By the time this is online, I will be back in New Orleans. I am finishing this article in the lobby of a hotel in Chicago, where I have been attending a conference on chemical products liability. I have enjoyed my time in Chicago. I met a bunch of talented people, and I was able to spend a good bit of time with a colleague I haven't seen in years. The weather has also been spectacular, but I've missed most of it. The conference organizers rejected my request to hold the seminars outside.
I ate some good food as well, though oddly the most interesting meal was at a vegan restaurant called Karyn's on Green. Did you know that that there is no statutory bar to vegan restaurants in a meat-centric town like Chicago? True story. Not only was the entire menu at Karyn's vegan, much of it was raw, gluten-free and/or soy or nut-free. Not everything I tasted was good, but the quinoa hush puppies, the flatbread with potato, onion and arugula, and the raw “maki rolls” were outstanding. I normally do not like vegetarian dishes that attempt to approximate meat, but I thought the “chicken legs” were worth a shot. They weren't bad, exactly, and the blend of tofu and seitan did sort of have the texture of chicken, but it would have been better had I not been thinking “chicken” while eating tofu and pressed wheat cake. I was not motivated to give up meat by the experience, but I didn't really expect that to happen.
Of more interest to residents of New Orleans not planning a trip to Chicago for a vegan meal, I offer the following:
I drove by the corner of Magazine and Julia about a week ago, and from the outside, it did not look as though Pêche had opened. But Donald Link is no dummy, and he and partners Steven Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt got the restaurant up and running in time for Jazz Fest. The restaurant is located at 800 Magazine St., and despite the ongoing construction in and around the building, the dining room is already humming and the kitchen and raw bar are putting out some great food.
The unique angle at Pêche is the wood-fired grill, and that's a fine selling-point, but what I found equally intriguing were the influences from multiple cuisines on the menu. Spicy noodles with ground shrimp, for example, or a daily raw fish that, when I had it, had elements of both Japanese sushi and Italian crudo.
If you're familiar with Cochon and Herbsaint, the two other local restaurants in which Link has a hand, you won't be terribly surprised by what's on offer at Pêche. That said, the general tenor of the food is somewhat lighter than either the hearty fare at Cochon or the more nuanced cooking at Herbsaint. That's not to say the food is twee, or that everything on the menu lacks weight. Items like grilled beef belly with chimichurri, white beans and sausage or the 22 oz ribeye (intended for at least two) are definitely robust.
But as befits a restaurant whose name means fish in French, seafood is a major focus at Pêche, and seafood turns up in most menu items. The above-referenced raw fish of the day is one way the chefs showcase the freshness of their fish, and the oyster bar is also integral to the restaurant. It's located in front and to one side of the open kitchen, and you can pull up a stool to watch the shucking. The first time I ate at Pêche I had a dozen sweet little oysters from Apalachicola, Fla., that went perfectly with the tart mignonette served alongside.
You can check out the menu online, or you can experience the food in person Monday through Thursday from 11 to 10, and until 11 on Friday and Saturday. Call 522-1744 to make a reservation.