New to the Scene
Johnny Sanchez, Ursa Major and Seed
It is hard to describe Johnny Sánchez, the restaurant that chefs John Besh and Aarón Sánchez opened in October at 930 Poydras St., without using an oxymoron like “upscale-casual.”
The restaurant’s arroz con pollo is a perfect example. “Rice with chicken” is a classic home-cooking dish that’s prepared similarly to jambalaya. In the version at Johnny Sánchez the rice is crispy and the chicken is wood-grilled; the result is rustic but innovative.
The dish I had that I thought best incorporated aspects of the way Besh and Sánchez approach food is the tuna agua chile. It is raw tuna over cucumber with razor-thin slices of radish in a cucumber-chile water. The composition reminded me of another Besh restaurant, August, but I wouldn’t expect the Serrano chiles or avocado that garnished the plate at Besh’s flagship.
There is far more of interest than I can cover in this limited space; I haven’t even covered desserts (the “taco chaco” subs a wafer-cookie for the tortilla and dulce de leche ice cream and bittersweet chocolate for the filling), but I have no problem recommending the place to you based on what I’ve experienced thus far. Johnny Sánchez is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and 5 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays. You can reach the restaurant at 304-6615.
Here is what I know about Ursa Major, the restaurant that Kevin Farrell (of Booty’s Street Food) will be opening early in 2015: It’s going to be in the Paramount condominiums, a part of what is being touted as the “South Market District.”
I am not going to comment directly on the wisdom of calling a multi-block development a “district,” but I will say that the folks behind the development are pretty savvy where it comes to choosing the restaurants they’re including. In addition to the international small plates and craft cocktails menu they’ll get from Farrell’s operation, they’ve got a second location of popular Magazine Street Vietnamese restaurant Magasin on tap.
Ursa Major will also be “the building’s exclusive poolside food and beverage provider.” I am very fond of Booty’s, but I have a slight disconnect picturing the poolside service at the Paramount after viewing the development’s website.
Booty’s is a Bywater restaurant where the atmosphere is more “trucker cap worn ironically” than “bring me another mojito and make it quick.” Maybe that’s a distinction that exists only in my mind. I’m sure that comment betrays a prejudice on my part about what “poolside service” means rather than the truth of things, so I’ll certainly reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to check the place out. And I will check the place out; I promised the same about Johnny Sánchez back in July, and I came through.
To the extent vegan food has a bad reputation, it’s because it’s perceived as an inherent denial of pleasure. That reputation was probably never deserved, but it’s definitely proven false at Seed, which opened in April at 1330 Prytania St.
Ordinarily I don’t like vegetarian or vegan dishes that try to mimic animal products, but I’ll make an exception for the beet carpcaccio at Seed. For one thing, the beets aren’t really mimicking meat, and for another the dish is beautiful: Shaved golden and red beets are layered on a plate and topped with spinach, capers, chopped pistachios and pickled red onions. Everything on the plate is raw, and it’s a testament to how little “technique” is necessary when ingredients are combined in the right proportion by a talented chef.
The menu is pretty varied and includes a “make your own” salad option from a couple dozen ingredients as well as sandwiches such as grilled cauliflower steak with lettuce, tomato and onion on whole wheat and a pan-fried eggplant poor boy that sounds pretty good. There is also a version of pad thai using spiral-cut cucumber and carrot in place of the noodles that looks interesting. Juices are de rigueur at a vegan restaurant, of course, and there are multiple choices at Seed, including cocktails using freshly squeezed citrus.
Seed opens at 11 a.m. during the week and at 10 a.m. for brunch on the weekend. Closing time is 10 p.m. You can reach Seed at 302-2599.