Please welcome the newest series on Blackened Out: Date Night. Should be pretty self-explanatory. We all get stuck in ruts and end up going to the same three places, but every now and then it is time to do something different. Hence the need for another soon to be abandoned series.
A hotel has anchored the French Quarter segment of Lee Circle for years. Recently, the space was re-anointed as the Hotel Modern. But this time the ownership group had the good sense to bring in some bait for locals and tourists alike. That bait takes the form of Bellocq and Tamarind from Neal Bodenheimer & Co. and Dominique Macquet, respectively.
A good date night usually starts with drinks at the bar. Bellocq's sumptuous lounge has a timeless quality with thick fabrics, rich colors, and subdued music. The drink of choice here is the cobbler, an old standby from the days when Lee was on horseback. The concept of a cobbler is simple: crushed ice, fruit, booze, and a touch of sugar. The result is a refreshing and near perfect drink for food. The two cobblers we sampled were both made with fortified wine, but the standout was a sip of spring with Lillet, strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar. These drinks could become habit forming.
After a few cobblers and conversation, head over to Tamarind. The room is divided into an upper and lower section. The lower section is where the action is at with large windows that look out onto likely the only traffic circle with stop lights. Avoid the upper unit (where we were seated) as the traffic from the kitchen and hotel becomes distracting.
Kimberly Patton-Bragg has resurfaced at Tamarind and she is mixing her unique cocktails into the fabric of French-Vietnamese cooking emerging from the kitchen. Witness her take on the Vietnamese staple soda chanh. Bragg tones down acidity by using preserved lemon, highlights the sweetness with a shot of lavender simple syrup, and ramps up the kick with Plymouth gin. Come summer, this drink should be in your steady rotation.
The vittles at Tamarind will be familiar in scope to anyone who has delved past pho at Vietnamese restaurants. Take for instance, their version of banh xeo. At Tamarind, tucked into the thin, crispy crepe are layers of lamb confit and and stewed mustard greens. The greens heighten the natural grassiness of the lamb which creates the sensation of eating not just lamb, but what a lamb would eat. Crispy pork belly could have gone overboard but the supply of just pickled vegetables balanced the dish out. Tamarind's take on an Asian Shrimp remoulade, was a clunky mess with a puck of tempura kohlrabi that was too thick by half and a remoulade that was used twice as much as it should have been.
Plump scallops found a welcome companion alongside butter beans, garlicky noodles, and lemon beurre blanc. The resulting dish wasa harmony of the pungent flavors of Eastern cuisine, gilded slightly by French technique. The duck entree would have been in the same playpen, had it not been for a flaccid skin. The one dessert we sampled was fantastic, a cinnamon chocolate molten cake whose temperature and spice was well deserving of its name. It came with a scoop of Vietnamese coffee ice cream. A welcome end to a great date.