With the first breath of fall I used to flee from the salads and chilled proteins I had been sustaining myself on since just after Mardi Gras. I would run to the rich gumbos, smoked and slow cooked meats and heavier sauces I’ve always enjoyed in the cooler months. Last autumn I changed my ways and started subbing in vegetable-forward and light protein dishes that are hearty enough to register a change of season while still being virtuous enough to keep my health in check. With Luvi three blocks from my Uptown home this will be crazy-easy.
Luvi is my favorite new restaurant of 2018. It has become My Extreme Happy Place and it’s impossible for me to feel anything but joyous and energized in this space. Based on the number of people crowding the porch at the front of the restaurant, I have plenty of company.
I like to share my favorite places with others and there’s no one I would rather share an experience with more than my daughter, Cecilia. Cecilia fell in love with Luvi right away. We had a grand time sharing a tasting menu ($45-$60), which changes based on what’s fresh and what inspires chef Hao Gong at any given moment.
Our evening began with craft cocktails from David Goldberg, the man behind the bar. His style keeps evolving in delightful new ways to match what Gong sends out from the kitchen.
Gong’s exotic, playful Asian hybrid cuisine draws on elements of his Shanghai upbringing, stints at restaurants around the United States and his decade-long career as the head sushi chef at Sake Cafe. Every dish is beautifully plated, a feast for the eyes with bright pops of color and contrasting textures.
The first dish out was a trio of shrimp soup dumplings that had been coated in a shaggy, vaguely sweet, complex batter and served with blueberry aioli. I thought Cecilia was going to fall to the floor when she took her first bite; she’s her mother’s daughter.
The next dish out was a cool dish of silken buckwheat noodles dressed lightly in a spicy sesame sauce topped with shreds of poached chicken, flecks of chilies and flash fried scallions. A dish of shell-on butterflied shrimp arrived in a piping hot oval metal dish. The large specimens were steamed atop a tangle of thin glass rice noodles, allowing the rich juices from the protein to flavor the noodles. A finishing touch of hot garlic oil transformed with shrimp shells into a pleasant crackly crunch and the noodles into a shimmering puddle of gelatinous deliciousness. This dish was a complex study in umami.
Wanting Cecilia to try some of my favorites, I ordered up Snow White from the raw bar: delicately arranged cubes of creamy whitefish ceviche arrived with fried garlic, paper thin slices of cucumber, bits of rice crispies and tiny flecks of tomato finished with the bright tang of yuzu sauce. We also shared another of my favorites, Mama’s Soup Dumplings. Here the chef does his mama proud with elegant origami-like pillows filled with pork, ginger and cabbage floating in a multifaceted soy broth that I could drink every single day.
Dessert at Luvi isn’t the lame fried banana found in most Asian restaurants. We shared small tastings of three ice creams flavored with the faint perfume of Chinese magnolia, coconut milk with white sesame seeds and black sesame. Next came a creamy, silken coconut panna cotta topped with pearls of yuzu suspended in tapioca pearls and a carefully molded scoop of dragon fruit ice cream.
Though we’re probably a few weeks off from the first hit of damp, bone chilling cold, when it hits I’ll head to Pho Tau Bay, a perennial go-to for steaming bowls of a variety of excellent pho, PTB wonton soup and hot cups of steaming tea.
5236 Tchoupitoulas St., 605-3340, LuviRestaurant.com.
Pho Tau Bay
1565 Tulane Ave., 368-9846, PhoTauBayRestaurant.com.