I had the opportunity to get to know chef Aaron Burgau a few years ago when I was tasked with writing the “best new chef” profile for New Orleans Magazine’s 2008 dining issue. I found him to be a very nice guy, and it’s been a pleasure since to run into him at local farmers markets.
Perhaps it’s time for a brief digression here. I think it would be overstating things to call Burgau my friend, but we’re certainly friendly; I think he’s a good sort, and he seems to think the same of me. In any case, I like the guy, and knowing that, you might wonder whether you can trust my opinion about his food.
I haven’t been particularly concerned about my relationship with certain chefs when writing for my personal food blog, Appetites. I try to be up front about my potential biases, but my theory has always been that if you disagree with what I write on Appetites, you are free to apply for a refund. Here, however, I’ll do my best to disclose any such potential issues.
Food writing is an inherently subjective enterprise. What tastes good to one person is swill to another. The best I can do is to provide honest opinions about what I experience. I hope that I provide enough detail to back up those opinions and give you some context. What I can promise you is that what I write here is what I believe. Your mileage may vary, and you are free to disagree with me in the comments below.
I don’t get to Patois as much as I’d like, as my writing requires me to spread myself pretty thin where restaurants are concerned. But last week I found myself adrift for dinner, and it was a pleasure to stop in at the Laurel Street restaurant.
I tend to prefer multiple small courses at fine-dining restaurants. I’m content to eat three appetizers in lieu of the normal progression, and that’s what I did at Patois. I started with a yellowtail crudo. Slices of the raw fish were served with slivers of kalamata olives, supremes of citrus, thinly sliced radish, micro-greens and a blood orange emulsion. If the idea of olives and raw fish sounds odd to you, you should taste this dish. It’s emblematic of the kind of flavors Burgau puts on the plate, perfectly balancing the rich, melting fish; the salty umami of the olives; and the tang of the citrus. The radishes provide some textural contrast, and their sweet, spicy crunch is another element that, when you taste it, seems so natural that you don’t know why it seemed surprising in the first place.
Pork belly with scallops seems like another odd combination, but in reality, they have a lot in common. Both are rich, and both benefit from a combination of sweetness and acidity. The pork belly in the appetizer I ordered had been cooked to render some of the fat and then sliced into a half-inch cross-cut and cooked gently again to brown and crisp up. The scallops were seared perfectly, and both benefited from the same Steen’s cane syrup glaze. If I have a complaint about the dish, it’s a lack of acid to play off the sweetness of the glaze and the richness of both components. The small salad of frisée that’s placed between the pork and the scallops is bitter enough to offset some of the richness, but the dish needs more. As it happened, I had a glass of white wine to serve that function, but if you’re averse to wine, I’d order something else.
The dinner menu at Patois is pretty extensive, and you’ll probably have to decide between multiple options for each course, but there are also specials now and again. I had the option of stone crab claws in a butter sauce flavored with kaffir lime, lemongrass and chiles. I took that option, and it was pretty goddamn awesome. I’ll be the first person to extol the virtues of our local seafood, but although stone crab isn’t caught in the Gulf, it’s worth eating when you can get it. It reminds me of a cross between lobster claw and king crab –– sweet and meaty. The sauce had just enough heat from the chiles to perk up that sweetness, and the dish reminded me of a meal I had in Thailand almost 20 years ago. Only without the prostitutes.
I’m kidding, of course. I had several prostitutes with me the other night.
I was going to provide some more detail about the lunch, dinner and brunch menus, but those are online here. Through the magic of the Internet, you can see representative menus yourself. Magic, I tell you!
Bread has been an important part of the dining experience at Patois since it opened. It’s another detail that is too often overlooked at even the finest restaurants in New Orleans. Our local “French” bread is fantastic, but fine-dining restaurants that aren’t in the classic Creole mode should have their own bread, and Patois doesn’t disappoint. Popovers are the current selection, airy, buttery and absolutely addictive. The only problem is that because they prepare the bread in-house, there’s not always enough to fulfill the multiple requests for refills that you will make.
Patois is housed in a converted home that once held Nardo’s and, before that, Norby’s. Or perhaps I have that order reversed? Patois has made me forget both. As you enter, you’ll notice the long bar that runs parallel to Webster Street, and that same room holds around half the restaurant’s tables. Up a short flight of stairs is the remainder of the dining area, and that’s where you want to sit if you enjoy conversation with your dinner because when the restaurant fills up, the downstairs can be a bit active.
Burgau must be a decent guy to work with because I recognize most of the wait staff from multiple visits over the last several years. They’re friendly, and they know what they’re doing. I’ve heard complaints about waiting for a table when the restaurant is busy but not so many that it makes me think the problem is chronic. In my experience, when you make a reservation for a certain time, that’s when you’ll sit.
Patois is located at 6078 Laurel St., and it’s open for lunch on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for brunch on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner service is on Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. You can call them at (504) 895 9441, and I would advise making a reservation, based on the restaurant’s popularity.