We live in a city with far more opportunities for eating seafood than dating, which has taught me one thing: a perfect catch can only be found on a plate. While I dream of one day having a meaningful relationship, the dream is usually tarnished by the hope of receiving a deep-fryer as a wedding gift and the inescapable question: Can I ever love a man as much as I do deep-fried soft shell crab?
On a recent visit to GW Fins to sample some new menu items, I met the very talented Chef Tenney Flynn. His philosophy is that quality seafood has wonderful flavors that shouldn’t be overwhelmed by cooking techniques, but simply enhanced, so I put my tartar sauce back in my purse and prepared to be amazed. What followed was a rather glorious parade of the best seafood I’ve ever had in New Orleans, though not a lot of it came from New Orleans. We eased into an appetizer of Alaskan Norton Bay King Crab Legs, which have a season far shorter than “American Idol” and a taste far more succulent and hearty than their buffet brethren. I have an affinity for any dish served with a tiny fork, and the crabmeat, tossed in a light mustard sauce, didn’t disappoint. The fish that stole the show was a wood-grilled Gulf pompano, served with a five-melon salsa and crispy plantains, a meal that epitomizes the ease of Flynn’s execution, showcasing a balance of seasonal flavors that elevate the delicate pompano meat rather than soaking it in a tropical monsoon of sweetness. It was my favorite dish of the summer. It was followed by a dish I would die for in winter: rare ribeye, thin crisp onions, veal jus and a surprise visit from our dear friend, foie gras. The steak was tender, almost fabled, served over garlic potatoes. Not surprisingly, Chef Tenney spent some time as a culinary director at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, though his ability to draw out the best in dozens of varieties of seafood seems a superior feat and more importantly, a passion. Though you can have a bowl of gumbo or sole meuniere, GW Fins’ strength lies in the innovative dishes that feature fresh, seasonal seafood from around the globe that can’t be found in other restaurants in New Orleans. Also, their biscuits are almost better than my granny’s.
Frank Brigtsen, The James Beard Award-winning chef, is now the owner of Charles Sea Foods (known as Charlie’s) out on Jefferson Highway in Harahan. The institution reopened in July, and it’s worth the drive. The perfect place for a casual family lunch or dinner, featuring poor boys and “po babies,” boiled and grilled seafood, and of course fried seafood to appease the likes of poor Dad, who never got the knack of that deep-fryer he got for Christmas a few years back. The fried catfish is served over cheese grits with a light tomato sauce, and will plunge you back into childhood, the sound of hot oil bubbling in the big cast iron, the mosquito truck coming up the street. The walls feature black and white pictures of the restaurant from back in its 1950s hey day, remnants of another time when things were simpler and minor blunders overlooked – such as the sign, which was never fixed to say Charlie’s, and seems more suitable that way. The food, however, is blunder-free and reasonably priced. The shrimp calas is a must try, as is the crab bordelaise, which is surprisingly light and tastier without the accompanying
poor boy bread.
Granted, all the fried foods can really start catching up with you. When I’m trying to get back on the healthy track, I head for sushi at Sake Café, home to colorful jellyfish chandeliers, a pristine sushi bar and one of the best deals in town: the bento box lunch special, served every day until 3 p.m. For around $10, a lunch of soup, salad, California roll, fruit, rice and appetizers accompanies your choice of dish, including sushi, tempura shrimp, teriyaki beef or my favorite: sashimi (tuna, salmon and whitefish). Sake Café also has a colorful sushi menu featuring giant rolls, and a great sake selection.
Yuki’s potato korokke are deep-fried mashed potato balls, extremely creamy and excellent snacks with sake or beer because, sometimes, plain mashed potatoes just won’t due.