In one of the most stunning transformations in recent memory, the 200 block of Chartres Street in the French Quarter has gone from being a gloomy ghost town of shuttered storefronts to a thriving hotspot peppered with local businesses, capped off by the lavish Justine—a Parisian-inspired brasserie created by 2016 James Beard Award winner Justin Devillier and his wife and business partner Mia Freiberger-Devillier. Guests are seduced from the street by hot pink neon cabaret-inspired signage. The open-aired, lofty parlor space evokes a Parisian café scene spilling into the street with only bikes, scooters and motorcycles missing. The intrigue blossoms into chic opulence where one is greeted and seated by the unflappable and exuberant maître d’ Robbie Robertson, who sports an enormous boutonnière festooned with pastel flowers that he arranges fresh every day. Just behind the host stand, some of the city’s most renowned DJs (Brice Nice, DJ Pasta and DJ Soul Sister, to name a few) spin tasty licks, adding subtle touches to the ambiance created by beautiful customized lighting and impeccable design elements.
Justine was designed by Farouki Farouki, the company that also designed Warbucks, Saffron NOLA and Maypop. The layout features a heady combination of brass, marble, exposed brick, tile and hand-crafted wood flooring. The owners also brought a few special items from their own personal collection, such as a cow’s-head relief covered in roses framed in a neon halo. The ambiance at Justine does not stop there. As the evening progresses, the dining experience is further enhanced by the presence of “ambiant burlesque” showcased by Trixie Minx who has enlisted an all-star roster including Darla James, Cherry Bombshell, Chère Noble, and more. This adds an extra layer of effervescent and sensual intrigue that sets Justine apart.
The menu at Justine is a celebration of classic Parisian fare done exceptionally well, presided over by Chef de Cuisine Daniel Causgrove, who had previously worked at Devillier’s La Petite Grocery, and most recently at Seaworthy. For starters, the steak tartare was the best I’ve ever had. Likewise, the deftly arranged tuna salade niçoise, arranged with haricots verts, heirloom tomatoes and a soft-boiled egg was a symphony of blessed simplicity. The lobster tartine served on toasted brioche, and garnished with caviar and a beautiful tarragon emulsion, was a masterpiece of understatement. Besides being impeccably fresh and perfectly seasoned it was served with gaufrette potatoes. While the bone marrow bordelaise with mashed potatoes doesn’t read as particularly exciting, it was bursting with flavor and pillowy pommes turned out to be a delightful accompaniment to the marrow, richly flavored with an incredible bordelaise sauce. Foie gras gets a classical turn here, presented as a slab of chilled torchon set over brioche and served with pears poached in Riesling—another smash. The octopus appetizer is another beautiful presentation garnished with delicate herbs, hints of local citrus and roasted peppers. Justine’s onion soup gratinée was another impressive show-stopper: hedonistic, rich and deeply satisfying.
Justine also offers an impressive array of chilled seafood ‘plateaus’ including king crab, lobster, a West Indian–flavored crab salad, Gulf shrimp and raw oysters from either coast. Prices range from $15 to $165 for the Grand Plateau.
Entrees run the gamut from a brioche bun peppercorn-crusted burger served with melted Emmental cheese, arugula and fries to a 40-ounce prime ribeye. The 14-ounce entrecôte of beef with herbed butter was really good, served with a generous portion of hand-cut fries. An adjacent table ordered the Moroccan spiced short rib and the aroma almost made me regret the delicious Gulf shrimp en papillote with baby vegetables and a delicate artichoke barigoule. The duck confit is irresistible, with unctuous fat oozing underneath a layer of salty, crispy skin served with accompaniments of white beans and braised pork.
Justine also features daily specials including lobster ravioli, braised lamb shank, bouillabaisse, prime rib au jus, French dip and coq au vin.
Desserts are not to be missed, especially the honey vanilla pot de crème, the Gâteau Basque, pavlova with coconut sorbet and passionfruit pastry cream and French meringue, and the homemade glacée. If sweets are not your thing, a selection of artisanal cheeses is available.
Both lunch and late-night service have recently become available, which makes Justine the go-to dining destination late nights, serving up until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Justine has quickly established itself as a rising star in the competitive restaurant scene in New Orleans. Chapeau!
Justine, 225 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. (504) 218-8533. Open daily for dinner 5:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. Late-night dinners Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. until 1 a.m.