One Restaurant, in the Riverbend at 8132 Hampson St., is one of the most overlooked restaurants in New Orleans. It’s popular among residents of the surrounding neighborhood, but it seldom comes up when I talk to people about dining out. That’s puzzling because chef Scott Snodgrass has a good thing going at One, and he deserves more attention than he’s getting.
One has received accolades; it was named Best New Restaurant by New Orleans Magazine in 2005, and reviews from that time period in the local media were universally positive. Perhaps it has simply dropped off the radar with so many new restaurants opening all over the city in the wake of Katrina.
Chef Snodgrass is from Atlanta, as is his co-owner Lee McCullough. The menu at One is eclectic, and it defies characterization. There are influences from Europe, Asia and the Americas on the plate, but the food never seems contrived. It’s good, and that’s what really counts.
The restaurant is housed in a long, narrow space that’s larger than it looks from the exterior. As you enter, there’s a bar to your right, along the same wall as the open kitchen. There’s a counter between the kitchen and the skinny front dining area, and to the extent you enjoy watching chefs in action, it’s a great place to eat. The restaurant opens up a bit toward the back, but nobody will accuse the restaurant of being cavernous.
Snodgrass has maintained a pretty consistent menu over the past few years. Standouts on the appetizer menu are chargrilled oysters with Roquefort and red wine vinaigrette; lobster and foie gras wontons with shiitake mushrooms and water chestnuts; and herbed gnocchi served with escargot, wild mushrooms and a bordelaise sauce. At dinner, entrees that I’ve enjoyed include the grilled beef tenderloin with a beef shoulder rillette (think more substantial debris) and Stilton glaçage served with Dauphinoise potatoes and the braised country rib with potato croquettes. The croquettes are good despite the inclusion of truffle oil –– about which I have some ambivalence to say the least.
At a recent lunch, I had a cup of fairly thin turtle soup and an excellent dish of seared tuna with an Asian salad of raw vegetables, avocado and a citrus-ponzu sauce. We split the grilled oysters, and my two colleagues ordered a vegetable pasta dish and the Fried Catfish Muddy Waters, in which fried catfish is served with a brown sauce studded with sliced garlic and peppers. It’s tastier than it looks.
Because I was dining with the in-crowd, the restaurant brought us a couple of desserts –– a strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and caramel sauce and an eggnog crème brûlée. Both were good enough that I kept eating despite being sated. I felt like Nero. I wanted to throw someone to the lions, but that is so impractical these days. I settled for coffee.
The bar is a pretty convivial place to eat; I’ve done it a half-dozen times, and I’ve never left without at least having a pleasant conversation with fellow diners. That’s saying something for a misanthrope such as I. It could have something to do with the cocktails, I suppose.
Service is good; even when the place is packed, the servers know the menu and can steer you accordingly. I will defer to my colleague Tim “Bulldog” McNally where it comes to wine, but I thought the list was pretty good and the prices reasonable. Whether you like the specialty drinks will depend in large part on whether you define a “martini” as anything but “gin and vermouth,” but if you have an open mind, the Deantini, which features quick-pickled cucumbers with Hendrick’s gin, is a pretty nice way to start a meal.
When I said that One is overlooked, I didn’t mean to imply that it’s not busy. If you want to go, particularly at dinner, you should definitely call ahead. The restaurant is also open for lunch these days, Tuesday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Call for reservations, or just to say hello, at 301-9061.