In the past two years, in spite of the sense of excitement and energy the New Orleans restaurant scene has been enjoying, something’s been missing—namely, chef Sue Zemanick’s extraordinary cuisine. Thankfully, that all changed with the opening of Zasu, a name derived from both her name and her Slovak heritage—Zasa meaning “once again.” Chef Zemanick made her mark at the beloved Gautreau’s, where she was recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as a rising star chef in 2008, then in 2013 received the James Beard Award as Best Chef: South (in a tie with Ryan Prewitt of Péche). The Pennsylvania native launched her career in New Orleans at Commander’s Palace in 2002, before moving on to Gautreau’s, where she worked with Chef Matthias Wolf. After Wolf returned to the west coast, Zemanick was named chef in 2006 and remained until 2016. There, she perfected her technique and created a beautiful cuisine that highlighted fresh, bright flavors that complimented her slowly-developed, savory cooking. The small restaurant setting allowed Zemanick to focus, fine tune, and perfect every plate. Likewise, in her recently opened and similarly sized Zasu, Zemanick’s attention to detail is revealed in a beautiful array of dishes.
Located at the former site of Rue 127, Zasu has transformed a loud, gaudy space into a dining room bathed in green, with a decidedly minimalist vibe. A prized outdoor table awaited we lucky diners on a gorgeous day on Carrolton Avenue. Just behind the front door, a well-stocked but modest bar gave way to a dining room flanked by rows of booths on either side, and a row of tables down the center of the room.
The stage was set when the knowledgeable and affable servers recited the daily offerings and offered suggestions. Moments later, the show began! Citrus poached Gulf shrimp with hearts of palm, paper thin slices of radish, grapefruit, and brown butter vinaigrette, was perfection on a plate; as was the grilled baby octopus with olives, vibrant sugar snap peas, roasted peppers, and almond slivers, with aioli. Other appetizers included a dazzling beef carpaccio garnished with pickled celery and blue cheese. The homemade agnolotti stuffed with goat cheese, artichokes, and served with crispy sunchokes and a zesty lemon was sublime. Fried veal short ribs basted in Korean chili glaze set on top of scallion fried rice, besides being delicious, also demonstrated Chef Zemanick’s elegant restraint. We also swooned over a special offering of chilled poached lobster served with spring vegetables in a light vinaigrette that contrasted nicely with the delicately fried goat cheese stuffed zucchini, one of the many highlights of our meal. Another special offering was freshly shucked Murder Point oysters served with a tangy mignonette. Salad selections included Asian pear, fried celeriac, and toasted hazelnuts, all garnished with shaved Parmesan, basil and lemon vinaigrette. A Romaine salad featured grilled radicchio, tomato confit, dehydrated olives, served with a miso gremolata. The soup of the day was a rich lobster bisque garnished with croutons and herb-infused oil.
The entree courses were a procession of show-stoppers: A pristine portion of sautéed halibut sat atop a mélange of English peas, haricot vert, spring onions, and spinach, anointed with a deeply flavorful and fragrant ginger-mushroom broth that announced the arrival of Spring. Perfectly cooked sautéed red snapper paired with Indonesian eggplant curry, carrots, and pickled pineapple provided a harmonious and wonderfully balanced combination of flavors. Chef Zemanick’s homage to her Slovak heritagewas on full display with a richly satisfying serving of pierogis stuffed with wild mushrooms and potatoes, garnished with caramelized Vidalia onions, asparagus, and crème fraiche and chive oil. The saltine crusted grouper with savory braised greens, sautéed Louisiana crawfish tails, bacon, and spicy butter sauce was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had–truly a classic!
Desserts at Zasu included the fabulous chocolate cake with port-fig ice cream draped in caramel sauce, as well as a pistachio pavlova smothered in macerated strawberries, and citrus curd served with vanilla cream. The coffee semifreddo, rich inflavor, light in texture, got sprinkled with coffee cake crumbles and a mound of toasted pecans. The table favorite however, was passion fruit crème brulee flecked with Thai basil and candied ginger, served with coconut shortbread emblematic of Zemanick’s deft approach, flirting with exotic flavors and melding them into a beautifully delicious array of truly memorable dishes. We all left with one burning question, when are we going back to Zasu?
Zasu, 127 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, LA 70119. (504) 267-3233. Open Monday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.