To some, Donald Link is best known for the urbane Cajun delicacies served at the pork-centric Cochon and the wood-fired seafood specialties at Peche. But before he helped usher in a new wave of refined nose-to-tail and gills-to-fin cuisine, and before the multiple James Beard awards, the publishing of cookbooks, and the retail line of specialty goods, there was Herbsaint and only Herbsaint. Perhaps somewhat forgotten in the whirlwind of celebrity chefdom and Instagram hashtags, Herbsaint continues to consistently deliver one of the most delicious dining experiences in the city.
If there ever were a single dish mandating a visit to a restaurant at least once a year, I know of no better nominee than Link’s unique spin on pasta carbonara. Housemade spaghetti is tossed in a luxurious sauce of butter and cheese studded with guanciale and then crowned with a deep-fried poached farm egg, whose golden yellow yolk slowly oozes into the pasta with each bite. Bacon and eggs have never achieved such a level of sophistication before in a dish, which unsurprisingly is one of the few menu items that have not been retired since Link took over the restaurant from Susan Spicer more than a decade ago. Another is fried, cornmeal-crusted oysters tempered with crunchy coleslaw and ignited by hot sauce.
The daily gumbo may be a classic chicken and andouille, or a more nonconformist black-eyed pea and pork, but all feature a deep, dark roux as the foundation of flavor. More substantial starters include the tender braised short rib ladled over with salsa verde and horseradish cream (because two sauces are always better than one) and paired with potato rösti.
Main courses draw from both local and global influence in the modern Creole tradition. Roasted duck leg and dirty rice share table space with crispy goat and curried cauliflower with black beans and tangy yogurt. Chef de Cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb’s lasagna is the perfect comfort food for a brisk winter night, with its countless layers of thin sheets of pasta interspersed with lamb and mushroom ragu. An expertly cooked offbeat cut of steak is always on offer—currently a zabuton steak rubbed with sea salt and olive oil and paired with crispy french fries to be dipped in pimenton aioli.
General manager Joe Briand oversees an attentive staff while curating an impressive wine list deep on Burgundy but not short on variety. He’ll offer pairing suggestions with all menu choices, including dessert, such as the luscious brown-butter tart with fleur de sel caramel, or the warm chocolate pudding cake. Savoring each bite is all the more pleasurable knowing that at Herbsaint, there are many more enjoyable meals still yet to come.