Monday, September 27, 2010

First Look: Feast

There have been a rash of new restaurant openings in the Big Sleaze the last few months. This week we will take a "First Look" at some of them kind of like how the Saints are taking a fourth look at John Carney. 

Feast hails from Europe by way of Houston. The cuisine of Feast focuses on rustic European fare, or as chef/owner James Silk told me, "This is peasant food." The Houston location has received praise from real food writers like Allison Cook, Frank Bruni, and Bon Appetit. Over the spring the owners decided to open a branch in New Orleans in order to take advantage of our citizens' collective desire to eat well and explore different cuisines. Feast eschews meat from factory farms (their pork and beef comes from Mr. Justin Pitts), work with local farms, etc...

OK, enough with all that. You are here for the food. The menu reads like an historical account of what people ate in Europe before industrialization made food a commodity. But this is not some anachronistic theme or concept restaurant. The food is built to please, fortify, and comfort. Which, at its most basic level, is the precise function of eating.

We headed there Friday evening with the Bubs. One benefit of checking out Feast right now is there is no liquor license and thus no corkage. Score. To start, we had the Coquille St. Jacques, pork rillettes, snails and gruel, and bone marrow with parsley salad. Coquille St. Jacques is a dish no one does anymore, which is a shame. The plate arrives with a few scallops in the shell topped by a brandy, mushroom, cheese and cream sauce. The resulting taste is savory, sweet, unctuous, and delicious.

Rillettes are pretty standard, perhaps a bit looser than normal. On top of charred bread with a sprinkling of sea salt, they are the perfect appetite pique. The snails and gruel serves snails in a tomato stew on top of gruel, which is the confluence of oatmeal and grits. Snails and gruel is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is a rare day when snails aren't served bathed in garlic, butter, and herbs. Second, the gruel has a sweet note and rib sticking qualities which really showcases how at one time a few snails and a bowl of gruel would have filled a person up. The bone marrow and parsley salad was just the opposite of Garrett Hartley: reliable, on point, and worth it.

Now, for mains. Lindsay got a bouillabaisse which was slightly hard to eat. The large shrimp were difficult to peel without making a mess. And yes, the point of bouillabaisse is to make a mess. The Bubs went with two lamb dishes: braised lamb's tongue and the braised lamb shank. Both were good, but the lamb shank was better. Furthermore, the lamb shank will be even better once the cold weather arrives. I had the pork belly, which was delicious. A long plank of crispy skin topped tender belly sat next to a potato cake and a pile of red cabbage and apples. Just a classic mix of flavors, textures, and cooking skills.

Desserts almost stole the show. The honey and rosemary ice cream had a great balance of sweetness with the piney flavor of the rosemary. The chocolate molten cake was as good as it sounds. But the real star was the sticky toffee pudding, a spongy, dark, nutty, fruity specialty of the British. Just a great way to end a meal.

It is early in Feast's tenure in New Orleans, but I think Lindsay summed it up best when the next morning she said, "I loved it. No one else in New Orleans is serving food like this. Can we go back tonight?"

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