Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Rue Is On Fire

I have a friend whose identity I will not divulge other than to say that his name rhymes with "Hintage Fourleens."  Anyway, this friend recently asked me for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested Rue 127. "Yeah, I have always heard good things about that place," he said, "but I can't get past the tag line of a 'New American Bistro.' What does that even mean? It just sounds generic to me."

Putting aside the fact that this is the same guy whose own ignorance prevented him from eating at The Green Goddess until I convinced him that it was not a vegetarian restaurant, my friend had a valid point. I struggled to define exactly what this cottage on Carrollton is all about. They serve steamed mussels and onion soup gratinée, but it's not really French. There's gumbo on the menu, but this is not a place to come for trout meuniere and shrimp remoulade. And you are as likely to order Italian staples such as creamy risotto and house made pastas as you are to dine on an augmented version of Cajun coush coush.

Spring Vegetable Salad.
The coziness of Rue 127 reminds me of the defunct Bistro at Maison de Ville. In the brightly lit dining room, mirrors cover the walls to give the illusion of a room larger than its 30 or so seats. The large window to the kitchen attributes to the intimacy of the room, whose volume increases exponentially when the room fills up, which is almost every night. The front bar room can hold another half dozen or so, and the handful of outdoor tables on Carrollton are nice for a pre-prandial cocktail when the weather permits.

Seasonal ingredients drive the selection of salads. A few weeks ago, I started with an excellent spring salad featuring fava beans, beefsteak tomatoes, frisee, and thin, wide, ribbons of squash all drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette. The careful attention to weave the contrasting textures and flavors of the vegetables was very Kelleresque, as was the coarse salt sprinkled across the top of the ramekin of butter included with bread service. I have never tasted the mussels appetizer, but I have had the pleasure of the parmesan dusted pommes frites (ask for a cone a la carte), which are crispy, creamy and addictive. Creamy seafood risotto was thick enough to serve on a plate (in a good way), and the stock had a nice background flavor of the sea. Gumbo has a dark, thin roux and is served with a scoop of horseradish potato salad. The only disappointment in the starter category has been the pasta carbonara. The thin spaghetti was housemade but must have been dried for storage, because the texture was on the crunchy side of al dente. Smoky lardon added plenty of richness and salt, but the slow poached egg yolk never really came together with the cheese for a sauce.

Double Cut Pork Chop.
The list of entrees covers all of our carnal cravings. Hands down, the best choice is the double cut pork chop, which is a lesson in how perfection can be attained by a simple but well executed dish. The chop must have been brined for multiple days/weeks/months to allow for such a juicy, pink, flavorful flesh underneath a fatty, chargrilled exterior. The roasted corn coush coush underneath was a buttery mixture of fine grits and fresh corn, and the crispy fried onions brought a nice texture contrast to the overall dish.

Not to be overshadowed was a ribeye glistening with richness in a way that it appeared almost lacquered in beef fat. No starches served alongside, but instead a much better accompaniment of roasted bone marrow scooped with a demitasse spoon and slathered on grilled bread. Puppy drum was cooked perfectly and placed in a sweet and sour orange and grapefruit broth that was addicting; the poblano pepper aspect was lost on me, and the sauce was so good that I didn’t even try the mussels. Lamb loin had an intense, gamey flavor, while a crock of mac and cheese was homely and straight forward.

Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Desserts have been good from top to bottom. The sticky toffee pudding is so rich that you easily forgot the unappetizing menu description of "date cake." A shallow, individual-sized pecan pie had a thick, crunchy crown and a slowly melting scoop of bourbon ice cream. The infamous deep fried cupcakes were a gimmick that everyone at the table was wowed by except for me. Devil's food cupcakes topped with peanut butter frosting are covered in a thin, crackly batter, deep fried, and served with vanilla anglaise and hazelnut chocolate dipping sauces. These were excellent, don't get me wrong; but I think they would have been just as good had they missed the fryer.

Chef-Owner Ray Gruezke has put together a front of the house staff which is both very young and eager to please, though not very polished, which fits the location and the vibe of the restaurant. A peak peek through the large window to the kitchen reveals an equally youthful back of the house. The wine list is heavy on California selections but contains enough interesting bottles at a low price point, and the bar offers an impressive array of original cocktails. Prices are about 20% lower than those of most other restaurants serving food of this caliber.

To answer my friend's original question, I can't exactly describe what a "New American Bistro" is. But if you are concerned more with what's on the plate than with the words on a website, you will soon discover that "New American Bistro" - at least in the case of Rue 127 - is synonymous with delicious.

Rue 127 - Birdie
127 N. Carrollton Ave.
(504) 483-1571
Lunch: Tue-Fri: 11:30am -2:00pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat: 5:00pm - 10:00pm


Double Chin said...

Nice review Pedro. I just wish you hadn't written it b/c now it will be even harder to get a table.

Love this place.

willifred said...

I tend to gauge a restaurant by execution of basic dishes. The roasted chicken at Rue is as good as I've had in the City....So glad it's in my Hood. But my favorite waiter moved West on me.

Grammatologist said...

re: "A peak through the large window to the kitchen"

A Peek

Peak: top of the mountain
Peek: a surreptitious glance
Pique: to stimulate

(Lesson 2 on this usage.)

frog said...

Speaking of the Bistro at Maison de Ville, I am sure you know Chef Greg Picolo from there is now at Redemption.