French Quarter: 600 Decatur
In its day, the Jax Brewery development along the riverfront was among the most exciting plans for the future of New Orleans. Enough so that I published a couple of articles about it in national magazines. Here was the historic heart of New Orleans, no longer used as it had been for centuries as the primary dock of the port, sitting there largely empty. Dominating the scene was the old, long-unused Jackson Brewing Company, appropriately across the street from Jackson Square, the center of the city.
Darryl Berger and his partners had big plans for the area. The brewery would remain, but turned into a six-story (it was already that tall) combination of shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. It would then expand upriver, adding one building after another all the way to Iberville Street. Preservationists largely supported the ideas. For one thing, it would finally deal a death blow to the hated Riverfront Expressway, which at one time threatened to run I-10 along the French Quarter riverfront.
When the first phase of the brewery opened in 1983, the old Jax building included two promising restaurants. One was Trey Yuen, which had made a big splash in Mandeville a few years earlier. The other was Guste’s, from the mind of Roy Guste, Jr., who until then for about a decade was the “proprietor” and family manager of Antoine’s. He wanted to move on and create a restaurant from scratch. Let’s say that Guste’s didn’t work out, was ahead of its time. It wasn’t in operation long enough for me to gather enough data for a full review.
Guste’s space on the fifth level, after standing empty for a couple of years, became a restaurant again when three restaurateurs partnered to create Seb’s. Two of them were very well known to local diners: Chris Ansel–owner of Christian’s and a member of the Galatoire family–and Gunter Preuss, owner of the five-star Versailles and partner in Broussard’s. The third partner was Val Dansereau, the owner of the former Carrollton Theater, which he had turned into a catering facility.
Seb’s name was an acronym of the owners’ wives’ initials: Sonya Ansel, Evelyn Preuss, and Bonnie Dansereau.
The restaurant was in a great spot. Its dining room was on two levels, both offering good views of the river and all the traffic on it. It also had a semi-open kitchen, a rarity in those days. Even the sign was cool, with sculptures of fish in what looked like verdigris-covered copper but which was actually papier mache.
The culinary focus is on a wood-stoked grill, over whose flames Seb’s offered to put stripes of black on several different species of fish. Such things were essential in those days, thanks to the powerful influence of Mr. B’s.
You would start with a magnificent shrimp and crab bisque, with a bit of cream and pepper and big lumps of crab. Crabmeat ravigote, shrimp remoulade, oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville–all the familiar names were here, as was almost the law in those days.
But Seb’s could get adventuresome. Carpaccio had just begun to appear on local menus, and here it was at Seb’s, raw, thin beef tenderloin, roasted around the edges. The Belgian endive wrapped with capicola ham took a walk across the grill. Salad on a grill? Yes, with a raspberry vinaigrette.
Other than the grilled fish, the entree that most accurately pushed my button was the pair of double-cut lamb chops, grilled to a magnificent exterior char, juicy and bone-nibbling delicious. Seb’s displayed similar gifts with steak, dressed with exceptional versions of the classic steak sauces. A fine veal chop with shrimp butter, a wonderful seafood pasta with a spicy red sauce studded with olives, and a terrible duck breast. The best desserts were a raspberry-tinged chocolate mousse and the raspberry-layered ice cream meringue pie. (The chef used a lot of raspberries.) Service got the job done with a modicum of style.
Unfortunately, the local customers never warmed up to the Jax Brewery and its restaurants. Not even the sharp business minds of the Wong Brothers at Trey Yuen were able to keep their restaurant going. Seb’s went along for a few years, and then the partners went back to their day jobs. It was nice while it lasted.