He and She said:
Well, Brett Anderson from the Times Picayune has released his annual list of the top 10 restaurants in New Orleans, so we thought it might be time to do our own.
On a brief side note, an additional benefit of Anderson’s list is the way it brings out the tinfoil hat crowd in the comments section, an enlightened crew who appear convinced that Anderson, Donald Link and John Besh have united in an unholy triumvirate to rule the galaxy while making tasty Louisiana dishes. Multitasking, I guess. Then again, its Snooki and The Situation’s world, and I’m just living in it, so what do I know?
Ok, enough ranting:
We’ve done a post on the most interesting restaurants in NOLA (might be time to update that soon), but that is not what we’re after here. This is our take on the best, so the charming and interesting Mimi’s, for example, probably won’t find a place here.
I had the great idea to do this as a mock draft. When I explained this to my wife, she enthusiastically replied: “What the hell are you talking about?” But, after I explained a bit, she came around to my way of thinking. So, ladies first, and we’ll take turns picking a restaurant and telling you why it’s so great as we fill out our list of ten. Nobody loves a gimmick more than me.
A quick note: some relatively new entries to the NOLA scene that might be contenders for this list, most notably Le Foret and Meson 923, are ineligible, for the simple reason that we have not been there. And for the record, we are in neither Besh, Link, or anyone else’s pocket, although we hope to be one day. Until then, we have nothing to offer but unbiased opinion and the dream of one day being corrupted via a free plate of foie gras. Or pomme frites (in duck fat). Or pretty much anything else.
First Round: She Said:
Stella! I chose this as my round 1 pick because frankly they operate at a level head and shoulders above all others in this fine city. The more we travel and experience other food, the more I come to realize that Stella! is the most experimental in the vicinity and Chef Scott Boswell is taking risks on par with some of the major culinary Meccas around the globe. That said, I wouldn’t send my parents here and I have learned to use caution when recommending this place, reserving it for a Foodie-only constituency. No restaurant in NOLA is better, and none is more likely to utterly perplex people.
Second Round: He Said:
Lilette. I love, love, love this place. Admittedly, I am a complete Francophile, but the cozy, sexy, bistro feel of this converted pharmacy on Magazine gets me every time. The tables are close together, conversation hums around you, and the music is always just right. Most importantly, the last few times the food has just been spectacular. Hands down the best French Restaurant in town. Side note: Chef John Harris has just opened the very stylish Bouligny wine and tapas bar right next door. Also worth checking out.
Third Round: She Said:
Commander’s Palace. I know August SHOULD be in the top, but He Said and I have had two less than stellar experiences here. That needs to be a whole other post- but suffice it to say that I get where they are going, but the service has left a bit to be desired for us. That said, we had two fantastic and out-of-this-world vintner dinners here during NOWFE’s Wine and Food Experience. This is among the only “Old New Orleans” restaurants that I think consistently delivers quality, well-thought and executed dishes. Tory McPhail is still taking risks in his kitchen and I appreciate that. Could reasonable people argue with my pick? Sure, but this is my fantasy gastronomy league so I get to pick whatever I want.
Fourth Round: He Said:
Touché, my love, but I will go with Restaurant August. Yes there have been a couple of hiccups there, including the attempted lunch when we walked out. But hey, even Drew throws 4 INTs every now and then. In this eater’s view, August and Stella! are the only places in NOLA with such consistently high aspirations. While Besh doesn’t lean toward the molecular gastronomy Boswell at Stella! favors, Restaurant August is clearly one of the temples of haute cuisine, elevating fine-dining to an art form. We love our food here and may not want to admit this, but these two venues are the only ones locally that can reach for the heights we’ve seen in places like Paris, Barcelona, New York City, and Stockholm. Also, the dining room is just gorgeous. Essential on the top ten.
Fifth Round: She Said:
Now I feel like we are starting to split hairs here. Perhaps more research is in order to be able to effectively continue the draft.
Herbsaint. Many years ago one cranky She Said wrote her one and only complaint letter to a restaurant. I still respect the immediate response from Donald Link. It took a while to return, but over the past year we have been at least 4 times, and I think this place is pretty stinking good. The shrimp and grits and gnocchi are delectable. This bistro has a focus on fresh, local ingredients and an atmosphere that is always abuzz. If you are looking for a quiet, intimate evening- this may not be the place as the close tables and minimalist décor lend themselves to more boisterous dining experience.
Sixth Round: He Said:
I knew it! You’re in on it with Link, Besh, and that Anderson guy! That’s ok, I’ve always found the dark side of the force pretty sexy anyway. So far, our list is looking a lot like Brett’s, only with more cheap humor and gimmicks. Well, dance with who brung ya, they say…But, I’ll go off the reservation with MiLA. Probably the most imaginative and inventive food outside of August and Stella! Slade Rushing and Alison Vines Rushing’s place in the dining room formerly occupied by Rene Bistro is sleek and stylish, and they get bonus points for being attached to Bar Uncommon, home of master mixologist Chris McMillian,
Seventh Round: She Said:
I will see your off the reservation suggestion and raise you one: Rio Mar. Chef Adolfo Garcia brings it. I am a fan of all four of his establishments, but Rio Mar stands out because it is the only seafood restaurant I can think of that doesn’t serve primarily deep-fried entrées. He fills a void in New Orleans by offering a more Mediterranean inspired approach and this speaks to my soul.
Eighth Round: He Said:
Damn! Rio Mar was my late-round steal. Ok then, BAM! I will go with Emeril’s. This is a little like discovering everyone in your fantasy draft was drunk and finding Payton Manning sitting there in the late rounds. To all those Emeril’s is overrated people, I couldn’t disagree more. Great, great service, a landmark restaurant in the NOLA dining scene, a wine list like a telephone book, and a hip, fun, clubby vibe combined with consistently outstanding food make this an easy choice, even if his royal highness is never in the kitchen.
Ninth Round: She Said:
The last one left in the schoolyard- Man this is like the scrawny kids left who can’t even walk, much less tie their shoes, who have that sad little look on their faces because they know nobody wants them on their damn flag football team. Memories… I digress. Coquette- but I must first say that I could be victim to the recency effect, because it has been over a year since I have been to either Patois or Gautreau’s, both of which were strong contenders for my last round. I like Coquette for several reasons: the atmosphere- it is cool and sophisticated with a beautiful view of Magazine Street and the bar in the center of the restaurant adds to the vibe. The menu- while the menu is limited, because it changes daily I always feel like it is all specials here. The service is consistently outstanding. I have yet to order something and feel that they missed the mark.
Tenth Round: He Said:
How wrong you are. There’s still one lonely kid left on the playground, that one with the knee-high socks and the funny glasses (oh wait, that’s me). Anyway, that description couldn’t be further off the mark for Patois, my final choice for the top ten. Nestled uptown around the corner from Clancy’s, chef Aaron Burgau’s place stood in for Desautel’s in Treme. I love the energy of this place; as soon as you walk in, you feel just a bit cooler. I’ve sampled the rabbit and the pheasant during my two trips, and everyone I’ve been with has loved it. One of the best examples of the new NOLA dining scene.
So there you have it: out first annual Fantasy Gastronomy Mock Draft, soon to be copyrighted and famous everywhere. To recap, our roster looks like this:
3 Commanders Palace
4 Restaurant August
7 Rio Mar
Geautreau’s just missed the cut, and we just don’t get the Cochon in the top 10 thing (although it is very good) Also worth noting is Iris. When the food is on, it is spot on, but both the service and the food are inconsistent. Certainly worth a trip however, is the bar as they are serving the most inventive cocktails in the city, hands down. So, we are counting on our thousands (ok dozens) of readers to tell us what y’all think. So get out the tinfoil hats, and don’t be shy.