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Table Talk: Gautreau's
One of the finest restaurants in New Orleans is also one of the most discrete. A spot-zoned jewel hidden in a residential neighborhood steps from Newman School, since 1983 Gautreau’s has spun out a roster of Food & Wine Magazine and James Beard-award winning chefs. Gautreau’s identity is closely associated with its proprietor Patrick Singley, a one-man operations center who can be charming the dining room one minute while managing the gritty reality of a running a restaurant the next.
Singley is without doubt the reason for Gautreau’s uninterrupted success through the years; a steady hand that maintains the delicate balance between expectation and innovation. Yet there are plenty of ways for chefs to put their imprinter on the menu. And for the past two year it has been Chef Baruch Rabasa who has been doing exactly that.
Gautreau’s will always hew closely to the classics, and foundationally Rabasa follows this line. “At the end of the day I’m a big believer in French technique,” he said. What sets his cooking apart is the perspective he brings from a lifetime of travel. “My stepmother is French. My stepfather is from Cajun Country. My father is Mexican. So there are a lot of layers and stories behind the food I do.”
To this end, you’ll often see classic dishes elevated by personalized riffs. Take for example the Seared Scallops with Purple Potatoes and Heart of Palm, bound together with Leche de Tigre, a citrusy Peruvian ceviche marinade. The potatoes and the sauce are both nods to his Latin roots. The seared Foie Gras Torchon picks up Madagascan notes with its vanilla-roasted pineapple and macadamia nut croquant. But perhaps no dish better illustrates this point more than his entrée of Duck Breast with Corn Truffle and a Molé Reduction. “For that dish I use huitlacoche, also called Mexican truffle, which is a mushroom that grows on corn.” Rabasa said. Rounding it out is a fava bean risotto, a nod to his love of Mediterranean fare.
For Rabasa, the biggest hurdle can be introducing novel ingredients and preparations into a menu rooted in conservatism. “I have to pick and choose how I word things with care, otherwise it can put people off.” For example, servers describe the aji sauce that accompanies his Marinated Yellowtail as a green hot sauce, rather than a Portuguese concoction of tomatillo, jalapeno and cilantro. “If the server says it is a hot sauce, locals know hot sauce. Guests tend to engage better with that and the dish is one of our most popular.”
The beauty of the core menu is also that many dishes present an opportunity for a chef to modify the accompaniments while leaving the primary components intact. While the filet with demi-glace will always be there, summer sees it accompanied by beech mushrooms and haricot verts with a personalized stamp of bacon marmalade. “And our Duck Confit has been on forever – for the duck it always the same cure, the same cooking application, the same pickup,” Rabasa explained. “But again the accoutrements change, which keeps things fresh for the cooks as well.” Rabasa has a soft spot for Mediterranean and North African cuisine, so flavor profiles that include coriander, lemon verbena and other ingredients with spicy and floral notes often help accent his cooking.
Gautreau’s is dinner-only and reservations are highly recommended.
Meet the Chef: Baruch Rabasa
Baruch Rabasa was born in Mexico but has traveled the globe, thanks in part to his father’s distinguished academic career. Rabasa was on a law school track when a friend invited him out to San Francisco to work at a restaurant there. “The first thing I felt was this amazing sense of camaraderie – like a cross between being on a pirate ship and a sports team,” he recalled. “The minute I felt it I knew that was what I wanted to do.” He spent five intense months cooking at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the South of France before attending the CIA. Prior to Gautreau’s he helmed Café Atchafalaya as well as The Franklin.
Gautreau’s1728 Soniat St.,
D Mon-Sat, Closed Sun.
Gautreau’s is such a singular destination it can be hard to come up with an analog, but Lilette on Magazine comes to mind. Chef and Owner John Harris’ menu is foundationally French but borrows from Italian and Mediterranean influences as well. Harris also cooked at Gautreau’s for a time.