They keep on coming, and the city is better for it. Restaurants, more than any other business, seem to be a popular measure of recovery progress. Maybe that’s because eateries are so high profile that more people pay attention to them. Last year’s pick for Best of the Best, Le Foret, now seems like a senior member of the dining scene. This year’s class is indeed interesting, including veteran chefs and new faces, all in different kitchens and creating dishes that range from hometown Creole to global – with burgers on the side. Read on and remember, try them soon, because there are more on the way.
Lobster and Celery Root Salad with shaved fennel, basil aioli
Dominique’s on Magazine
Expression of a Life Experience
Over the last few years, New Orleans has experienced a renaissance in fine dining. Ambitious new restaurants have opened all over the city – some by first-time restaurateurs, some by chefs expanding their reach. One notable absence, except for a brief stint at the Metairie Marriott, has been chef Dominique Macquet, whose left his eponymous restaurant in the Maison Dupuy hotel in 2008. That absence has been remedied, as chef Macquet is back, and his new venture, Dominique’s on Magazine, may represent his best work.
Dominique Macquet is a native of Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa, and his cooking is informed by the African, French, Asian and Indian flavors that influenced the island’s cuisine. His wide-ranging career includes stops in South Africa, London and southern California, where he was working when he received an invitation to come to New Orleans and take over the kitchen at the Bistro at Maison de Ville. He told me that coming to New Orleans felt like returning home, and apart from a short spell after Katrina, he has been here ever since.
After his time at the Bistro at Maison de Ville, and several years operating Dominique’s in the French Quarter, Macquet decided to reinvent himself by allowing the tropical cooking of Mauritius and the Caribbean more directly impact his work. The result was like nothing seen before in New Orleans – and it was wildly successful. It was both a traditional Creole cuisine, as that term is known throughout the Caribbean, and a personal expression of Macquet’s life experience. In addition to numerous accolades, Macquet has gained a loyal following among locals during his time in New Orleans.
When Dominique’s closed, Macquet decided that he no longer wanted to cook in a hotel restaurant. He spent two years planning the new place, which features works by local artists such as Mel Tilton and John Preble on the walls. Designer Madilynn Nelson is responsible for the waxed Venetian plaster walls, the design of the bar area and the bathrooms. Architect Terri Dreyer pulled all of the elements together by focusing on the tropical feel of the restaurant. The result is an intimate dining experience that’s both comfortable and sophisticated. It isn’t a large restaurant, but it’s well laid out, with sufficient room between tables and excellent lighting. The restaurant’s success means that relocation is all but inevitable; Macquet is already having to turn down dozens of reservations for key dining hours. He intends to remain Uptown and says that, if he moves, the décor and design will follow the current pattern.
Advance planning went into the garden that surrounds the small cottage as well, which Macquet planted months before the restaurant was to open. It is far from merely decorative, though it serves that purpose well. Much of what appears on the plate has been grown within arm’s reach of the tables, in Macquet’s home garden or by men such as Philip Soulet, a farmer with whom Macquet has developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Chef Macquet can request that Soulet grow certain crops that aren’t readily available otherwise, and Soulet is guaranteed a market for what he grows. The chef estimates that he procures about 85 percent of his ingredients locally, including crab, shrimp and, from Dr. Brobson Lutz, honey (see related story pg. 30).
What he can’t grow or source from local farmers sometimes falls into his lap. When he noticed a Japanese plum tree adjacent to the restaurant begin to bear fruit, he approached the owner. He was told he could have as much of the fruit as he could collect before the parrots got to it. He ended up with between 10 and 12 pounds of fruit; he pickled some of them and made a vinaigrette to serve over softshell crabs. Some of the plums went into a syrup used in cocktails that was also flavored with kaffir lime leaves and lavender grown along the restaurant’s front porch.
Macquet’s version of shrimp remoulade is served on fried green kohlrabi slices. He describes the vegetable, a member of the cabbage family, as a cross between an apple and an eggplant, and that’s not the only twist to the classic dish. Macquet roasts the shrimp instead of boiling them, and he uses oven-dried tomatoes and habañero peppers instead of ketchup and hot sauce, respectively. The result is a spicy, deeply flavored re-imagining of the dish.
Wagyu beef from Morgan Ranch goes into meatballs which Macquet serves over house-made pasta with a sauce made from tomato confit, veal stock, lemon-thyme and oregano, emulsified with butter just before serving. Royal Red shrimp star in a ceviche with Vietnamese cilantro and habañero, and chimichurri sauce accompanies sautéed sweetbreads over potato purée.
