Small Plates, Big Tastes

Small plates continue to be a trend in 2009, and why not? They are a trial-sized blank slate for innovative chefs to express themselves creatively. On the other side of the equation, small plates liberate diners from the one appetizer and one entrée rigmarole, encouraging them to piece together a mosaic of new experiences. Prices usually match their size, but diners need to keep track – since it’s tempting to order so many, the prices add up over the course of a meal.

Boucherie rocks. When I read the menu I basically just wanted to say “yes.” I enjoyed it so much the first time for lunch I returned the next night for dinner. Chef Nathanial Zimet honed his chops selling barbecue and other fare from a purple truck that accrued a cult following outside of Tipitina’s and other venues. Now his fans can pinpoint the good stuff with his fixed location on Jeannette Street.

Zimet has a lot of fun with his compositions, the core components of which tend to be familiar, southern-inspired items like barbeque ribs, pulled pork and boudin. He then builds upon these primary pieces with flourishes culled from Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, pulling the dishes into unexpected directions. He accomplishes this all in a loose and easy, shoot-from-the-hip style; nothing feels overwrought or pretentious. It just feels fun.

On my first pass of the menu a sandwich jumped out at me: Duck Confit Poor Boy with Cinnamon Pickled Carrots and Candied Pecans. Think of it as an up-market ban minh sandwich built on a chewy mini-baguette.

A small plate doubling as a soup featured green tea noodles and five-spice seasoned duck confit immersed in a lemongrass-infused broth: tasty and unusual. Another small plate with a Southern pedigree was the well-seasoned Blackened Shrimp and Grit Cake, which came with a Kurobuta Bacon Vinaigrette. The vinaigrette reduces to a caramelized glaze on the shrimp, while simultaneously adding a bit of moisture and acidity to the twin triangles of grit cake. I came back from Savannah recently, and the low-country inspired dish here was better than anything I had in Georgia (sorry, Georgia…). However, Boucherie’s Boudin Balls could’ve used a bit more garlic in the aioli; the aioli didn’t really contribute much bite.

There was also a Black and Blue Salad with arugula tossed in a rich, creamy blue cheese dressing I would buy by the bottle if possible. This was heaped atop thin slices of ultra-rare filet mignon with a garnet hue, seared lightly on the outside.

A plate of meaty BBQ Pork Spare Ribs came five to the order, pre-cut and arranged with pickled green beans and caramelized, fried slices of shallot. The ribs had the pinkish, mahogany that indicates wood smoke and the exterior was seasoned with a nice rub.

For the Pulled Pork Cake, shredded pork was pressed into a generous cube and then seared on two sides. It came garnished with a vinegary purple cabbage slaw jazzed up with fresh cilantro.

The menu changes often. Notable for a place that features a lot of barbeque is the fact that Chef Zimet keeps a few vegetarian items on the menu. For example, his sweet potato gnocchi with shaved parmesan cheese. The desserts are short but interesting. One is a Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, made with the namesake doughnuts. ’Nuff said. The other dessert was Fudge Farm Bacon Brownie with whipped cream. As of press time, they had a BYOB policy in place.

Perhaps the mention of bacon in dessert items is as good a segue as any into the next restaurant, Butcher, whose deep-dish Praline Bacon ratchets the decadence quotient to a whole new level. The long-anticipated offshoot of Cochon opened up in January and now offers up house made charcuterie, small plates and excellent sandwiches, augmented by the “Swine” Bar, which has a selection of wines by the bottle and glass. The delicious pickled peppers and other accouterments featured at Cochon are available for purchase here as well. Indeed, it’s shaping up to be the Year of the Donald (Link, not Trump) here in New Orleans, with two openings, his event-space Calcasieu and Butcher, as well as an upcoming cookbook.
Butcher is headed up by Chef Warren Stephens, and the combination meat market and café’s interior is simple and utilitarian, with limited seating.

You are unlikely to find much vegetarian-friendly fare here: Butcher is all about the pig. And the duck. And the bacon. And the salami. And the pressed sandwiches… The menu is short but savory, roughly evenly divided between an assortment of sandwiches and tapas-style bar food. Sandwich-wise, try the pressed Cuban Sandwich, made with cochon du lait. The Cochon Muffaletta comes with in-house cured meats, homemade pickled peppers and olives. In baking the roll used for their Pork Belly sandwich, the butter gets swapped out with lard resulting in a decadent baked good that reinforces the deliciousness of the pork belly. Rounded out with mint and cucumber, this is somewhat evocative of a ban minh sandwich. A friend I was with really enjoyed his Roast Beef Sandwich, served with horseradish and onion on caraway-seed bread. The sandwiches are a decent size but not huge, and a person can round out a meal here augmenting one with a few small plates.

For the bar food, the tiny and tender Meatballs come stuffed with cheese and served with pickled chili peppers. The Pimento Cheese slider is very tasty; pimento cheese being poised to make a breakout in New Orleans, the one geographical pocket of the South which has yet to embrace this populist Southern favorite. Fans of cured meat will enjoy the Salumi Plate, which offers an assortment of delicious offerings.

Butcher’s hours have expanded to seven days a week, including a “Sunday Breakfast” as well, which features dishes like Fried Chicken and Biscuits, Ham and Egg Tart, and house made Bacon and Onion Quiche. Big, sweet Southern desserts such as cookies and cupcakes are available as well, prepared by pastry chef Brittany Casciato.

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