Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Delachaise

French fries at The Delachaise.
Wine bars are an anomaly to many people, including myself. We want our lives to be easily defined and compartmentalized, and most wine bars are neither. So when deciding where to go for dinner on a Friday night and someone suggests The Delachaise, the next question is usually: "Is that a bar or a restaurant?"

To me Delachaise is a bar, although one that serves excellent french fries. The long, narrow space which widens as it progresses further away from St. Charles streetcar tracks reminds me of a wine bar on Isle St. Louis or in the Marais. The decor is raffish - stools and benches with unsecured cushions, plywood underneath the bar, and stacks of wine crates impeding traffic to the restroom. On the wall behind the bar are chalkboards listing every food and drink offering, while Christmas lights illuminate the rest of the room. It's charm is in its imperfections.

The Boz sandwich.
 Most are familiar with the story of how Chef Chris Debarr gained a cult following for serving creative and unexpected dishes from the tiny kitchen at Delachaise. Chef Chris has of course moved on to The Green Goddess, but his legacy is still evident in the eclectic menu where Moroccan chicken tagine lives comfortably alongside smoked Salmon johnny cakes and an upscale grilled cheese sandwich.

Even though the Delachaise is a bar, you can still eat dinner here, and I almost always do. The most daunting task between you and dinner may be securing a table when it's crowded, and it almost always is, as I learned on a recent Wednesday night. The best strategy is to divide and conquer. Dispatch one or two members of your party to the bar to secure a bottle of wine and glasses while the rest scope out the lay of the land and try to figure out where to sit. Once you have secured seating, head back to the bar to order food. After taking your order, the bartender will ask where you are sitting, you will point to a general area, he will nod his head in affirmation, and somehow your food always safely arrives at your table. I am always paranoid that instead of table numbers the servers employ colorful descriptions such as "guy in blue oxford who outkicked his coverage."

Flank steak bruschetta.
The menu offers plenty to snack on if your main motivation is imbibing. I thought the $16 cheese plate was a tad expensive but really enjoyed all of the selections in the trio as well as the accouterments of spiced pecans and thinly sliced apple. The french fries really are excellent. Fried in goose fat (though that flavor was lost on me), the crispy fries of medium thickness and varying length are served with a malt vinegar aioli and spicy satay for dipping. Don't be surprised if you find yourself digging into the bottom of the wax paper cone to fish out the last one. For carnivores, the trio of flank steak bruschetta ($10) is a good choice, though the quality has varied. On one visit, we were presented with overcooked beef overpowered by the Peruvian garlic sauce. A week later, the same dish featured perfectly cooked wide, rosy red slices of beef double stacked upon bread smeared with the perfect amount spread.

Gnocchi with pork ragu.
Those hungrier souls can partake in more conventional menu selections. Perhaps a daily special of large, soft (maybe too soft) gnocchi was topped with an acidic pork ragu and griddled manchego, which was an unnecessary addition. An everday choice of twice cooked pork was crispy, but a little dry, which made the orange mojo sauce a nice touch. Sandwiches include the Boz, a rich trio of St. Andre cheese, Tuscan ham, and arugula on ciabatta. The Anabella grilled cheese is even richer, but a dip in the tomato soup - not too sweet or too spicy, with a mellowed acidic taste - helped balance the flavors.

The bar has a very deep wine list, including 58 selections by the glass and $5 daily wine specials - 1 red, 1 white, and 1 sparkling. Unfortunately, none of the reds offered by the glass and very few of the reds sold by the bottle are temperature controlled. This is a personal crusade that I will continue. If you paid $55 for an entree, would you be mad if it was served luke warm? The same standard should apply to wine.

Service is usually a point of contention when discussing The Delachaise. I will admit that the manager/bartender with the French accent can be rather brusque and unpleasant, although I have not seen him express that attitude toward patrons who lack a Y chromosome. All of the other staff though have always been friendly, helpful, and accomodating. And after a rather snarky exchange at the bar one night, Frenchie and I shared gratutious words on the patio as he helped bus our table. Forgiveness is a virtue.

While rereading this post before publishing, I asked myself: "It seems that you could not say one good thing about Delachaise without mentioning an aspect which you did not care for." And that may be true. But the most important question is this: Do I enjoy myself while there? And when it comes to grabbing a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and maybe sitting outside when the weather is nice, Delachaise is one of my top choices in the city.

The Delachaise - Par/Birdie
3442 St. Charles Ave
(504) 895-0858
Open Daily 5:00pm till


S Harney said...

Right there with you on the lukewarm wine thing. It's absurd to have a 78degree glass of red wine when you've dropped $50+ on a meal. Any place that bills itself as a "wine bar" or is otherwise meant to be a bit "higher end" should have temperature controlled white AND red wine

Anonymous said...


willifred said...

I've always loved this place, but I never understood why they painted over that wonderful oxblood color it used to be......the fries are some of my favorite in town

Grammatologist said...

re: "We want are lives to be easily defined and compartmentalized,"

We want OUR lives...

Anonymous said...

if we're going to be grammar police, I'll contribute:

"It's charm is in its imperfections."

...its, not it-is.

Stanton said...

We don't go there for the wine and food anymore, just the mixed drinks and ladies!
We stopped drinking wine there when we realized that every - yes every - bottle of wine our party of 10 got one night (8 bottles) was a different vintage than what was stated on the menu!! A wine bar can't match one vintage in 8 wines - and we assumed the vintage we got was less expensive than the one listed on the menu (didn't confirm this though).

Anonymous said...

Ahha yes the atrocious green color the building became - we called it coon ass green when we 1st saw it :)