One of the most striking changes on the local culinary scene since 2006 is that you no longer have to drive all the way over to the West Bank or out to New Orleans East to find real good Vietnamese food. There are now about ten choices just Uptown. “About” is appropriate since another spot for pho is likely to appear before you pick up this magazine. The last one to open was Pho Cam Ly on Magazine Street. They offer a $30 pho challenge to anyone who can down two pounds of meat and two pounds of noodles (in plenty of broth, of course) in one sitting. The pho is on the house if you finish your bowl. So far, no one has received a free meal.
Here is our list of seven restaurants that have opened in New Orleans since last Jazz Fest that we think are worth a visit.
Annunciation (1016 Annunciation St. 504-568-0245) After 20 years as the chef at Clancy’s and countless orders of fried oysters covered in melted brie cheese, Chef Steven Manning departed the Uptown establishment to open his own bistro at the opposite end of Annunciation Street. But instead of leaving behind the signature dishes, which endeared him to so many diners, Chef Manning brought along his greatest hits and accented the rest of the menu with his own flair. The panneed veal and fettuccini are as satisfying as ever, and the same can be said about the crawfish etouffée and catfish “Muddy Waters.” But where Clancy’s rarely deviates from its script, Restaurant Annunciation draws influence from Chef Manning’s own personal tastes. So alongside the lobster and mushroom risotto is a Thai-inspired green papaya salad topped with local shrimp and a grilled drum in a rich and vibrant sauce of coconut milk infused with lime. Control the Pavlovian reaction for lemon ice box pie for dessert in favor of the buddino, a rich butterscotch custard topped with salted caramel.
The Blue Crab (7900 Lakeshore Dr. 504-284-2898) Sky-high insurance premiums and expropriation of land by the new flood protection system were the collective death knell for what was once the most family-friendly dining experience in town: the West End seafood restaurant. But even though institutions such as Fitzgerald’s and Brunning’s ain’t dere no more, a new crop of seafood specialists have set up along the lakefront to offer New Orleanians a pictureseque setting over Lake Pontchartain coupled with a taste of the bounty of our local waters. The best among the revivalists is The Blue Crab, a throwback to the West End glory days, which serves overflowing platters of fried seafood and local classics with a side of nostalgia. Upstairs, the main dining room fills up with diners feasting on BBQ shrimp and whole stuffed flounder draped in lemon butter sauce. Downstairs, boaters tie up next to the open-air bar for raw oysters and trays of boiled crawfish washed down with frosty beer.
Doris Metropolitan (620 Chartres St., 504-267-3500) is a bit of a miracle. Not only could this be the best steakhouse in town—they offer what might be the best burger, the best salads and the best bread. Chef Schachar Kurgan is as unassuming as he’s uncompromising.
“A lot of people can cook a good steak,” he says. “But it takes a lot more knowledge and skill to get the meat to where it needs to be before you cook it. We dry-age and wet-age the meat for up to three weeks.”
Kurgan approaches both his meat curing room (protected by double panes of glass behind French Quarter windows) and his kitchen like a chemist. He uses calcium and sodium to create tender globules of either balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, or goat yogurt around his colorful presentations.
One of the best bets on the menu is “Falls off the Bone” or Shpondra—a short rib cooked for 24 hours and served with a burning sprig of rosemary (grown, along with at least a dozen other fresh herbs, outside in the courtyard). This is basically pot roast, but the way God would want it, served on a giant bone. Even at $39 a plate, it’s worth it, and large enough to feed two people.
Bring your greens. You won’t regret it.
Ivy (5015 Magazine St., 504-899-1330) is often brought up as an example of the remarkable restaurant proliferation along Magazine Street. And it should be. Chef Sue Zemanick keeps bringing out delicious (albeit pricey) small plates into an intimate and friendly room. During Jazz Fest, she’ll be focusing on New Orleans’ “four seasons,” meaning crab, crawfish, oysters and shrimp. Grilled lobster has been on the menu for a while and is likely to stay, along with the tuna tartare and the popular fried baby back ribs with blue cheese.
“It takes people a lot longer to eat these small plates than I thought,” says Zemanick with a laugh, comparing her current tempo with the three-course dinners she used to put together in the kitchen at Gautreau’s. “We only have 13 tables here, so you might understand why we don’t take reservations.”
Zemanick is comfortable with new restaurants popping up in the vicinity on a monthly—if not weekly—basis, but raises the all-important problem of how all these new restaurants will be able to hire good, reliable staff (which isn’t a problem at Ivy, where Mimi Assad—who used to crank out the best part at Noodle & Pie, namely the pie—was just promoted to chef de cuisine).
Mopho (514 City Park Ave. 504-482-6845) When Chef Michael Gulotta announced his departure from his post as chef de cuisine at Restaurant August to open a Southeast Asian restaurant in Mid-City, fine dining aficionados were left wondering if the Vietnamese food craze had finally gone too far. But a quick glance over the menu at Mopho—would you like cocks comb or head cheese in your pho?—demonstrates that Chef Gulotta’s next evolution has aspirations that far exceed its humble strip mall location. Banh mi-style po-boys are stuffed with cast iron-roasted tofu slathered in black bean mayo or fried shrimp paired with thin-sliced country ham. Crispy pork belly or tender beef cheeks, their richness offset by the bitterness of lime, crown bowls of vermicelli noodles dressed with soy sauce brewed in Kentucky. On Super Swine Saturdays, the kitchen churns out platters of succulent cochon de lait slow-roasted in the fire pit on the restaurant’s back patio. When a young and upcoming chef leaves his high-profile post to venture out on his own, the stars usually follow. So don’t be surprised if at the next table over you see John Besh chiding Aaron Sanchez for double dipping his spring roll in the peanut sauce.
Pêche Seafood Grill (800 Magazine St. 504-522-1744) The Princes of Pork followed up the smashing success of Cochon by transitioning from land to sea with the opening of Pêche, where the kitchen serves up coastal cuisine with a modern interpretation unlike any other seafood specialist in New Orleans. The menu runs the gamut from local and regional favorites such as smoked tuna dip and crawfish bisque to original creations drawing on global influences, like the spicy ground shrimp and noodles or the daily preparations of raw fish, which would draw admiration from the most seasoned sushi chef. From the roaring hearth fueled by hardwood coal come whole fish dressed simply with herbs, lemon or perhaps a ladle of salsa verde, perfect for sharing amongst a table of friends with orders of brabant potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts doused with chili vinegar. Wash it down with glasses of slightly sparking txakolina and save room for the chocolate peanut butter banana pie for dessert.
Upper Nine Doughnut Company (2900 Chartres St., Thur-Sat 8 a.m.–6 p.m.; 2604 Magazine St., Sat 8 a.m. ’til) Although the beignet will never be supplanted as the city’s signature breakfast sweet, New Orleans is in the midst of a doughnut renaissance fueled by creative confectioners expanding beyond the glazed and raspberry filled. At Upper Nine Doughnut Company, the namesake treats are handcrafted from a yeast dough as light as a feather, allowing for patrons to consume more than one without guilt (or gluten) weighing them down. Plus, narrowing down to just one doughnut is a daunting task when you have to choose between a filling of strawberries and creole cream cheese mousse or a dip in fine dark chocolate followed by a topping of pink Himalayan salted caramel. After starting as a Saturday morning pop-up inside Tracey’s on Magazine Street, Upper Nine recently migrated closer toward the area of the city from where it draws its name, taking over the kitchen at the Sound Café from Thursday to Saturday. Early risers can still get their Saturday morning fix at Tracey’s starting at 8:00 a.m.