazelnuts round out the latter, amplifying and underscoring its earthy natural sweetness. Southern influences populate the menu as well, with favorites such as Shrimp and Grits (is it me or this dish getting popular?) and sweetbreads countrified with ham, pickled cabbage and green tomato jam.

Kevin Vizard’s eponymous outpost, Vizard’s, looks out over a quiet stretch of Magazine Street through large plate glass windows. Serendipitously, this makes it a unique perch during Mardi Gras where a handful of parades now pass in front on their extended route. Given Chef Vizard’s cadre of especially loyal and fun-loving fans, I can only image that this place throws down in high style.

Vizard will cut loose with some whimsy from time to time – witness his “Green, Eggs and Ham” salad for instance, sporting lardon, frisée and a fried egg – but generally he hews to the classics, albeit with a reliance upon regional seafood and similar ingredients. His Crabmeat Nelson is especially decadent – a ring of fried eggplant stuffed with a slaw of crabmeat and mushrooms bound with béarnaise sauce. The sauce for his Barbeque Shrimp gets built on light-bodied Abita Amber, and a chartreuse-hued special of Oysters Rockefeller Soup made for a tasty diversion with its licorice-y broth and plump, succulent mollusks.

Vizard tweaks classics such as rack of lamb with a local pepper jelly glaze, and his filet of beef is upgraded with a foie gras demi-glace reduction. He will often trot out something with more contemporary flair for his specials. But whatever comes to your table, rest assured that guests come here to have a good time. Also, his front of the house staff is uniformly friendly, knowledgeable and excellent – a rare treat.

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