Catching up on some dining notes from the last couple of visits to New Orleans. They include a new restaurant from celebrity chef and New Orleans resident Emeril Lagasse, a visit to an established favorite, a Jazz Brunch where the musicians stroll through the restaurant, and a few other fun things.
Once you taste the Crispy Turkey Necks at Meril, Emeril Lagasse’s new Warehouse District place, you’re never going to want to toss out the one stuffed inside your Thanksgiving bird again.
I know, I know — turkey necks? But trust me, these are life-changing. Marinated and fried in sofrito, they’re a pick-em-up-with-your-fingers treat, and one of the first things Lagasse said I should try when I asked for a recommendation. (It was a pleasant coincidence that he was in the kitchen on the day I stopped by.)
The menu at Meril — which is named for his daughter — reflects the current trend of small plate dining.
Candied Pork Ribs were another highlight. Fall-off-the-bone tender with a sweet sort of Asian spiced note.
The Muffaletta Flatbread was a real surprise. Muffaletta, of course, is the iconic New Orleans sandwich that features salami, cappicola, mortadella, mozzarella and provolone with a green olive relish on a round loaf of Sicilian bread. I was skeptical that it would translate to a flatbread platform; few traditional dishes reinterpret well — think pasta based jambalaya. But this was a winner. It had all the flavors of a muffaletta right there on a crispy crust.
Meril, which opened in late September, occupies an open space that had a dirt floor when Lagasse’s organization took it over. It now has a beautiful inlaid wood floor, and the brick walls have what Lagasse called New Orleans grafitti — black and white paintings of a crab, fish and geese. When Lagasse isn’t in the kitchen — and with 13 restaurants now, don’t count on seeing him there often — Will Avelar, who previously was executive sous chef at the company’s Delmonico, is in charge.
Meril is at 424 Girod St., New Orleans.
La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery has been around for a while, but no one really started paying much attention to it until Justin Devillier took over as the executive chef and, eventually, the owner.
It occupies a century-old building that, indeed, was once a grocery. If you have nothing else here, have the Blue Crab Beignets. At $15, their a bit dear for fritters, but once you taste the creamy crab filling you’ll think you’ve gotten a bargain.
Also good were the Ricotta Dumplings, gnocchi-like noodles topped with shaved piave vecchio.
Duck Confit with sausage and choucroute was OK, especially after the cool meat that was first served was replaced with a fully heated duck.
La Petite Grocery is at 4238 Magazine St., New Orleans.
Backspace Bar and Kitchen
My companion and I enjoyed stumbling upon this little dive bar (and we’re talking New Orleans, so I use the term stumbling advisedly). It has a writerly mien, with vintage typewriters on the shelves and menu items that pay homage to greats and even not-greats — I got a chuckle out of the drink called the Dark n’ Stormy.
For a place that appears outwardly to put an emphasis on the drinks, Backspace has a serious kitchen, too. We had the Whitman Roast Beef, a hot sandwich that featured roasted tenderloin tips in gravy and topped with a few breaded and fried oysters.
Cajun Poutine also had debris gravy on top of house-made potato chips with cheese and tomatoes. Good chips.
And even better than the food was the welcoming staff who treated us like good friends. We liked it so much that we went twice.
Backspace is at 139 Chartres St., New Orleans.
Mr. B’s Bistro
A visit to New Orleans usually means trying new places, but I always enjoy returning to Mr. B’s Bistro. On this visit we chose to sit at the bar and had a terrific time having verbal jousts with the playful bartender and chatting with nearby stoolmates.
We were having a late supper and chose an array of appetizers. We had both the Seafood Gumbo and Gumbo Ya Ya. Both had the same deep roux-y base but we agreed the seafood version was a bit better.
Duck Springrolls were decidedly un-Nola-like but quite tasty with confit meat inside the crispy wontons.
Appetizers “1-1-1” is for people who can’t make up their minds (guilty) and features bites of three favorites, the Panko-crusted jumbo shrimp, fried oysters, and roasted pork belly. All good, the belly the best.
