Most nights it can be a challenge to get my exhausted husband out to dinner, so I was delighted when I was able to lure him to Avo, Chef Nick Lama’s chic new Creole-Italian bistro on Magazine Street. Most recently Sue Zemanick’s chef de cuisine at Gautreau’s, Lama’s New Orleans restaurant cred spans the ages. A fourth-generation Sicilian, he accompanied his father to work at the historic St. Roch Seafood Market, which the family operated in the Ninth Ward until Katrina.
Lama’s menu at Avo is comprised of family recipes and childhood experiences, heightened with a fresh perspective alongside Southern-grown and locally harvested ingredients. The daily special bruschetta – one with fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil, the other with prosciutto and fresh figs when I dined – did not disappoint. Nor did a special salad featuring a small, intensively flavored cheese custard served atop arugula and ladled generously with pickled chanterelles mushrooms. The chanterelles made another welcome appearance atop my entrée of grouper with chickpea ragu, olive tapenade and fresh spinach. For dessert, the white chocolate semifredo with strawberries and basil syrup is not to be missed.
Once my ever faithful and adventurous dining companion, my daughter has been vegan for 18 months, and while I appreciate this culinary genre and the Vietnamese food I often enjoy with my daughter, even excellent pho can get boring if done to excess.
These factors withstanding, I greedily grab up my daughter’s teenage friends and drag them about as my dining companions. Being broke, they take zeal in the prospect of being fed well and often at restaurants they could never afford themselves. Their dining proclivities most often run to Felipe’s and Slim Goodies. A night at Juan’s Flying Burrito is a splurge for a hot date.
Beautiful, brilliant and outgoing, 19-year-old Madeleine Ruiz will eat absolutely anything, so I carted her along the first day Primitivo, chef Adolfo Garcia’s temple of smoke and fire, opened for lunch. With a complex and interesting menu we had a hard time making decisions but finally settled on starters of grain salad with baby lettuces, radish, buttermilk and feta, and fried duck wing confit with herbs and sunflower seeds. The lunch specials were numerous that day and we almost ordered three, but showing restraint, we went for the smoked catfish tartine with corn salsa, arugula and aioli, and the “pastramied” Painted Hills coulotte served with turnip slaw and fluffy biscuits. We left stuffed. But still we’re both eagerly anticipating our return in hope that the smoked chicken potpie with Crowder peas and fresh corn under puff pastry is on the menu that day.
With menus diverse enough to satisfy all dietary persuasions, both Shaya and MoPho have become go-tos in my world. At the former, chef Alon Shaya’s “For the Table” collection of small pates is hard to beat with a price tag of five for $23. The baba ganoush, Israeli salad, Lutensia and tabouleh satisfy the vegan; the vegetarians can add Labneh and a Bulgarian salad to the mix, and I’m made happy with Ikra (a paddlefish caviar spread with shallots and basil). All of this is served with Shaya’s incomparable pita bread moments after it’s plucked from the wood-burning oven.
At MoPho, the Som Tam Salad is comprised of whatever vegetables and greens are in season, served with sweet cured sausage (this can be ordered on the side or done away with altogether for the vegan), spiced peanuts, Thai peppers and cilantro. The Mississippi Sweet Corn Dumplings with purple potato, fennel, orange blossom and chili oil is adventurous enough to satisfy any palate.
Travelling to the British Virgin Islands this month? So is Tenney Flynn, Chef and Owner of GW Fins. He will be cooking at the Bitter End Yacht Club, a top-notch sailing and watersports destination located on Virgin Gorda. He will bring his signature brand of New Orleans cuisine for the first time August 2-3.
Avo 5908 Magazine St., 509-6550, RestaurantAvo.com
G.W Fins 808 Bienville St., GWFins.com
MoPho 514 City Park Ave., 482-6845, MoPhoNola.com
Primativo 1800 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 881-1775, PrimitivoNola.com
Shaya 4213 Magazine St., 891-4213, ShayaRestaurant.com