When new restaurants open in New Orleans, the word spreads like wildfire throughout the dining community, especially among those new venues that launch with an instant high quality dining experience.
Locals clamor to be one of the first through the door, so they can spread the gospel of a new menu or new cuisine. I have written a number of articles recently about the growth of International Food menus in the city and rightfully so. It’s where the greatest amount of growth and innovation exists locally.
Lunchtime dining in the CBD should not be limited to the mushy “bargains” of food court culture. The working masses of tall skyscrapers seek a pleasant clean environment while remaining price conscious. Singha Thai Café experienced a daily lunchtime twenty-minute waiting list within two days of opening this fall. Many Thai food seekers have learned to call in their to-go orders before chancing the line that forms by 11:59 a.m. Don’t miss the chance to say hello to kitchen leader Nid and her smiling staff.
The menu remains simple, but exciting choices face every diner. Thai food should be noted for its filling, but not oversized portions accompanied by many levels of flavors. Succulent appetizers include the Crispy Spring Roll ($3.25) filled with glass noodles and vegetables, fried to a golden brown. If you prefer something cool, try the Thai Fresh Spring Roll ($3.95) filled with tofu, fresh vegetables and chicken in a steamed rice flour wrap. The filling Noodle Salad ($3.95) tosses a spicy mix of glass noodles, boiled shrimp, sprinkles of minced pork in a temperature cool broth of hot chilies and lime juice. The citrus flavors of this dish mix elegantly with the kick of spices and weight of the glass noodles.
The entrees are divided into two categories, rice or noodle dishes. Early favorite rice dishes begin with the Ginger Fish ($5.95). Lightly fried boneless filet of medium body white fish is served atop sautéed Enoki mushrooms, celery, bell peppers and onion slices. The ginger sauce gives this dish body, but hides no flavor, incorporating them all instead. An original creation, the Carondelet Shrimp ($6.95), stir-fries jumbo shrimp with assorted vegetables in a spicy herb basil broth and laid atop a slice of fried eggplant.
Favorite noodle dishes fighting for first place include the most commonly known Pad Thai ($5.95). A piled-high dish of pan fried noodles and chicken mixed with shrimp, scrambled egg, mung bean sprouts and onions. The Beef Chili Noodle ($5.95) composes red chili seasoned sliced beef and vegetables on a bed of Thai linguini. There are many more dishes on the menu worth tasting, don’t be shy! Singha has applied for a liquor license and most prices only go up by $1 after 4 p.m. Call for regular hours.
A key location on St. Charles Ave. has been more known for its high turnover than a popular menu. Monjunis has raised the bar of standards and aims to become a permanent fixture in this location. The name translates into their mission statement of, “Love to eat!” This location brings this company’s Louisiana spots to six, but do not expect the regularity or the blandness of restaurant chains. Here the menu runs the gamut of Italian standards built around a homemade Marinara and lighter option tomato basil sauce. Large portions abound including tasty garlic bread at each table. Save room for the main course!
Giant salads should be shared including the Blue Cheese Special ($6.50). A bed of organic baby greens is tossed with fresh blue cheese, tomatoes and light vinaigrette. Appetizers range from $3.95-8.95 featuring Tomato Cheese Toast, Toasted Ravioli, Homemade Italian Sausage and Marinated Artichoke Hearts.
Entrees begin with standards of Spaghetti and Meatballs ($8.50), Lasagna ($8.95) and Fettucine Alfredo ($8.50). For something a little different, try the Spaghetti with Italian Sausage ($8.95), Chicken Lasagna ($8.95) and Broccoli Fettucine Alfredo ($8.95). Other key entrees begin with the Neapolitan Stuffed Pasta ($10.95). Here, two large pasta rolls are stuffed with beef and covered with both Alfredo and tomato basil sauce. Quickly one realizes that fresh is the order of the day with aromatic garlic, chopped Italian herbs and grated Romano cheese atop every dish. The kitchen also produces Muffalettas ($4.95-11.25) filled with Genoa Salami, Turkey or Vegetables.
Monjunis also offers eight choices of Po-Boys ($4.95-6.50) and a variety of Desserts ($2.95). All items on the menu are available in large portions for entertaining or simply the purchase of deli specials and to go items over the phone. See the menu for yourself at www.monjunis.com. Call for new lunch, dinner and late night hours.
New to me, but a long time favorite to Indian cuisine fans, India Palace has long reigned supreme over its rivals. One reason is the overwhelming menu of choices and ability to order sample portions of many different types of food. An Assorted Appetizer Platter ($6.95) will include a spicy Samosa, fried shrimp wrapped in mint leaves, and vegetable, fish, chicken and paneer pakora. Diners seeking a sinus enlightening dish should focus on the Onion Salad ($1.50) of lemon marinated onions and Jalapeños.
The main courses of the menu break down into Rice Specialties, Tandoori, House Specialty Curries and Vegetarian Delights. Biryani ($10.95-12.95) rice dishes are best compared to a Jambalaya style dish from another coast on the Indian Ocean. Choose a meat to be stewed with the rice cooking in a range of red spicy flavors to the perfect point of being done without being dry. Tandoor represents Indian style barbecue cooked in an earthen clay pot. All Tandoori dishes are served with lentils and Basmati rice on the side. Aim for the Seekh Kabob ($12.95) of minced lamb, herbs and dried spices rolled onto a skewer. Tandoori Chicken ($10.95) is marinated overnight for flavor infused through to the bone. You may even venture further to taste the Red Snapper ($13.95) marinated in ginger and garlic.
Choose from chicken, beef, lamb or homemade cheese for a Saag ($9.95-12.95) dish that is mixed with spinach and a coconut milk creamy mellow curry sauce. Kaidawala ($12.95-13.95) selects from meat of one’s choice sautéed with vegetables and a spicier curry sauce served in a traditional table wok. Explore vegetarian offerings of more than eight choices for $9.95. The bread selection is also outstanding including Onion Kulcha ($2.50) and Keema Nan ($2.95) stuffed with minced lamb. My favorite dessert is the Gulab Jamun ($2.95) consisting of two pasty balls served swimming in warm cardamon honey syrup.
India Palace is open for lunch five days a week from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., brunch from 11:30 a.m. on the weekends and for dinner seven nights a week 5:30-10 p.m. South Indian Specials are served on Thursday and Sunday nights only. The daily lunch buffet remains $7.95.
In an upcoming column I will review Riomar, a Caribbean style seafood restaurant that has just opened in the Warehouse District. Paella has closed its doors alongside Magazine Street Uptown. Finally, I cannot wait to frequent Dante’s Kitchen (736 Dante St., 861-3121) led by the experience of Lee Yates and Chef Emanuel Loubier, a ten-year veteran of Commander’s Palace. This purely local menu with a whole foods approach will be the next hot spot. Call now for reservations or review their first few menus at www.danteskitchen.com!
Reviewed this month
Singha Thai Café – 413 Carondelet St. – 581-2205
Monjunis – 3442 St. Charles Ave. – 899-1570
India Palace – 3322 N. Turnbull Ave. – 889-2436