Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Look: Mimi's

Granted, Mimi's in River Ridge is not a new restaurant, but they have recently brought in Chef Pete Vazquez to run the kitchen. Vazquez's menus showcase a rustic, gutsy style of cooking that touches the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Southern Asia as guideposts. This is adventuresome eating, with rewards for those who make the journey.

Before we went last week (Lindsay went for lunch a few weeks ago), I spoke with Todd Price who wrote a wonderful piece on Vazquez a few weeks back. Price is also an expert in martial arts, syntax, and the consolidation of power by Pope Julius II over Italian City-States. But I wasn't interested in those things. I wanted to know what dishes would best reflect Vasquez's cooking. The answer was simple, "Go with the most non-mainstream item. That is where Pete's heart can be found."

Shortly after seating the waiter brought by a popcorn sweetbread on top of a truffled aioli. Nothing about this dish could have been improved. The sweetbreads were tender, the coating crisp and greaseless, and the aioli thick and rich.

The perfection of fried food continued with the calamari with three dipping sauces. Now, normally calamari are served in ringlets which must be precisely fried or else they become tough and rubbery. These calamari were served in long thin strips, cut from the steak of the squid. The interior of the calamari fingers was fluffy in texture and dynamite in flavor. Of the three dipping sauces, the salsa verde provided the best contrast with its herbaceous vinegar notes marrying with the sweet, salty calamari. The bagna cauda and the aioli did not interest nearly as much. The leaves of fried sage were a very welcome touch, adding a woody forest flavor to this seafood staple.

Escargot so often gets lumped in with a pound of melted butter, some parsley, and heaps of garlic. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but there isn't much special about it either. For his escargot dish, Vazquez cooks the snails in a fragrant broth of tomatoes studded with bacon. He then wraps this mixture around a thin sheet of pasta that has been infused with fresh green herbs for a sort of free form ravioli. It is delicious and like traditional escargot leaves you with a great sauce to mop up with bread.

Salads have become the step-child of dining. I want a cold, crisp lettuce, a well-made dressing, and a few other additions to make it interesting. I don't want it to be big, just a few bites as a refresher between courses. The Caesar at Mimi's wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. The greens were lukewarm and flaccid and the dressing veered more towards a thousand island than a Caesar. Maybe this is why I stopped ordering salads.

Lindsay ordered by far the best course of the night, a housemade pasta tossed in olive oil, chili pepper, and herbs topped with a housemade boudin noir. The richness of the pork blood fueled sausage played lead baritone with the chili and herbal notes providing a solid percussion line... what the hell am I talking about? Just feast your eyes on this.

Now is where I am reminded of Price's sage advice. I ordered the Tre Carne, a selection of three meats for those of you not fluid in Italian. The meatball on the left of the plate sat on top a polenta cake and was covered in a marinara sauce too salty for me. The meatball however, was pure glory - soft, flavorful, and rich without being dense. I imagine the meatball was slowly convinced into its form and then coddled into a warm bath to poach for several hours. Such would be the only way to get a meatball that tender.

The Italian sausage sitting on a bed of peppers was fine enough, but I wished there would have been a more pronounced anise flavor in the sausage. The ragu with polenta cake was a complete disaster starring an overly reduced sauce, way too much sauce, and a gloppy, flavorless polenta. But that meatball more than made up for all of those misgivings.

Dessert came and was a stunning example of a creme brulee with a glassy top and thick custard. Only problem was we were sold on it being a satsuma flavored creme brulee and try as we might, could not find any evidence of that sweet, Louisiana treasure in this dessert.

A few mignardises, the chocolate truffles were decadent, the toffee less so, a bottle of wine, and we left very happy and eager to return. But next time, I am listening to Price and sticking with the obscure, the offbeat, the exciting. I suggest you do the same.

10160 Jefferson Hwy.


Kimberly Ranjbar said...

Oh my...the fried calamari looks incredible!

eatme said...

if given a chance to eat pete's food and you don't order organ meats you're a fool

The Fashionable Traveler said...

yum! This is the second time this week, I've heard something about Mimi's Can't wait to try on my next visit to NOLA! Thanks for the info.

Rene said...


Guilty as charged.

Peter said...

I have had the pleasure of dining at Mimi's a number of times since Pete's arrival. He is one of those chef's to be trusted implicitly - the weirder the combination the better.

His Revillon offering of rabbit and Brussel sprouts was extraordinary, but the best singe dish I have had there was the braised lamb breast in the manner of osso buco over Risi e Bisi - truly a revelation!