A Mano is closing in less than a week. This is news for several reasons. First, A Mano is a quality restaurant; one of the best Italian restaurants in New Orleans. Second, it's an Adolfo Garcia joint, and that guy's a sharp operator in addition to being a hell of a chef. Third, I hadn't been there in months. That last bit is actually not news, and I don't think it's got anything to do with the fact that A Mano is closing, but I'm disappointed just the same. I've said it before and I'll likely say it again: The fact that I need to try new restaurants, and thus don't get to patronize old favorites as often as I'd like, is a cross I'm willing to bear. Still, it's been almost a year since I ate at Patois, Lilette, Gautreau's, August and a half-dozen other places I'd like to revisit.

 

But enough about me.

 

It's not all grim. I did have a chance to eat at Sainte Marie Brasserie recently. Chef Kristen Essig has been running things in the kitchen at Sainte Marie for a few months now, and she's brought a more modern approach to the formerly brasserie-standard menu. On the face of it, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish her food from a dozen other restaurants that have opened in the last five years. She uses a lot of local, in-season ingredients. There's a comfort food angle to many of her dishes, though with a sophisticated touch. What sets her food apart, at least from what I've tasted, is an imaginative combination of flavors.

 

I think the best example of this is her salad of quinoa with smoked goat cheese, crabmeat, blanched haricot verts, peaches and nicoise olives. You'd think smoked goat cheese and cured olives would overpower crabmeat, but in the ratio Essig employs it's a brilliant combination. The richness is balanced nicely by the peaches which, when I had the dish were just un-ripe enough to echo the barely-cooked haricot verts. The quinoa, like Lebowski's rug, tied the whole thing together. There was enough of the grain to register as more than an accent, but not so much that the salad could be confused for a (particularly elegant) quasi-vegetarian entree.

 

You can check out the rest of the menu at Sainte Marie here. Poke around for the lunch and brunch menus.

 

The restaurant's space is un-changed; it's modern in a very stark sense, a lot like the building at 930 Poydras that houses it. On a cloudy day it can feel dark despite the two-story high windows facing the street. Overall the place gives the impression that it's a little more hip than you, or at least than I, but I still felt pretty comfortable.

 

Sainte Marie is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. during the week and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The bar opens every day at 4 p.m., and there's a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call (504) 304-6988 to learn more.