New Places, Old Spaces, Familiar Faces
Remember when we had that unseasonably cool weather in April? Remember that? It is all over now, my friends. We will be sticky and sweaty until October, if not longer. Fortunately, we can assuage our worries by dining out. Here are a few places you might consider:
When Chiba (8312 Oak St.) opened not long ago, the area already had three sushi restaurants. Ninja is also on Oak Street; Little Tokyo Small Plates and Noodle Bar is on Carrollton Avenue a few blocks away, and Hana anchors the equation on Hampson Street near the levee.
Chiba aims for a more high-end experience than its neighbors. The sushi menu includes items that you don’t often see in New Orleans: fluke and fluke fin, live clam and scallop, three different grades of toro tuna and Kobe beef, for example. The cooked dishes receive the same attention; you need to try the pork belly steamed bun, if only to renew your faith that yes, pork belly can be fantastic when cooked properly.
At Chiba it’s a crisp slice of meat sandwiched in a pillowy bun with a crunchy slaw. They come two to an order, and you may find yourself ordering seconds.
There is a diverse drink menu at Chiba, and that includes some interesting sakes, most of which are available by the glass.
What impressed me about Chiba was the quality of everything on the plates I was served. It is a bit more expensive than its local competitors, but I found most of the food I tasted to be worth it. You can call them for more information at 826-9119.
Toups’ Meatery (845 N. Carrollton St.) has opened, bringing yet another restaurant to the area near the intersection of Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue. This is perhaps of more significance to me, as I live in the neighborhood and I’ve been dying for a first-class fine-dining restaurant for some time. Chef Isaac Toups is a veteran of Emeril’s restaurants and a native of Rayne. True to the name, his restaurant is unapologetically meat-centric, with an emphasis on house-made charcuterie and sausages.
That is no longer unique, given that dozens of restaurants are doing the same thing, but the stuff they’re putting out at Toups’ is pretty special. The boudin is some of the best you’ll find in the area; the cracklins are both meaty and crisp, and the pâtés and rillettes I’ve tasted have been damn near spectacular. There is a dish of lamb neck on the menu that comes out as a massive bone-in piece of meat over black-eyed peas, topped with a sweet chow chow. There is some work to picking the meat off the bones, but you’re rewarded with some of the most tender, unctuous lamb you’ll ever taste.
I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I have an obligation to share my knowledge about restaurants with you. On the other hand, what have you done for me lately? I don’t want to show up at Toups’ on a Wednesday night and find a line of people waiting for a table. I suppose my journalistic obligations have won out … this time. Toups’ Meatery is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for dinner until 9 p.m., and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; you can call them at 252-4999 to make a reservation.
The space that houses Dijon (1379 Annunciation St.) was once a firehouse, and there are still signs of its heritage in the restaurant’s dining rooms. One enters through a doorway facing Annunciation Street to a brick-faced room with 30-foot ceilings; heavy steel supports brace the doorway into the bar area. Ample light filters in from both the windows that line what would be the second story, and also from those that look onto a large patio. The restaurant is just across Annunciation Street from the Saulet condominiums, and while there’s not great deal of foot traffic passing Dijon’s front door, chef Chris Cody and his team are putting out some excellent food.
Cody garnered a devoted following at Pellicano, a now-shuttered restaurant in Kenner, and it’s easy to see why. His cooking isn’t overly complicated, but he shows imagination on the plate. One example is an appetizer composed of a crabmeat-stuffed phyllo purse served with a salad of local greens. There is a red-onion vinaigrette spread out on the plate, which looks odd, but turns out to be a pretty good idea.
The sweetness of the dressing paired well with both the greens and the crabmeat, and plating it in that manner allows the diner to control the experience.
You can check out the rest of the menu at the restaurant’s website DijonNola.com, and you can reach them at 522-4172.