Robust Food in the Bywater
Maurepas bills itself as “a purveyor of robust food.” I like the turn of phrase, if only because coming up with a shorthand way to describe restaurants like the newly-opened Bywater joint can be a challenge. “New American” is a term used a lot, often with “Southern influences” added for more detail. “Robust,” however, is a new one, and apt for chef Michael Doyle's cooking.
Doyle oversaw the renovation of the space housing the restaurant himself, and he did a fantastic job. There are large windows looking onto Burgundy and Louisa streets, and the main dining room features high ceilings and a long bar along the wall which faces Louisa. The bar turns out some excellent specialty cocktails, including the Last Word, which is gin, lime, maraschino and chartreuse, and a mix of ginger limoncello, cucumber and smoked salt called the Chameleon. There's a good variety of beers in cans and bottles and on tap, and although the wine list is fairly modest, all of the selections are available by the glass, carafe or bottle.
The menu is divided into “vegetables, starch and grains” and “meat and fish,” but it's pretty easy to pick out which dishes work as starters, sides, and mains. The citrus salad with roasted beets, sheep cheese and lettuce is a good way to start a meal, and broccoli roasted with meyer lemon and saba works perfectly as a side dish with, say, the chicken leg quarter that's served with grits, slow-cooked greens and a poached egg. The sweet potato croquettes are made with boiled peanuts a sauce made of salted plums that makes up for in taste what it lacks in appearance. Doyle makes a “caponata” in which cauliflower replaces the eggplant, and while the name might not please purists, the dish was excellent. The cauliflower is cooked slightly and then marinated, leaving it with a nice crunch and a lot of flavor.
The root vegetable gratin was a thing of beauty. Made up of what looked like a couple of dozen layers of thinly sliced rutabaga, turnip and sweet potato, the dish didn't contain the amount of cream that I, at least, always use when making a potato gratin. But the flavors of the vegetables melded so well, and the texture – just a little firm, but not crunchy – made it one of those dishes I had to finish despite the fact that I knew I'd pay for it later.
The last time I visited Maurepas, I tried the goat tacos. They come three to an order, stuffed with diced, roasted goat meat. Ramekins of pickled green tomato and a deep green cilantro harissa come alongside, along with a few lime wedges. Some pieces of the meat were chewy, though none were tough, and some were meltingly tender. The pickle was a little sweet for my taste but the cilantro harissa was outstanding. It had a flavor as bright as its color and a considerable amount of heat from chiles. I'd use it on a lot more than goat, if I had the option.
As I write, there are three regular desserts on the menu, but I haven't tried any of them. Instead, when my wife and I dined we finished the meal with a blood orange custard topped with an Italian meringue and garnished with a butter cookie. Blood oranges are popping up all over the place right now, and I've had them in a number of preparations. This custard was one of the best. The meringue was slightly sweet and very creamy. As I said, by this point I was past satiation. I went along with ordering the dessert in the interest of marital harmony and because I wanted to include a dessert when I wrote about the place. She got three small bites before I finished the goddamn thing. (She only wanted two bites).
Everything I've had at Maurepas on the two occasions I've dined there has been outstanding. As befits a restaurant with a semi-casual vibe, the service is relaxed. I'm not talking about the kind of relaxed where the guy bringing your food acts as though you're bosom pals, but rather that the servers have a conversational style. They don't hover, but someone was always near at hand to clear a plate or refresh a drink.
I don't take offense when people complain that I am always positive about the places I discuss here. I think that if you've read Haute Plates for a while, you'll be able to tell when I had a meal that wasn't uniformly excellent, but what I do is not really restaurant criticism. I'm in the enviable position of writing about meals and restaurants that I enjoy. If I have a meal that I didn't enjoy, I'm probably not going to write about it. I'm not likely to revisit a restaurant at which I've had a bad meal, and one bad meal is generally not sufficient evidence on which to pan a place.
Hopefully my sunny disposition doesn't leave you with the impression that I have no critical faculties. Because I've had good meals, and then I've had great meals. The two meals I've had at Maurepas have been great. And here's the other thing: most items on the menu run around $7. The roasted broccoli (enough for two people to share as a side) goes for $5. Same for the root vegetable gratin. The chicken leg quarter costs $12. The most expensive item on the menu – fish and chips Moira – is $14. Doyle told me his intention was to keep prices down, and he's sure as hell done it.
It's too early to be thinking about year-end lists, but I'll be surprised if Maurepas doesn't get my vote for best new restaurant when the time comes to make that choice. If you've been, let me know what you think in the comments.
Maurepas is located at 3200 Burgundy St., and its phone number is (504) 267-0072. The restaurant is open every day but Wednesday from 11a.m. to 11 p.m.