Macquet says that his current goal is to present food that’s more relaxed and less pretentious. He speaks fondly of his time in the French Quarter, but seems happy to have moved to a more residential part of town. He said he prefers seeing customers several times a month in a more casual setting as opposed to once or twice a year in his previous location. That kind of frequency also requires him to change things up more often, something he seems keen to do.
Chef Dominique Macquet’s return to the local restaurant world is long overdue and extremely welcome. We are delighted to honor Dominique’s on Magazine as the best new restaurant of 2011.
— Robert Peyton
Dominique’s on Magazine, 4729 Magazine St., 894-8869, dominiquesneworleans.com. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday
Prawns del Lago, flash fried jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat
An American Proverb states that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Oliver Wendell Holmes embellished that a bit, noting “Where we love is home; home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
New Orleanians – those of us now in the area and those who haven’t yet returned from Hurricane Katrina’s diaspora – lament our days of trials, today lessened with the passage of time and the return of cherished institutions. One that we almost didn’t get back is Christian’s Restaurant, which represented 30 years of fine dining.
For a few years after Katrina, Tommy and Maria Delaune, local seafood purveyors, looked at the vacant old church building, complete with a bell tower and peaked roof at 3835 Iberville St. in Mid-City. Easily viewed from Canal Street, the classic structure needed to be placed lovingly back into commerce. So they purchased the building and returned it to its original purpose as a church. Tommy grew up in the French Quarter; he was committed to seeing this important project through.
Luckily, the congregation soon decided to relocate to the Northshore. There was nothing left to do for the Delaunes but make the move to the building’s second purpose, a fine dining restaurant. Christian’s was an important part of this city’s cuisine history, and it is once again – only this time it’s known as Redemption, and it features “Orleans Revival Cuisine.” Maria Delaune is fond of noting that if you have to ask what that is, then you didn’t go through the terrible time of Katrina, and you didn’t experience missing those flavors and textures that you love so much because they’re a part of the fabric of your soul.
Whether you’ll enjoy a visit to Redemption for its menu or its feeling of peace and comfort – or all of the above – you’ll savor time spent here. The interior is more stunning than most of us remember. The changes are of quality, not changes for the sake of changing. For this structure, Katrina wasn’t a devastating final blow. The building took two feet of water on the inside, a significant amount considering it’s five feet off the ground, yet the roof came through the storm fine, as did the stained glass windows. It would’ve been a tragedy if anything had happened to them; they’re incredible.
The old “crying room” for the Lutheran congregation, which built the church in 1914, is now, as it was for Christian’s, the bar. Here, fine beverages are prepared and served, with martinis being a specialty. The Delaunes are particularly proud of the Big Nasty, a dirty martini of exquisite breeding.
Chef Dean Terrebonne, one of the chefs who worked with Christian “Chris” Ansel, is still in the kitchen. The unmistakable Creole influence is on every plate. From the ingredients to the preparation, you cannot escape the culture – and you don’t want to. Make a dining decision from among aromatic charbroiled oysters and crabmeat remoulade, crawfish potato boulette, seared foie gras (remember Creole cuisine is also rooted in Europe), rabbit confit and lamb chop lollipops with black molasses beurre blanc. Surprise! Those are just a few of the appetizers.
The main dish portion of the dinner is just as diverse and exciting, featuring smoked venison tournedos, a barbecued shrimp rose, Chambord-roasted duckling, buttermilk-battered soft shell crabs and, thank heaven, chorizo and crabmeat stuffed flounder.
“We have to show respect for our city and this building,” says Marie. “We intend to live New Orleans every day because we came so close to losing her.”
– Tim McNally
Redemption – Orleans Revival Cuisine, 3835 Iberville St., 309-3570. Lunch Tuesday-Friday; dinner Tuesday-Saturday; jazz brunch Sunday
Rock Shrimp Tacos, shrimp tossed in a spicy sauce served with guacamole and fresh corn salsa
The Bistreaux New Orleans
A Loving Embrace
“When I first arrived here after (Hurricane) Katrina to re-create Le Meritage restaurant in the Maison Dupuy Hotel, I knew I wanted to incorporate the incredible palette of flavors that exist in this city and throughout South Louisiana,” Chef Michael Farrell explains. “But I couldn’t bring myself to directly copy what had been done here so well for so long. Those dishes were, humbly, not mine to own.”
Yet, as Le Meritage prospered, Farrell couldn’t get the comfort foods of New Orleans out of his mind. Last year, he approached hotel management with an idea. Why not turn an underutilized space, near the bar, into a dining destination for simpler fare, complete with music? No sacrifice in food quality or table service would be made from the main dining room, just a more approachable concept for locals who would know the dishes – and for visitors after a long day of French Quarter-strolling.
