Springing Into the Season

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This spring|!!| it's all about salt-pickling and ferns on the bustling New Orleans restaurant scene.

Spring is upon us, my friends, and the higher temperatures seem to have kick-started things in the restaurant industry –– so many things that instead of featuring a single restaurant, chef or operation, this week’s Haute Plates will jump from topic to topic.

First, I have it on good word that Galatoire’s, the venerable Creole restaurant on Bourbon Street, has announced plans to open a Chinese buffet for lunch on Mondays, when the restaurant has traditionally been closed. General Manager Melvin Rodrigue puts it like this: “New Orleans has many great restaurants, but we lack a place to get truly great Guizhou cuisine. Since we were closed on Monday anyway, I saw an opportunity. I think the regulars will come in droves and for free refills of iced tea.”

Asked to comment, Galatoire’s executive chef Brian Landry pointed to a tub in which okra was being salt-pickled for the Guizhou specialty Salt-Pickled Okra with Pig’s Ear and said, “It’s a lot like the food we normally serve, only with a lot more stuff that’s been salt-pickled. And with a lot more pig’s ear.”

I’m told that if the buffet is a success on Monday, the restaurant may make the switch completely. “We think that there is a real desire in New Orleans for food in which most of the ingredients have been pickled in salt,” said Rodrigue. “Not a day passes when someone doesn’t ask if their pompano could be served with salt-pickled mustard greens rather than with crabmeat and butter. I want Galatoire’s to be the restaurant that fills that niche. Besides, we’ve been doing the same stuff for way too long. People are tired of it.”

As a fan of the cuisine of southwest China, I certainly hope that Landry and his kitchen staff can pull it off. I know I’ll be standing in line the first Monday they open.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has announced that it will begin hand-chipping the ice served in its specialty cocktails, including the Bayou Surprise, Louisiana Lemonade and Lt. Dan’s Pomegranate Punch.

Flush with excitement at their nominations for James Beard Foundation Awards, chefs Sue Zemanick, Scott Boswell and John Harris of Gautreau’s, Stella! and Lilette, respectively, have decided to join forces. “The new restaurant will be called Gaustillette!” said Boswell. “I’m really not sure why this didn’t occur to us before. Sue and John and I are very different chefs, but when we were all nominated this year, we thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could all work together?’”

“I was skeptical at first,” said Zemanick, “but then Scott told me about how he’d had a dream that the three of us would open a restaurant together, and I was convinced. I mean, he had a dream, you know?”

Harris, too, is enthusiastic about the newly announced restaurant: “I found an abandoned gas station on Claiborne that will only need a little work to convert into a space so beautiful it will make grown men weep.”

The three plan to raise money for the venture by putting on a talent show and have convinced fellow chefs to pitch in. “Bob Iacovone, most people don’t know this, but he’s a mime,” said Boswell. “Adolfo Garcia does interpretive dance, Justin Devillier and Alon Shaya have a vaudeville act, and you have not lived until you have heard Tenny Flynn sing Celine Dion. We tried to get Tom Fitzmorris to sit in a dunk-tank, but he turned us down.”

Most interestingly, the restaurant will not serve anything like the food at the chefs’ current restaurants. Instead, the restaurant will serve the cuisine of Guizhou, China. “Dude, you have got to taste this salt-pickled okra,” said Harris. “It’s salty and pickled, and holy crap, does it taste good with pig’s ear!”

Finally, Susan Spicer has announced that Mondo, her soon-to-open restaurant in Lakeview, is no longer going to feature a casual take on the cooking that made her a star at Bayona. Instead, the menu will focus on ferns. “I have been fascinated by ferns for the past several years,” Spicer told me. “Did you know there are more than 12,000 species?”

I said I didn’t, which did not dampen her enthusiasm.

“Everyone knows about fiddlehead ferns, but many other varieties are edible –– or almost edible. I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen at Bayona for a year, and we’ve had great success in figuring out which ones taste good and which ones make you violently ill. Now seemed like the best time to make my dream of a fern-centric menu a reality.”

The restaurant, which Spicer plans to call FERN FERN FERN FERN FERN, will open shortly and will no doubt be a success.

As we spoke, Spicer had a gleam in her eye that suggested either passion or that she had consumed some type of fern with medicinal properties. She showed me a garden she’d planted on an abandoned lot next to the restaurant. There were ferns everywhere, most of which at least looked edible. We then moved to the kitchen of her new restaurant, where she pointed out tubs of asparagus fern pickling in salt. I did not ask. 

It’s going to be an exciting spring, people. An exciting, salt-pickled spring. Let’s enjoy the ride, eh?

Note: Words in “quotation marks” above do not indicate actual quotes from any of the people identified above, none of whom spoke to me and some of whom may stab me the next time they see me.

Categories: Haute Plates, Restaurants

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