Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lunch at Herbsaint

In a perfect world, lunch at Herbsaint would be a daily ritual. Wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, hit the gym, shower, shave, suit up, read a few emails, make a few phone calls, write a few letters, and then treat yourself to a luscious plate of spaghetti in cream sauce with guanciale and a deep fried poached egg, quench your thirst with a flight of interesting wines, and finish the meal with one of pasty chef Rhonda Ruckman's desserts.

There is no need to continue productivity after a lunch like that. If the entire European continent can do it, then why can't we?

Black pepper ham, Ryal's cheddar, and arugula flatbread.
If my wallet, waistline, and work ethic could collectively afford to dine at Herbsaint every day, then I can safely say that I could do so without risking boredom or a jaded palate. The kitchen at Herbsaint manages to stay creative without completely overhauling the menu and upsetting diners by taking away their favorite dishes. John Q. Public may have gone gaga over the shrimp and zucchini flatbread on his visit a few months ago, but today the cracker crust is topped with thin slices of black pepper ham, shavings of Ryal's cheddar, and a mess of arugula. The same backbone but transformed with seasonal ingredients. Such is also the case with the rotating gumbo of the day, whose foundation is almost always a deep, dark roux whose thin consistency carried a wallop of flavor, more in depth than in spice.

Of course, there are permanent fixtures. An excellent meal could be composed of the three dishes which have always been available during every one of my meals at Herbsaint. To start, the complimentary basket of freshly baked bread and rich, cold butter - an often overlooked aspect of service that I think is as integral to the overall experience as any other food which graces your table. Next, an order of fries (contender for best in the city) dipped in the downright addictive pimenton aioli. To finish, the aforementioned spaghetti with guanciale and deep fried poached egg; carbonara fit for the gods.

Good thing we put off those New Year's resolutions for a few weeks.

Curried lamb.
But as much as I love the classics, I usually find myself ordering whatever new dish on the menu or daily special grabs my attention. I have had varying degrees of success with the special sandwich of the day - the best of which were a heavenly hog pairing of a panéed pork medallion with shaved ham and a recent menu addition of thinly sliced rare tuna sandwiched between two slices of crusty olive bread with avocado and lemon pickle aioli. A special of curried lamb placed atop thick, wide rice noodles and crunchy battonets of carrot might be entering the regular menu rotation soon, a move indicative of a kitchen whose staff has wide ranging talent much broader than the French and Cajun repertoire which they are known for.

Chocolate ganache cake.
But no matter what I decide to order as a first or second course, I always force myself to save room for dessert. With each visit, Rhonda Ruckman impresses me more and more with her ability to do magical things with chocolate, the perfect example being a chocolate ganache cake which is dense and chocolatey rich to the nth degree. My most recent obsession: warm chocolate pudding cake surrounding a reservoir of salted caramel which flows like lava of love once you break through to the interior; the accompanying scoop of cashew ice cream and cocoa nib caramel corn were both delicious in their own right and satisfied the kid at heart.

From beginning to end and every moment in between, Herbsaint continues to show why it is a perennial contender for one of the top restaurants in the city.

Lunch at Herbsaint - Eagle
701 St. Charles Ave.
(504) 524-4114
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am - 1:30pm


Anonymous said...

Have y'all been watching the roast beef wars on Quality stuff.

Kimberly Ranjbar said...

That cake pic is serious food porn ;) Oh how I love Herbsaint!

Fleurdelicious said...

Love love love love love love love Herbsaint. I wish I could afford to eat there more!