Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gone Fishin' at Borgne

Many high profile chefs recognize that a banner name on the marquee and on the menu cover is of no assistance to what's going on in the kitchen. A major relies heavily on his captain to organize his troops, and in the same way a chef counts on his sous chef or chef de cuisine to execute their food. John Besh figured out this formula when he partnered with Alon Shaya at Domenica. Now he's done the same with Brian Landy at Borgne, and the result thus far has been just as successful.

Borgne fills what has been a glaring void in the downtown area: a restaurant serving fresh, high quality seafood in a setting somewhere between the fine dining rooms of the French Quarter and the neighborhood restaurants found in Bucktown. The restaurant is more casual than I expected - think Domenica with lighter color tones. Service is friendly and congenial; waiters are there when you need them and absent when you don't. The end result is upscale comfort designed to please the entire spectrum of diners.

The menu is billed as "coastal Louisiana cuisine" - think seafood and lots of it - "with a touch of Isleño influence" - a nod to the Spanish descendants who emigrated from the Canary Islands to St. Bernanrd Parish. Oysters play a prominent role on the menu, and every table should begin with an order of the baked oysters. The menu says "garlic butter" but the preparation is much more clean than the typical overload of parmesan and herbs. The bivalves are served pure and unadulterated - hot, plump and gilded with buttery crisp bread crumbs. On the entree side of the menu, the P&J oysters amandine is a dozen or more expertly fried oysters piled atop a warm spinach salad dressed slivered almonds and brown butter. And the oyster Spaghetti shows how delicious a combination of cream, pasta, and perfectly poached oysters can be.

Of the non-oyster affiliated portions of the menu, I have had the most experience with the starters. A quintet of duck poppers are a riff on the jalapeno, cream cheese, bacon treatment that has immigrated from Texas campfires to ambitious restaurants. Bite size morsels of duck breast are paired with a slice of jalapeno, wrapped in bacon, bakes and placed atop a cream cheese sauce. Yes, they are awesome. A quintet of thin crusted empanadas are stuffed with roast suckling pig that tastes more like pulled pork than cochon de lait and served with a thin pink dipping sauce. The crabmeat croquetas are a smooth mixture of crab and cream cheese in a two-bite sphere. Shrimp toasts have now morphed into shrimp fritters; I have not had the newer version yet, but I am a huge fan of the sambal aioli underneath, which would make a great dip for french fries (hint, hint).

The Spanish influence on the menu is easily recognized by the "a la plancha" description, which roughly translates into "grilled on a metal plate." Both black drum and the rice served with the twice cooked garlic chicken (a riff on a classic paella) are given the treatment. The goat cheese “a la planca” is griddled and sauced with a Christmas color combination of mojo verde and roasted red pepper and topped with crushed pistachios. The blue crab bisque has a rich, creamy base with great flavor. Green salad with blue cheese and the pecan vinaigrette is a less refined (but nearly as tasty) version of the salad at August featuring pumpkin seed brittle and Point Reyes.  The seared tuna salad is a sleeper. Slices of rare tuna are placed atop a base of Italian artichoke salad which more resembled a spicy, crunchy giardiniera. And that was a good thing.

The dessert list has been in constant flux since Borgne's opening, with different selections available on each of my visits. The Hummingbird cake has plenty of crunch with loads of pecans pressed into the sides of the cake which is iced with a whipped cream cheese frosting. The oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich is the new hot ticket item, but the cookie was hard and tough instead of soft and chewy on my only taste test. The Prince Albert (LOL!) has already disappeared from the menu. The chocoholic's dream dessert was a thin, moist round of chocolate cake topped with a chocolate mousse double the height of the bottom layer, a quenelle of cocoa ice cream and squiggles of chocolate and caramel sauces. It was divine. I never had a chance to try the mini fried pies, which were supposedly spectacular.

But the empty space left by the now-departed Prince Albert has easily been filled by my new favorite dessert. Many of you are aware of my love for Nutella, but the hazelnut flan at Borgne is evidence that hazelnut need not rely on its longstanding partnership with chocolate. The rich, thick, silky, smooth flan is out of f*cking bounds, and the accompanying condensed milk sorbet and peanut brittle are no afterthoughts.

We hesitate to pass judgment on new restaurants in their infancy stages. I have been to Borgne 5 times since it opened 2 months ago and have now written about it twice. It should not be too difficult to figure out how I rate the food.

601 Loyola Avenue
(504) 613-3860
Open Daily 11am - 11pm


RBPoBoy said...

Love this place. Try the fried oyster/pork belly sandwich if you haven't already. It just might be better than Cochon's version.

Anonymous said...

Is the lunch menu different from the dinner menu? The site only offers one sample menu.

Peter said...


The oyster and pork belly sandwich does sound delicious. I'm saving that one until after Lent though.


There is only one menu for both lunch and dinner. The daily specials used to be available for both lunch and dinner, but now they are listed on the menu as "lunch specials." However, I have been told that if the kitchen has any of the specials remaining after lunch service, they will be happy to serve the daily specials during dinner.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. I should have also asked whether the menu at the restaurant is the same as the sample menu online, excluding any unlisted specials, of course.