The Bistreaux at Maison Dupuy lives up to its name, a comfortable, relaxed, easily affordable, white-tablecloth dining experience, accompanied by the rhythms of New Orleans music. The 180-degree window views provide a look-see on the Vieux Carré so all of the diner’s senses are immersed in an authentic Crescent City encounter.
The Maison Dupuy is located on Rue Toulouse, next door to P&J Oyster Co., so you would expect to see bivalves on the menu, and you would be correct. Then, also to begin, from the French side of the bistro concept comes beef carpaccio, truffle fries and a charcuterie board. The New Orleans influence enters with spicy chicken wings and maybe the ultimate expression for macaroni and cheese, with smoked gouda over pasta, drizzled with truffle oil.
The burgers and sandwiches section of the menu features one of the freshest Angus-beef burgers in town, along with a memorable BLT, a grilled cheese and a chicken club sandwich with basil aioli on grilled bread. Every day, the Bistreaux prepares its own cochon de lait on ciabatta with hot mustard.
More comfort? Try the Southern fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, barbecue shrimp, an omelet available your way anytime or, again from the French side, steak and frites. There are also red beans and rice, étouffée, jambalaya and the requisite poor boy of shrimp or oyster.
The tomato soup is superb, using roasted heirloom tomatoes and crème fraiche with butter croutons. The onion soup is the classic presentation. Salads are goodly sized and varied, from chopped to wedge to Caesar, and the gumbo is deep, dark and loaded with chicken and andouille. Even thin-crust pizzas reflect the devotion to quality coming out of the kitchen.
The wine and beverage list is seemingly endless, thanks to the first-class restaurant right on the other side of the wall and a talented bar staff.
“We had to get this right. I love this city very much, and I think we have struck a good note in The Bistreaux,” Farrell adds. “I eat red beans and rice every day, and I’ll be the first to know if we don’t do this just so.”
The Bistreaux New Orleans, Maison Dupuy Hotel, 1001 Rue Toulouse at Rue Burgundy, 586-8000, maisondupuy.com/bistreaux.html. Breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week, Live music Wednesday-Thursday, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. to close
BBQ Ribeye Santa Maria Deluxe with mac and cheese, grilled asparagus and onion rings
Fun and Eclectic
It has been a long, uphill grind, but Brack May has secured the right to serve suds at Cowbell. Those who want a tall cold one may finally rejoice. “I think, clearly, having beer drives certain people who may not even bother to come up here,” May notes. “The beer brings them in the door.”
It all fits with May’s plan, which was to offer a sort of Uptown alternative to Port of Call, a casual neighborhood joint grounded in signature burgers, a short list of good beer and wine, and a few specialty cocktails. However, an unanticipated barrage of new burger joints opening around the same time spurred May to diversify his menu’s portfolio. He decided to model some main courses on his favorite fast foods, reinventing them with quality ingredients while retaining the comfort-style roots. For example, El Pollo Loco, a flame-grilled chicken chain founded in Mexico and based in California, gets referenced through his Lime Grilled Organic Chicken with El Chingon Beans and Avocado Salsa.
The former gas station’s relatively Spartan dining environment gets softened by an off-beat collection of art and handmade furniture. Note the tables made from old doors. “A lot of the décor here has been found or repurposed.
That is kind of a theme,” May says. “My wife and I are a team – we do a lot of the work. I’ll nail and pound and bolt things together while my wife, Krista, makes it look good.”
The burgers, made from brisket and two types of grass-fed chuck, are what brings in most diners. Well-seasoned and juicy, they are served on a toasted potato roll with excellent fries and an agogo sauce that should be classified as a controlled substance. The burgers can be upgraded with an assortment of options including a zinfandel, bacon and onion compote, cooked down to caramelized glory, and an applewood bacon and farm egg combo that dials the decadence up to 11.
“Right now the burgers get so much press they pretty much outshine anything else,” May says. Still, diners looking beyond the burgers won’t be disappointed. A smoky, bacon-infused Quahog Clam Chowder is one good choice, as are the Grilled Fish Tacos with black beans, yellow rice and mirliton slaw. Also notable is the Harvest Burger, a vegetarian alterative to the main draw. May also sells a lot of seasonal fare, so the special board should be considered a factor in every visit – line-caught grouper served with a crabmeat-stuffed chile relleno topped with Gruyère cheese and a roasted corn sauce was recently featured.
