Revisiting An Old Haunt


I am biased in favor of Café Degas for several reasons, none of which include the fact that – disclosure – I wrote the introduction to their cookbook a number of years ago. The truth is that I love French food, and French bistros and I love the funky layout of the place. I love the tiny kitchen and I’m fond of the owners and yet with all that said I don’t get to dine at Café Degas more than about once or twice a year.

A friend invited me to lunch recently, and his choice was another of my favorite places, Bayona. Unfortunately Bayona was booked with a lunch for the Krewe of Cork, so we decided to visit Degas instead.

My friend is a food lover but his tastes are less eclectic than mine; he is one of the only people I would feel comfortable ordering for if he were otherwise detained and time was short. I’d feel comfortable, that is, as long as steak frites was on the menu. Give him that and a salad and maybe a Maker’s Mark and water and he’s fine.

There is an excellent steak frites at Degas, of course, made as God intended with onglet (hanger steak) and accompanied with fries to kill for. That’s the main reason we chose Degas; that and the fact we hadn’t been there together for a couple of years. I was on board because there’s little on the menu I don’t like, and it’s one of the only places in town to have good escargot.

I love snails when they’re done well, and they’re done well at Degas. They’re tender and melting in little vats of butter flavored with garlic and Herbsaint. They’re served with a couple of little slices of toasted baguette that are far from enough to soak all of the deliciousness up, but they’ll bring you more bread if you ask. You should.

It’s also the only place in town that I’m aware of to serve true French boudin noir. This is not boudin as we know it in Louisiana, it’s a blood sausage and the classic preparation it’s paired with apples and potatoes, which is how they do it. It’s only available at lunch, alas.

They do most of the bistro classics. French onion soup, patés, cheese plates, Nicoise salad and ratatouille. There are specials, which in my experience have been very good. As I write they include braised lamb rib Bourguignon, sautéed gulf shrimp with cauliflower goat cheese purée and ravigote sauce, fried gulf oysters with Creole mustard celery root remoulade and caper-lemon beurre blanc, seared duck breast salad with orange segments and raspberry vinaigrette and a house-made foie gras terrine with black truffle salt.

Those are the appetizers.

The entrees are seared black drum with toasted orzo, sun dried tomato and asparagus, confit duck leg with Terranova’s (great little market across Esplanade from the restaurant) green onion sausage, vegetables and a fig balsamic gastrique, and fried softshell crab over arugula, baby okra, roasted corn and feta cheese with a citrus herb vinaigrette.

I’m sitting outside at a table as I write this waiting for my son to finish an interview at a coffee shop down the street for a college he’s interested in attending. Nobody in this place recognizes me, which is nice, and which I mention because despite the fact that I love the place and have been a regular for a long time I’m not treated any differently than anybody else, which is to say that I’m being treated very well.

There are a few quibbles. They add truffle oil to the vichyssoise, and while I’m confident they do it with a light hand, it’s not worth the risk to me to order it when there are so many other things I want. From time to time the place is so busy that service suffers a bit, but for me the occasional wait is worth it for the food and the atmosphere.

As I said, I’m biased in favor of Café Degas, but I do not believe that if you dine there you will thereafter complain to me about your experience. I recommend it to lots of folks, and I recommend it to you.



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