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May 2008

The Review:
Written By: 
Patricia Agnew
Photographs By: 
Christopher Brown

Situated in the handsome French Quarter Inn, the AAA Four Diamond restaurant is no stranger to culinary talent, having featured several high-profile chefs to considerable acclaim in the past. Upon the recent departure of chef Ciáran Duffy, the role as executive chef was entrusted to his young protégé, a brilliant move as we discovered on a recent visit.

Renewal is immediately evident in the appealing new entry leading from South Market Street through the busy piazza. The interior of the restaurant, soothing and sophisticated, blends vanilla and chocolate tones splashed with crimson tropicals and vivid artwork tastefully displayed throughout the room. The lively gallery kitchen is the heart of the house, lit with a burnished copper glow and providing an entertaining view of the congenial staff.

Anxious to experience the fresh new menu, we were met with a welcoming greeting and seated at a banquette table. With appreciated style, the sommelier introduced the extensive wine list, offered his guidance, and gracefully left us to our choices. Our server was engaging and helpful with concise introductions of food and wine and knowledgeable instructions about the regular and tasting menus. With descriptions of key components, sides, and sauces for each item, both menus create tantalizing visions of the food that Deal describes as reflecting regional ingredients and culture while also welcoming global influences.

The first of three amuse-bouche soon arrived—a tasty sampling of pistachio crusted goat cheese and house-dried grapes with a dash of raspberry vinaigrette. The first course—a salad of chilled baby romaine—was crowned with shards of grana padano (a grainy Italian cow cheese), dressed with luscious lemony Caesar dressing, and served with tiny fried white anchovies. The she-crab soup that followed was spectacular—one of the city’s best, we agreed. Heavenly with the goodness of crabmeat and roe, it was topped with parsnip foam and served with paddlefish caviar toast. Unable to resist, we were equally pleased with the jumbo lump crab cake, beautifully pure and lush and served with black and green soybeans, lobster emulsion, and sea urchin roe butter.

An intermezzo of passion fruit sorbet made way for masterpiece venison osso buco. This succulent trio of meat and marrow, rich quinoa, and Meyer lemon curd subtly flavored with garlic was served with baby carrots and jus de viande. Pancetta-crusted escolar was equally delightful with black truffle-stuffed agnolotti, golden beets, haricots verts, and velvety Parmigiano-Reggiano vanilla broth.

For dessert, pastry chef Nicole Anhalt delivered a perfect rose water crème brûlée paired with mara de bois sorbet; refreshing strawberry salad; and gentle wildflower tea brewed with black tea, rosebuds, and orange water. Crystallized rose petals and Japanese shiso mint completed this lovely presentation, and a plump, pistachio-crusted, orange-scented ­truffle was the crowning glory.

The engaging staff is a distinct part of the charm of this restaurant, where exquisite food matches the beauty of the surroundings. It’s clear that each participant, from chef to server, believes in the importance of his or her role in creating the experience. Additional features include a stylish, intimate bar; an expansive wine list; and private and terrace dining, as well as complimentary valet parking.

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