At the end of the day Cowbell is a casual, easygoing place that is a great addition to our neighborhood dining scene. Fun and eclectic with a focus on well-sourced ingredients that is refreshingly unpretentious.
– Jay Forman
Cowbell, 8801 Oak St., 298-8689, cowbell-nola.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday; brunch, lunch and dinner Saturday
Avocado Tomato Salad with chili-lime marinated cucumber
Inspired by Champagne Houses
Leon Touzet III and Pierre Touzet opened Ste. Marie with Robert LeBlanc early this year in a sleek space at 930 Poydras St. The Touzet brothers have a hand in Patois, where chef Aaron Burgau has been working wonders since 2007. LeBlanc’s company, LRG, operates Capdeville and the ultra chic lounge LePhare. LeBlanc has an interest in Sylvain as well, one of the best new gastropubs in town. With that kind of pedigree, it’s no surprise that Ste. Marie has taken off.
The restaurant’s décor melds modern and traditional. Architects Steve Dumez and Jack Sawyer didn’t shy away from the almost-industrial feeling of the building, but softened the space with plush window dressings and natural wood grains. A Sanborn map dating from the late 19th-century adorns the walls, giving the dining room a more traditional feel than the hard surfaces of the structure might otherwise present. It isn’t an intimate space, but it’s comfortable, and when the early evening light filters through the partially covered windows that face Poydras Street, it can be very nice indeed.
The restaurant named Chris Foster executive chef this spring, hiring him away from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain in New York City, where he had served as sous chef for years. Foster is originally from California but received his culinary training at the French Culinary Institute while working for Flay. His training is a good fit for the menu at Ste. Marie, which LeBlanc and the Touzet brothers claim was inspired by the champagne houses of France.
Escargot come over grilled ciabatta with bone marrow and parsley. Calf’s liver is served with cipollini in a take on the classic Lyonnaise preparation. Sharable portions of French fries, Gruyère and Emmentaler fondue and steamed mussels with chorizo and white wine are also available. The hanger steak with fries can be ordered with a choice between maître d’ butter, au poivre or bordelaise sauces, and foie gras can be added for an additional $18.
The menu isn’t all Gallic; Foster adds avocado mousse and ground coriander to a spicy tuna tartare that’s served over grilled country bread. Braised pork belly comes over truffled grits, and a simple avocado and tomato salad is accompanied by chile-lime-marinated cucumbers. Pasta is a good bet at Ste. Marie; the Parisienne gnocchi made with pâte à choux are light despite the cauliflower-cream sauce that drapes them, and the house-made pappardelle sauced with rabbit ragout is excellent.
The restaurant’s wine list is well thought out and fairly extensive, with a notably large selection of champagne and other sparkling wines. Prices are reasonable both for bottles and for the many choices available by the glass.
Specialty cocktails – de rigeur for restaurants these days – are named for actresses. The Loren is made from Campari, cherry heering, St. Germain and a splash of pineapple juice and garnished with an orange twist. The Welch is Svedka vodka, a splash of Glenlivet Scotch whisky and a lemon twist, and the Kelly is made from Sauza silver tequila, falernum, lime juice and simple syrup and garnished with sage.
Ste. Marie is a sophisticated spot that is a welcomed addition to the Central Business District and to the dining scene in New Orleans as a whole.
Ste. Marie, 930 Poydras St., 304-6988, stemarienola.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday; dinner Tuesday-Saturday
Thai Shrimp and Pork Meatballs on lemongrass skewers with dipping sauce
Mondo celebrated its first birthday in mid-June. I caught up with chef and owner Susan Spicer recently, who was preparing to leave for France after wrapping some filming on the set of “Treme.” I commented on her exciting life.
“Tell me about it,” she laughed. “I was thinking about that as I wiped down the floor of Bayona’s walk-in cooler around midnight last night. I was thinking, ‘Boy, this celebrity chef business sure is exciting!’”
Mondo has been barreling along, gathering accolades as well as expanded hours along the way. It now offers lunch Wednesday through Friday as well as Sunday brunch. And while Spicer’s name is the one most closely identified with Mondo, she’s quick to pass the credit to her chef de cuisine Cindy Crosbie, who handles its day-to-day operations. “All those great specials on the menu” Spicer says, “that’s all Cindy and her sous chef, Paul Chell. The best thing I did for Mondo was hire really talented people to run the show.” Crosbie brings her experience from top-notch resorts out in Colorado and on the West Coast. Chell brings his long relationship with Spicer from Bayona. General Manager Jenni Lynch, who brings her experience from both Gautreau’s and Bayona, as well as New York’s Aquagrill, rounds out the talent pool.
