ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
A few months ago I asked the listeners to my radio show what restaurant they’d like to see open in New Orleans, with a mind to seeing where the trends are heading. What we heard was the opposite thing: wishes that certain extinct restaurants would reopen.
That must have come as good news to the owners of Sapphire, a place that opened late last year in Slidell. The headline of Sapphire’s prospectus is that it was, to a substantial extent, the rebirth of Restaurant Mandich. That was a Bywater establishment founded in the 1920s; its owners closed the place and retired after Katrina. That end has been much lamented by Mandich’s many fans. Suddenly, the next generation decided that the place could be revived, sought the assistance of their parents, and behold: Mandich has sort of returned from the dead.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Although doing so at the speed of a turtle in the bayou, Slidell’s restaurant community is picking up speed in the direction of gourmet bistro cookery. Sapphire is more ambitious than most eateries in the town, but that’s accomplished more by using better ingredients than inventing new dishes or service touches. Indeed, in most ways it appeals to the tastes of the 1970s and 1980s. Which wasn’t a bad time for dining.
Half of the menu shows off the best-remembered dishes from the old Mandich. Much seafood, classic Creole chicken, turtle soup, and a smattering of basic Italian dishes. The other side of the card offers a complete steakhouse menu, with all the classic cuts (missing only a porterhouse), all USDA Prime grade, served sizzling New Orleans style. The cooking is good but not yet polished, nor quite as good as Mandich’s was.
From the 1950s until Katrina, Lloyd and Joel English operated Lloyd’s parents’ Restaurant Mandich. It was literally a mom and pop operation, with Joel running the kitchen and husband Lloyd in the dining room. It was patronized largely by people in the port and shipping industry. As the demographics of the Ninth Ward changed, most other restaurants there dwindled. But Mandich was so good that it remained busy until the storm presented the perfect exit moment. In 2013, Erin English partnered with Lou Tortorich to open a restaurant in Slidell whose menu would be similar to that of Mandich’s. Another connection to the past: the new strip mall is on the site of the White Kitchen, the most famous extinct restaurant in Slidell.
The place is laid out peculiarly. The front door–assuming you can find it–looks like a service entrance. (Speakeasy?) The dim lighting and its many blue elements make the place look more like a nightclub than a restaurant. Indeed, it is a nightclub at times. A small platform in the rear is used for live music some nights. An oversize, circular bar dominates the room.
Beef brisket, horseradish sauce.
»Creole crab bisque
Sapphire salad (greens and vegetables)
»Panneed veal, pasta bordelaise
Veal supreme, crabmeat, hollandaise, pasta bordelaise
»Chicken bonne femme (half of a free range chicken, broiled with butter, olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley,potatoes
Stuffed shrimp, crabmeat dressing, asparagus
»Trout Mandich (crispy coating, beurre blanc, roasted potatoes. Optional: crabmeat and hollandaise)
Yellowfin tuna steak, beurre blanc
Stuffed lobster tail, crabmeat dressing, broiled crisp
»”High hat” filet mignon
Petite filet mignon
»New York strip
Bone-in cent4er-cut ribeye
Bone in pork chop
Bananas Foster cheesecake
Decadent chocolate mousse cake
Spumoni Italian ice cream
»»Joel’s bread pudding
FOR BEST RESULTS
Although most nights it’s not full, on weekends a reservation is essential. The steaks equal those of any other local steakhouse. The bread pudding is a strong candidate for best in the metro area.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The music is too loud, and a decade too late in style. The potatoes that appear on most plates need to be looked at again.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +1
- Live music some nights
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended