It's that time of year again when outdoor dining in New Orleans picks up with the changing of seasons. (Photo by Geoff Worden)
In preparation for the Louisiana Derby and in celebration of spring weather in New Orleans, this post continues my look at remarkable restaurants with appealing outdoor seating.
These coveted spots can be challenging to secure but with some patience and/or luck you, too, could be enjoying wonderful weather, fantastic food and libidinous libations. These are all restaurants worth visiting, even if youʼre sitting inside.
Chef Susan Spicer made a splash in the early 1990s after opening this French Quarter sanctuary. Spicer blazed her own subtle but flavorful trail, and people followed, happily and faithfully. Her sensible approach to ingredients creates seamless dishes that benefit from synergy, resulting in a whole more than the sum of its parts.
Specials make up the bulk of the menu and they reflect genuine excitement about fresh ingredients rather than a need to clear out slow movers. The influences are global, and you will not see what most people consider classic Louisiana food. Enjoy Bayona for the unique place it is and savor Louisianaʼs bounty Spicerʼs way.
Here are my favorite regular menu items:
The Goat Cheese Crouton with mushrooms and Madeira cream is the stuff dreams are made of - the richness of the sauce and earthy intensity from the mushrooms is brightened by the goat cheese. The roasted garlic soup should be shared with anyone you intend to kiss later but it is well worth any strong breath that results. The veal sweetbreads are some of the best in the city. They come out lightly crisp with a Sherry mustard butter or lemon caper (this is my favorite) and are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The “PB&J” - cashew butter and pepper jelly with smoked duck - will both delight your palate and make you feel like a kid again.
Bayona made interesting cocktails way before the moniker “bar chef” was even a concept, but they are still better known for their wine list, which has been overseen by a Shannon for most of the time the restaurant has existed. The current one, Shannon Fristoe, is on her second stint with Bayona. I salivate almost as much over the wine options as I do the food. The focus is on Old World but the New World is more than adequately represented.
Donʼt be wary of older vintages, they have proper cellar conditions and do not gouge you for doing the aging. The 2008 Riesling Kabinett from Reinhold Haart for only $42 is a great bargain and screams, “Drink me at lunch!” It also whispers, “With a fruit salad, especially strawberry.” The Rhone red selections make me want to win the lottery and eat here every day. Condada de Haza 2009 is a lovely mouthful of wine from Ribera del Duero in Spain. Itʼs a good buy at $56. Donʼt hesitate to ask for help, the staff is generally well informed and doesnʼt over sell. I love the fact that each dessert has a recommended wine pairing and you should explore them.
Thereʼs no brunch here but they run some good deals during lunch (Wed.-Sat.), sometimes with similar food offerings to dinner, which is my favorite meal here. The hard-partying French Quarter makes its loudest noise at night and being able to step into this refined retreat is a delight. Many of us who live here in the Crescent City do not have regular access to storied French Quarter courtyards, this is your chance to enjoy the experience.
I counted nine tables outside.
Chef Donald Link has built an impressive mini-empire in the warehouse district of New Orleans. He returned to New Orleans to partner with Susan Spicer to open Herbsaint in 2000 (in the mid 1990s, Donald was a sous chef at Bayona). He has since taken over Herbsaint, opened Cochon (the best spot for Cajun food in the city), Butcher (great sandwiches, plus a real butcher store), Peche (focusing on grilled fish) and special-events location Calcasieu. Phew!
He is a rising star of the city and you could happily eat most of your meals at his restaurants over a weekend and still want more.
Link and his crew manage to make food that feels comfortable while remaining refined and intriguing. Sharing is encouraged here with a fine selection of small plates along with main courses. The best meals I have had here were with groups of three to six, giving everyone a chance to try lots of food ... and wine.
Look for pastas, especially the gnocchi, with anything on them. The cornmeal fried oysters are perfectly handled, and if youʼre used to them from other parts of the world youʼre in for a delicious surprise. Louisiana oysters are plumper and sweeter than any other I have ever tasted. Beef short ribs are a menu staple for good reason. Although Linkʼs Cajun roots are much more overtly on display at Cochon, there are hints here, too. The gumbos are always good (an unfortunately all-too-rare occurrence in New Orleans). Any game is worth trying, especially the rabbit fricassee. Donʼt miss the fries with Pimenton Aioli. Order some as soon as you sit and drink some bubbles with them while you contemplate the rest of the meal. I recommend the Delamotte Brut ($75), or try something new, a sparkling Gruner Veltliner from Austria ($40).
The cocktail list is undergoing changes, breaking away from more ubiquitous classics and featuring some drinks more in tune with todayʼs cocktail culture. I am intrigued to investigate further (who doesnʼt want to order a Mexican Firing Squad - tequila, grenadine, lime and bitters), but my palate has been trained for nearly 15 years to order wine here.
The wine list is Old World-centric, specifically the amazingly food-friendly region of Burgundy, and lovingly maintained. The staff is well informed, so donʼt be afraid to ask for a recommendation, I have never encountered pressure to outspend my budget. The Macon-Milly-Lamartine from Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon 2011 is a great wine from an overlooked region and a legendary producer for $55. The Rosé section features ten wines which pair perfectly with lots of food and being outdoors. The Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre section is chock full of tasty choices, especially Rhones, for something richer but still versatile with a variety of food, like the Rasteau from Domaine Grand Nicloet ($50, also by glass - $10). Donʼt overlook the “Other Red Wines” section. Beaujolais Village wines like Fleurie and Brouilly make appearances and there is an excellent Chinon from Bernard Baudry ($50) as well.
The dessert list features good recommended wine pairings as well. Take your time, have an extra glass and take a cab, or streetcar, where you need to go. The outside tables are covered and I enjoy sitting out here, but you should know that it is right on St. Charles Ave., a busy road that also has streetcars clicking and clacking past every so often. It is not a retreat but rather an opportunity to people watch.
I counted seven tables outside.
P.S. Cochon and Butcher also have a few outside seating options.