Mondo’s menu casts a wide net and defies categorization. Asian, Mediterranean and Latin fare are all represented here, along with a dash of Southern and a fair sample of local favorites. Best bets include Thai shrimp and pork meatballs, which have become a signature appetizer. Off the lunch menu, Southern comfort comes way of a grilled pimento cheese sandwich dressed with andouille and caramelized onions. Vietnamese meets a N’Awlins classic in the fried shrimp banh mi sandwich. Chef Crosbie’s pasta specials can be particularly inspired, as shown by her recent bowl of tender dumplings nested in a fragrant broth seasoned with soy and scented with star anise then layered with an assortment of mushrooms, both fresh and dried.
Sometimes Spicer and Crosbie’s concoctions happily converge, as in artichoke bread pudding with baked oysters doused with bacon and shallot cream sauce. “I came up with the bread pudding and oysters part, and Cindy came up with the cream that goes over it,” Spicer says. “That part pushes it over the edge into complete decadence.”
Yet for all its globetrotting, Mondo remains a neighborhood destination, for locals wanting to pop in for a wood-fired pizza and some mac-and-cheese for the little ones, they can find it here. And for others that want their Gulf fish dressed with a Uglesich’s-inspired Muddy Water’s sauce or a classic steak tartare, they’ll find that as well. Mondo may reside in Lakeview but, like the name says, it brings Lakeview the world.
Mondo, 900 Harrison Ave., 224-2633, mondoneworleans.com. Lunch Wednesday-Friday; dinner Monday-Saturday; brunch on Sunday; a snack menu is also available
And now, a sampling of “gastropubs”
There has been a surging subgenre of eateries around town lately. Loosely described as “gastropubs,” they fuse high-quality menus with specialty drinks in environments offering far more of a social component than traditional white tablecloth restaurants. A few feature live music. Some are extensions of already established restaurants (Chef John Harris’ Bouligny Tavern) and others are independent pop-ups (Sylvain). All serve ambitious food and are worth a visit, especially for diners looking to break the typical two-top weekend routine.
Sylvain (625 Chartres St., 265-8123, sylvainnola.com) carves out a personable nook in a high-traffic block of the French Quarter. Owner Sean McCusker’s place has already become a destination for locals, as well as a favorite for visiting film crews, who like the quality food along with the non-touristy vibe. “I like to say we serve white tablecloth food without the white tablecloths,” he says. “We keep the mood casual but the food at a high level.”
Chef Alex Harrell plays with French and Italian influences, including a popular pappardelle Bolognese. Comfort foods, such as the eponymous Chick-Syl-Vain sandwich and a porchetta poor boy keep the menu lighthearted. The food is complimented by an equally well-thought-out drink menu. “We’ve paid as much attention to the bar as we have to the food,” he says. “We squeeze our own juice and make our own colas, then branch out with ingredients and challenge our bartenders.”
The sexy, mid-century modern aesthetic of Bouligny (3641 Magazine St., 891-1810, boulignytavern.com) pairs well with John Harris’ menu, which offers a full spectrum of snacks to mix and match with the wines and cocktails (Dragon Milk Punch – rum, coconut milk, lime and fresh basil make this both a drink and a meal). Light appetites will be assuaged by a truffled creamy burrata cheese bruschetta. Others can indulge in fun with the Kobe pigs in a blanket. High-rollers are offered a contemporary reconsideration of that Gilded Age staple, caviar – in this case, a Bowfin version, Americanized with potato chips but with traditional accouterments.
Small plates rule at the sleek Oak Wine Bar (8118 Oak St., 302-1485, oaknola.com), whose menu was put together by chef and co-owner Aaron Burgau of Patois. On past visits I’ve sampled gnocchi laced with crisp Serrano ham and tangy-sweet mascarpone cheese. The fries are very good, as are snacks for noshing such as the salumi plate with fried Marcona almonds. Much of the menu is market-driven, so expect changes to reflect whatever is seasonal.
A specialty drink menu and a wine list categorized by notes (rather than region) fit with the progressive vibe. Live music, primarily jazz and acoustic folk, rounds out the appeal.
Like Oak, The Three Muses (536 Frenchman St., 298-TRIO (8746) thethreemuses.com) features live music. Chef Daniel Esses’ white tablecloth pedigree (stints at Peristyle and August, among others) shines through the casually eclectic menu. Along with low-brow offerings like buttermilk fried pickles, there are braised pork belly, yellowtail hamachi crudo and lamb sliders. A strong vegetarian section offers items such as mushroom gnocchi to accompany choice brews, including Abita’s potent Andygator.