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New on Julia Street and in the French Quarter
Chef Greg Sonnier’s return to a full-service, full-time restaurant is a cause for celebration. Greg and his dessert-specialist wife, Mary, were forced to shutter Gabrielle after Hurricane Katrina, then spent some frustrating years trying to open a restaurant Uptown. In April of this year, Sonnier opened Kingfish (337 Chartres St.), and those of us who’ve missed Sonnier’s hearty cooking have a place to experience it once more. Chris McMillian is heading the cocktail program, and he’s as beloved among the imbibing crowd as Sonnier is among foodies.
The restaurant is owned by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, which to date has been best known for restaurants aimed at the tourist market. Kingfish is decidedly more ambitious, and the group is also behind the purchase of Broussard’s from the Preuss family. I have it on good word that they intend to treat the beautiful French Quarter property with the same care and attention they’ve shown Kingfish, which bodes well. There are plans in progress to open a take-out sandwich shop adjacent to Kingfish, called Counter, which should be open by the time you read this column.
Kingfish is open for lunch seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The bar remains open during the break between service, and dinner starts every evening at 5 p.m. with service until 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. You can find out more by calling 598-5005.
La Casita (634 Julia St.) opened on March 7. It is a small place, with a bar running along most of a long, narrow room, and a few tables up front. Owners John Michael Wade and Mark Gonsoulin are natives of Biloxi, Miss., and that fact might make you question their decision to open a restaurant serving primarily tacos. Wade told me, however, that his grandmother’s family emigrated from Spain to West Texas a generation before she was born, and he grew up eating what he describes as “Hispanic food.” When he designed the menu, that’s what he wanted to serve.
Wade came to New Orleans to run Foodies Kitchen, which formerly occupied La Casita’s space. When Foodies closed early this year, he and Gonsoulin took the opportunity to open their own shop. Like the rest of the place, the kitchen is small and the menu is accordingly focused on doing a few things well. Quesadillas, guacamole and/or salsa with chips, and a three-cheese dip “blessed” by St. James Cheese Company to which you can add carnitas, beef or chicken for an extra buck are the only appetizers offered. There are a couple of salads, including one with spinach, jicama, avocado, fresh pineapple, radishes and red onion that’s dressed with a pineapple-cilantro vinaigrette, too, but the majority of the menu is divided between simple and specialty tacos. The fillings for the simple tacos – shredded chicken, pork carnitas, brisket or a vegetarian version – can be loaded into either corn or flour tortillas and topped with a variety of additions such as pickled cabbage, radish, avocado, Manchego cheese or crema. Specialty tacos include The Mission, in which broiled shrimp, pickled cabbage, onions, radishes, avocado and house-made jalapeño tarter sauce are folded into corn tortillas, and the Hasta LaVegan, which combines avocado, pinto beans, roasted corn, radishes and pickled cabbage.
La Casita is open Mondays through Saturdays at 11 a.m., and they quit serving at 10 p.m. You can reach the restaurant by calling 218-8043.
Le Petit Théâtre is one of the oldest community-based theatres in the country, but in recent years it has faced financial pressures and as recently as 2011 was facing closure. The organization’s board decided to take the drastic step of selling a portion of the historic building on Jackson Square to the Dickie Brennan Restaurant Group. The sale allowed the organization to fund renovations to the theater, including spaces in the lobby and courtyard, which are now shared with Tableau (616 St. Peter St.), the restaurant the Brennan Group opened this May. Tableau is modeled on a classic Creole restaurant with the décor you’d expect, and for the most part, the menu as well. Chef Ben Thibodeaux is responsible for the latter, and in addition to shrimp rémoulade, crabmeat maison and fried eggplant batons, the appetizer section includes a classic escargot bordelaise as well as a regularly changing crêpe. One entrée of particular interest is the grilled rack of local lamb that’s served with a New Orleans-style barbecue sauce made with Abita beer. A few of the entrées are designed to be topped with one of several options for accompaniments. The St. Roch is jumbo Gulf shrimp, roasted mushrooms, garlic and green onions, and the Trist substitutes crabmeat for the shrimp and artichoke hearts for the mushrooms, but is otherwise the same.
Tableau is open Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays the restaurant closes at 11:30 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays it opens at 10 a.m. If all that’s too complicated, you can get it straight from the source by calling 934-3463.