With a Little Luck

In the last few months we’ve seen a flurry of new openings, expansions and redirections. In September, Chef Chris DeBarr opened Serendipity in the American Can Company building. DeBarr, who has accrued a strong cult and crossover following from his cooking at Delachaise and Green Goddess, gets more room to roam here. Compared to diminutive Green Goddess it’s positively palatial. And DeBarr, who’d had his eyes on it in the past, wasn’t about to let the location pass him by again. “Before I opened Green Goddess, this location had been bandied about but I wasn’t really ready to commit,” he says. “Then another opportunity presented itself and I went for it.”

For most chefs, an on-site Farmer’s Market (held Thursdays) would be a big plus. But a quick scan of DeBarr’s menu reveals that this guy forages from a much larger bin. Ingredients like sumac, Huitlacoche and Persian barberries aren’t easily rustled up close to home. And that’s the appeal of DeBarr’s food – his eclectic sourcing combines with an uninhibited approach to composition. Add a dash of humor and the results are unlike anything else around. Sometimes they work, sometimes not so much – but they’re always fun to try.

The menu picks up where Green Goddess left off and turns it up a notch. A small plate of Fried Pickled Okra Rellenos riffs on the Tex-Mex staple, swapping out pickled okra for peppers and stuffing them with pimento-cheese that are then dunked in cornmeal batter and fried. Lafcadio’s Creole Curried Lamb Baklava, named in honor of Mr. Hearn, features lamb from nearby Two Run Farms served in a variation of a Jamaican-style meat pie. Featuring phyllo layers of lamb fat and curried walnuts, the dish is sweetened with saffron honey. Crab-boil seasoned pickled mirlitons brings it back home.

DeBarr has built a reputation on creative vegetarian dishes, an example of which is his Summer Noodle and Seaweed Salad. “It has soba noodles and a range of vegetables, from pickled ginger to fried parsnips and blanched rutabagas,” DeBarr explains. “All those crazy textures get tossed in there and make it a really fun dish.”

Also helping to make a meal here fun is the copious bar menu with an emphasis on classic cocktails composed with mixers and syrups made in house. “We don’t source ordinary things in our kitchen, and neither does our bar,” DeBarr adds. “So if we can make our own Orgeat syrup, we do it.” At press time Serendipity was dinner only, but DeBarr plans to offer lunch by November and is also shooting for late-night hours, a move that would play well with the cocktail scene.

Over on Maple Street, Cassi and Peter Dymond recently opened up the second Satsuma Café with Chef Mike Costantini, a partner in this new location. The opening was not without a little drama – “We were open for three days before Hurricane Isaac hit,” Dymond recalls. “It was pretty crazy. I definitely would not recommend it it for first-time business owners.”

This move brings a Bywater favorite into the University section, but the new location bears little resemblance to the eclectic, coffee shop shamble of the original. This one features a contemporary interior that offers a lot of seating, natural light and an open kitchen. The menu is essentially the same, barring daily specials that are composed at the discretion of the chef.

It is mostly breakfast and lunch fare here. Dishes are distinguished by an emphasis on fresh produce and boutique flourishes – the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast sandwich, for example, features homemade basil pesto and Nueske’s ham on a buttery croissant.

“There’s a new farm out in the east we’ve been using called VEGGI,” Dymond says. “It’s a really interesting Vietnamese cooperative. We’ve been using them for tofu and sprouts, among other things.” Vegetarian options abound, complemented by an extensive juice bar – Satsuma built its initial reputation of veg and health-friendly fare.

Seasonal pleasers, such as a recent pear pancake, make for filling comfort food and a list of creative salads like beet and quinoa with goat cheese, pistachios and arugula from Hollygrove Market, make the more healthy alternatives fun. Satsuma is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., though after the lunch crowd falls off it transforms to more of a coffee spot with students pecking at laptops
On Magazine Street, Kevin Vizard’s eponymous restaurant reinvented itself as Hevin following Hurricane Isaac. It wasn’t so much the storm as the fact that Vizard had been planning a change-up for a while now. “We were just talking about doing something different. I’ve always liked to switch it up,” Vizard says.

Vizard’s white-tablecloth dining drew a regular crowd, but with dinner-only service and limited seating, it had some logistical disadvantages. Hevin serves lunch and early dinner with a family-friendly menu that includes a kid section, and it’s designed to draw area residents out for a quick bite. Sandwiches – specifically his “Po-Ninis” (poor boys heated on a flat top and pressed flat) have proven popular, but his list of daily hot plates shows off more of his culinary chops, as in a well-executed shrimp étouffée. “Back in the day, places would have these daily specials and you’d know what they were serving each afternoon,” Vizard says, citing Joey K’s by way of example. “We are trying to bring some of that back.”

As of press time, Vizard was featuring daily plates of red beans and rice on Monday, chicken cacciatore on Tuesday, grillades and hog’s head cheese grits on Wednesday and on Thursdays Italian sausage linguini (Fridays feature the aforementioned shrimp étouffée). Prices are reasonable and to-go orders are an option as well. At press time service was 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, although expanded hours may be in the works, along with a Saturday lunch.

In other news …
Other recent revamps around town include an updated menu at the fusion-esque Sara’s in the Riverbend neighborhood, featuring an emphasis on Thai, Korean and French cuisine. Manning’s on Fulton Street signed Chef Jared Tees from the Besh Restaurant Group to captain what should be the premier sports bar in New Orleans. And Baru Bistro and Tapas finally got its liquor license – sidewalk diners may rejoice.

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