Thursday, March 1, 2012
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.
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.