And Mr. B’s Crabcake was a large lump of mostly meat. pan-seared and topped with sauce ravigote.
Mr. B’s Bistro is at 201 Royal St., New Orleans.
I’ve enjoyed jazz brunch at Mr. B’s in the past, but this time we decided to try Tableau, a large restaurant just off Jackson Square. It was a beautiful late morning, sunny and warm for November, so we chose to sit on the balcony overlooking the buskers in front of the cathedral.
Technically, it’s a brass band brunch and unfortunately, the musicians were downstairs in the main dining room. But not for long. The players stroll around during the brunch and even go table to table taking requests. As someone who often gets annoyed with a strolling violinist, I was surprised how calm I was with a tuba player standing next to me. But when he and his trumpet- and banjo-playing companions did renditions of “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” and “What a Wonderful World” it was easy to enjoy.
So was the food, which included Duck Hash, a dense disk of meat and potatoes, topped with poached eggs.
And Eggs Houssarde, a sort of a riff on Benedict with medallions of grilled beef tenderloin in place of ham and French bread instead of a muffin. Poached eggs and hollandaise were also Benedictine, but the fried oysters brought it back to Nola.
Terrific service here, too.
Tableau is at 616 St. Peter St., New Orleans.
Everything at Restaurant R’evolution was perfect, right up to the moment it wasn’t.
Located at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on the corner of Bienville and Bourbon Streets, Restaurant R’evolution is a partnership between longtime Louisiana chef John Folse and Rick Tramonto, of Chicago’s Tru.
Despite the restaurant’s name, the food is not really revolutionary, it’s just all very good.
Death by Gumbo has a deep and dark roux with roasted quail, andouille sausage and oysters.
A Triptych of Quail has the usually useless bird served Southern fried, boudin-stuffed and absinthe glazed. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed quail as much.
And Cracklin’ Crusted Shrimp N’ Grits were different from the other couple of thousand area restaurants serving the standard by keeping the heads on and infusing the grits with mascarpone cheese and serving it with a Bloody Bull zabaglione.
There are four distinct dining rooms, each visible from the other, with various levels of casualness to finery. My guest and I were seated in what I considered the more elegant of the rooms, though we could see the “kitchen room” quite clearly. But we had white tablecloths that the diners next to the kitchen didn’t. And we were treated to excellent service, all the way up until we requested coffee.
It was served, and at the same time the waiter placed our check on table with the perfunctory “no hurry on this” that means he’s in a hurry. And after we’d signed the credit slip, he came back to snatch it from the table, apparently wanting to cash out. We were left to beg a coffee refill from someone else.
As I said, it was a wonderful dining experience right up until it wasn’t. It’s a textbook case of how just one server has the power to effect the entire evening.
But fortunately the experience was weighted on the wonderful, and I will look forward to returning to Restaurant R’evolution again.
Restaurant R'evolution is at 777 Bienville St. By the way, after dinner, stop in at the hotel's music room called the Jazz Playhouse. Some of the best jazz in town in one of the more pleasant atmospheres.
I will also look forward to returning to Brigtsen’s, which was also an almost perfect dining experience.
Located in an old house far from the French Quarter, Brigtsen’s gives one the feeling that the furniture has been moved out of the way so that dining tables could be set up in the living room, enclosed porch and even the hallways.
Although he opened the restaurant in 1986, Frank Brigtsen is considered among the new guard of New Orleans chefs.
The menu changes regularly, but if the gumbo with rabbit and andouille sausage is available, it’s an easy choice to make.
Mustard and cornmeal fried Des Allemands catfish will change how you feel about that fish.
And Roasted Duck with Dirty Rice and tart dried cherry sauce is another good choice.
With Marna Brigtsen serving as Maitre d’, you really do feel like you’re dining in someone’s home.
Brigtsen’s is at 723 Dante St., New Orleans.