Thursday, April 22, 2010

La Petite Grocery

One of the ideas we have had here is to create a Family Tree of New Orleans chefs. It would trace the lineage of chefs through those they trained under and whom they in turn trained.

Justin Devillier, chef at La Petite Grocery, would present quite the challenge. Not because of figuring out who he trained under, but deigning where he is going. His cuisine mixes locally driven ingredients with haute Cajun techniques against a backdrop of refined, bistro cuisine. Devillier - along with Mark Falgoust, Sue Zemanick, and Nathaniel Zimet - is part of the new vanguard of chefs pushing our cuisine forward by adding to the Creole canon new ethnic flavors. Where you can find crab beignets sharing the menu with Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern flavors on duck, crab, shrimp, and the rest of the lot.

The kitchen does things with boudin which should only take place behind closed doors. While the fried boudin balls at Cochon get all the press, the ones here are addictive. They are smaller and pack a greater wallop of liver. Eat them up before your friend comes back from the bathroom. Chilled roasted beets and pickled red onion serve as a base for blue crab (or crawfish tails now in season) dressed with a palate perking horseradish emulsion. The steak tartare here also deserves your attention. The meat is cubed into a fine dice and sent out with a quail egg, traditional garnishes, and a sauce which marries mustard and red wine in such a good fashion it should be the official sauce of Dijon.

Short ribs have been around the block more times than Larry King, but at LPG they are cooked in an intense root beer based broth which ties the beverage of the Gulf Coast to the flavorings of Vietnamese pho - star anise, cloves, and other hard spices. A thick, warming sauce coats the beef with rib sticking qualities. Potato croquettes dot the plate, their crunchy exterior and creamy inside mixing the best qualities of the french fry and mashed potato into one bite.

The pork shank, a special on a cold night in February, would have made a caveman happy. The huge, cylinder of meat coiled around the bone on top of greens braised with slivers of garlic and loads of pork. (Might we suggest LPG start selling the pot likker by the gallon?) Same goes for the creamy stoned ground grits available with local shrimp at lunch or just as a side dish at any time of day. This is comfort food at it's core, but damn is it good.

Where the kitchen falters is where it tries to wrangle in national trends. Duck breast on a recent visit arrived a little too rare. This trend needs to stop. We understand it is hip, but so was New Kids on the Block at one point. Duck develops its sensual, deep flavor when it is cooked past medium, and if done properly it does not dry out. But undercooked duck is stringy and unpleasant. That criticism aside, go boldly in the direction of your dreams, Chef.

The wine list shows good range bouncing from the hearty, earthy reds from Chateauneuf-duPape, to the lemony freshness of the affordable Ferrari-Carano Fume blanc. You can blow the budget on the big Napa Cabs on the list, but there are values and options for all. Of course there is the nearly required list of specialty cocktails, but their Sazerac is the best choice.

Justin's wife, Mia, recently joined the team to lead the front of the house (née of Lilette). As a result, we have noticed what has always been good service begin to rise to the level of greatness. Case in point: on the cold, draft eve of the pork shank the suggestion to steer away from a glass of white wine and to a Sazerac turned out to be just what was needed. "They are a team. They needed one another," said Joel Dondis, owner, recently.

La Petite Grocery has a rising star in the kitchen, whose experiences, training, and background begets a new approach to bistro cuisine in New Orleans. The building is well-adorned, the bar handsome, the service smart. So what are you waiting for?

The Rankings

Food - Birdie. The kitchen needs to drop any allegiance to national trends and keep pushing forth in developing their unique style. Devillier's best dishes are the ones that sound simplest: braised greens, slow simmered meats, etc...

Wine/Bar/Service - Birdie. A wine list this thorough in what is a small, neighborhood spot requires serious purchasing power. Which La Petite Grocery has in spades with Joel Dondis behind it. But instead of just throwing a dart at the priciest wines in the portfolio, they have chosen smart options which pair well with Devillier's cooking at any price point.

Overall - Birdie. La Petite Grocery fits a perfect niche for what they are doing. They are steps above the neighborhood spot in terms of cooking, service, and price; yet affordable and accessible enough for a pop in every few weeks. Be it for dinner, lunch, or a glass of wine and some snacks.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. My experience there has been marginally disappointing, but you've made me want to give it another try.

Nice photos!

- Brian Moore

Rene said...

After Anton Schulte and his wife left (years ago) there was an initial period where it kind of floundered. But as they say in the Navy, the ship is righted.

Anonymous said...

What is the dork behind the crabmeat reading?

Cathy said...

You keep giving me reasons to make a road trip.