New Orleans experiences a restaurant renaissance
New Orleans experiences a restaurant renaissance
April 29, 2010
By David Lee Simmons
When it comes to dining in New Orleans, visitors arenâ€™t all that different from the locals. Both want to find their tried-and-true favorites where they can establish a relationship with a place and its culinary rituals. That why youâ€™ll always run into someone who will say, â€œYouâ€™ve just gotta try the alligator cheesecake at Jacques-Imoâ€™sâ€ or, â€œWe always get the barbecued shrimp po-boy at Liuzzaâ€™s.â€
What a routine like this would painfully obscure, though, is New Orleansâ€™ remarkable restaurant renaissance since Hurricane Katrina â€” one thatâ€™s provided the most consistent and optimistic economic indicator of the recovery.
So just this once, skip the crabmeat Sardou at Galatoireâ€™s, the trout almandine at Mandinaâ€™s â€” heck, even the gumbo at Dooky Chaseâ€™s â€” and fly blind on these three new restaurants. Each of them have opened within the past two years, and offer firsthand reassurance of a culinary renaissance.
870 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-208-9280; www.amanonola.com
Chef Adolfo Garcia is one of the truly great New Orleans restaurant success stories of this past decade. A Metairie native of Panamanian ancestry, Garcia received his culinary training in New York. He defied expectations in returning to New Orleans, eschewing the expected Creole cuisine route and tapping into his roots in 2000 by opening RioMar, a Spanish seafood gem that also anticipated the belated tapas trend. This emboldened Garcia to open La Boca, an Argentinean-themed steakhouse, in May 2006, to rave reviews and steady business.
Next comes, A Mano: an Italian restaurant not only devoid of Creole influences, but also lasagnas and meatballs, focusing instead on traditional southern Italian food where pastas know their place and salumi (cured meats) rule. Credit Chef de Cuisine Joshua Smith, whom Garcia recruited from the RioMar kitchen after tiring of Smithâ€™s insistence he could do Italian the right way. He can. Save room for the upcoming pastas and meat/fish entrees with the Olive Mista: perfectly marinated olives. The meat options are some of the most varied in the city: chicken, duck, rabbit, pork, even flat-iron steak.
The result: Both Garcia and Smith recently were named James Beard Award semi-finalists.
8115 Jeannette St., 862-5514; www.boucherie-nola.com
The cottage at this Riverband neighborhood address has had great karma over the years, previously serving as the host for Iris (now relocated in the French Quarter) and Mango House (a now-closed Caribbean treat). Music fans may have been the first to recognize the cooking prowess of Nathaniel Zimet; his purple food truck was a fixture outside the Tipitinaâ€™s music hall. Now foodies are hip to his scene, too, delighting in a barbecue-inspired menu that belies his North Carolina roots and passion for Cajun country.
Even the mussels have a Southern flare. Bathed in what at first seems like a counterintuitive broth of collard greens, the appetizer makes sense when you get hit with that tangy broth and munch on the crispy grit crackers. Most tempting is the pulled pork â€œcakeâ€ with potato confit and purple cabbage cole slaw. The towering architecture tended to be more impressive than the cooking execution; the pork was a little on the tough side, but Zimetâ€™s homemade and very Carolina, vinegar-based barbecue sauce moistened the meat just enough.
But thatâ€™s been the buzz on Boucherie: when itâ€™s on, itâ€™s a delight, but the inconsistency can frustrate. The prices never do, though, making room for a Krispy Kreme bread budding that reminded me of Richard Blaisâ€™ Krispy Kreme milkshake.
CRESCENT PIE & SAUSAGE
4400 Banks St., 504-482-2426; www.crescentpieandsausage.com
The path that partners Jeff Baron and Bart Bell took to Crescent Pie & Sausage has become the stuff of local legend. Theyâ€™d planned combine Baronâ€™s pizza-parlor (The Dough Bowl) experience with Bellâ€™s fine-dining panache (Restaurant Cuvee) for a happy mash-up. But the Mid-City building they were renovating got mashed up by Hurricane Gustav in 2008. And so in the meantime, they contented themselves by opening up Huevos, a whimsical breakfast spot, in the building next door.
Dreams die hard, and Baron and Bell finally opened Crescent Pie & Sausage this past December. The interior is a typically raucous affair, thanks to hard floors and loud customers depending on the traffic inside, though a covered deck outside is a perfect retreat for these spring/summer days.
While the whole pizza-and-sausage combo sounds like a compelling conceit, and the pizzas are fine, itâ€™s the sausage that really makes this place sing. The meat pies possess a singular snap and spice to them, the dough freshly baked. Theyâ€™re a perfect appetizer. But the sausage selection dominates the menu in number and flavor, particularly the Mixed Grill: Lilâ€™ Smokeys (smoked sausage), boudin (pork and rice stuffed in a casing) and seafood sausage served with spicy mustard and pickles with flavor that matches its freshness. Boudin, like other Cajun favorites, is finally making a strong showing around town, and this version is competitive with the cityâ€™s finest.
You could play safe and opt for the competent Margherita pizza, or go adventurous with the Mediterranean: lamb sausage, roasted red pepper sauce, olives, artichoke hearts goat cheese crema and grilled eggplant with fresh parsley.
Either choice will show you that in New Orleans, even new habits will die hard.