The Best of St. John Restaurant and Voodoo-Inspired Holiday Specials
Waste no time, get thee to Saint John, Chef Eric Cook’s new hotspot on lower Decatur Street in the French Quarter. Saint John follows Cook’s celebrated Gris Gris in the Lower Garden District, opened in 2018.
I visited on Saturday evening with my usually restaurant-indifferent husband, and it was thrilling to witness his enthusiastic response to everything about the place—the brilliant, colorful culinary hero-themed mural and stained glass panels from the French Quarter’s Deurty Boys studio, black and white photography featuring local music legends, and a menu that demands return visits for extensive exploration.
The foundation of the menu is rooted in 18th century Creole cuisine with complex dishes one might have found on Maw Maw’s Sunday dinner table. Cook said he turned to his extensive collection of vintage cookbooks and family traditions in crafting a Creole menu reflective of the cultural influences—Sicilian, French, Spanish, African, German, and Caribbean—that came together over centuries to underpin New Orleans’ celebrated cuisine. Saint John is serving up our heritage—dishes that are often an all-day (or more) labor to produce.
Like Gris Gris, in addition to traditional table seating, Saint John has a chefs’ counter, this one located to the rear on the first floor where twelve seats face a marble counter looking into an open kitchen.
“Hmm, what’s that?” Andrew asked again and again as gorgeous creations —duck breast seared in bacon drippings with a satsuma glaze, luscious shrimp etouffee, turkey necks smothered for hours and hours in rich brown gravy, fried whole fish amandine, dense double-cut pork chops, deviled crab with Creole ravigote, Creole beef daube—were plated with a flourish and either passed across the counter to others seated near us or whisked away into the packed restaurant that bore not an empty seat.
Mesmerized, I watched a sort of culinary ballet as seven men working in a 20-ft-X-24-inch space, each tending to a different task, executed their crafts with precision and obvious passion, never so much as brushing into one another. Cook was among the seven in the kitchen that night, but he tended mostly to his sauté station, respectfully leaving Chef de Cuisine Darren Daren Porretto at center stage to run the show, which he did with remarkable calm and utter diplomacy while the mechanics of the both the kitchen and front-of-the house churned endlessly in high gear around him. His prior stints at Commander’s Palace and Sobu clearly streeled his nerves.
After laboring over the menu, we settled on starters of Oysters Saint John (oysters three ways: poached in double cream, crispy fried, and Creole oyster dressing in a buttery vol-au-vent pastry shell), and Hot Shrimp Remoulade (plump, seared Gulf shrimp in a zesty remoulade butter served over discs of crisp fried green tomatoes, finished off with a bright okra-corn chow chow). Either dish would have been enough to satisfy as a meal, but we pressed on. Andrew went for the fire-roasted double-cut pork chop finished with a sugarcane glaze and served with Creole Choucroute garni and smashed new potatoes. I took on the Seared Gulf Fish Court-Bouillon and was thrilled to find a muscular hunk of sweet, flakey Mangrove Snapper at the center of a shallow bowl bearing a light tomato butter sauce brimming with jumbo lump crabmeat, sauteed shrimp, and a small scoop of fragrant popcorn rice.
We will be back.
Clearly one who thrives on high tension, last night Cook launched Mangé Loa Holiday Menus at both Gris Gris and Saint John. Both will be available through December 24. Mangé Loa, ‘the feeding of the gods,’ is a Voodoo ceremony and large annual feasting of the gods (‘loa’) featuring a variety of proteins, beverages, desserts, and other decadent foods. Followers of Voodoo believe the powers of all loa are lifted to their highest potential during this celebration. Each restaurant will offer an interpretation of the Voodoo feast and with its own three-course pre-fixe menu plus a special holiday cocktail for $60 per person.
Saint John Mangé Loa Menu:
First Course: Creole Red Bean Soup (red beans with Crystal Hot Sauce, Crème Fraiche, and crispy fried chicken skin).
Second Course: Coffee and Chicory Glazed Quail (roasted quail with andouille cornbread cream cheese dressing, brown butter spaghetti squash and sugarcane chicory glaze).
Third Course: Sweet Potato Beignets (drop beignets with creole spiced powdered sugar).
Holiday Cocktail: Creole Cremas (nutmeg, almond, cognac, Absinthe wash).
Reservations: (504) 581-8120 or via Resy
Gris-Gris Mangé Loa Menu:
First Course: Grilled Feta and Tomato Salad (chicory greens, local tomatoes, candied pecans, and smoky feta with Tajin dressing).
Second Course: Seared Fish and Lobster (seared Gulf fish, butter poached lobster, peppered arugula and fried oysters with Boss Sauce and charred lemon).
Third Course: Holiday Chocolate Cheesecake (chocolate swirled cheesecake with raspberry coulis and Chantilly cream).
Holiday Cocktail: Zombi Nog (Frozen bourbon eggnog with cream, spiced syrup, and praline liqueur).
Reservations: (504) 272-0241 or via Resy.