ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Atchafalaya may be the ultimate New Orleans restaurant, at least for the younger half of the gourmet world. The food is great, inspired by the traditional ingredients and flavors but without more than a handful of classic Creole restaurant dishes. The place is an old neighborhood joint much in need of thorough restoration. But the prices reflect that. Instead of lunch, Atchafalaya offers a first-class brunch almost every day of the week. Even the restaurant’s motto–“New Orleans’s Only Five-A Restaurant”–is clever. The only drawback is getting a table–never easy when you need one.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Near the foot of Louisiana Avenue–neither in the Garden District nor what most people think of as Uptown–Atchafalaya cooks so much better than it looks that most first-timers leave raving about the place. Despite the name, it’s only mildly Cajun in its flavors. The dishes sound vaguely familiar, but in most instances you have not had them before. The raw groceries are of fine intrinsic goodness. And the service style, the wine list, and even the bar are unexpectedly sophisticated.
The owners have deft palates, but their aims were only fully realized when Christopher Lynch–the longtime chef de cuisine at Emeril’s–moved in and began polishing recipes. Let’s start with the shrimp and grits. Who doesn’t serve that these days? But I’ve never had better. Sauce, shrimp, and even the grits make a big statement. Same goes for fried green tomatoes with crab remoulade, stuffed quail, the not-so-basic filet mignon, the seafood entrees–pretty much the entire menu. Even the salads and desserts are more like those from a more auspicious and expensive restaurants.
The building has been a neighborhood restaurant since the 1920s, most of that time as Petrossi’s, a casual seafood house. It became a contemporary Creole bistro called Cafe Atchafalaya in the early 1990s. A string of owners, none of whom kept the style of his predecessor, handed the place off one after another. A memorably fine era was presided over by the late Iler Pope, who added Southern country cooking to the mix. The present Atchafalaya (they dropped the “Cafe” part in 2009) is owned by Tony Tocco and Rachael Jaffe, who are married to one another.
The restaurant’s long history has bequeathed rare premises. A lofty ceiling, tile floors, an antique bar, and a short flight up steps to the building next door (an add-on somewhere along the way) create most of the look. Hanging fabric on the ceiling and a see-through wall connecting the two main rooms add further uniqueness.
More ruminations appear in our Dining Diary. Click on any of the dates below for those reports, each written a few days after a meal at Atchafalaya.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Eggs Treme (scrambled, boudin cakes, crawfish, hollandaise)
Eggs Louisiana (poached, crab cake, Creole hollandaise)
Huevos rancheros (eggs, tortilla, black beans, salsa, chorizo, avocado crema)
Duck hash, poached eggs, duck confit, blackberries, mangos, hollandaise, bacon vinaigrette
Jumbo lump crab “Louis” (salad of lettuce, tomatoes, hearts of palm, bacon, cucumber, deviled egg
Fried green tomatoes, crabmeat remoulade
Steamed Prince Edward Island mussels du jour
Free-Form crab ravioli, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, citrus beurre blanc
Yellowfin tuna crudo, avocado, jalapeno, spicy peanuts
Potato gnocchi du jour
Charcuterie board du jour
Shrimp and grits
Sauteed drumfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, jumbo lump crabmeat, fennel, oyster mushrooms
Seasonal vegetable plate
Grilled pork chop, sweet corn, lima bean succotash, andouille-pork jus
Smoked grass-fed beef strip sirloin steak, foie gras and red wine sauce
Two Run Farms lamb meatballs, goat cheese mushroom polenta, tomato braised rapini
Seasonal bread pudding
Blue cheese flan
NOLA Irish Channel Stout chocolate cake
FOR BEST RESULTS
It doesn’t look like the kind of restaurant where you need a reservation, but you do. Take advantage of the drink-making abilities of the bartender, who is as original as the chef.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Really, the place is in need of a lot of fixing, especially in its infrastructure. But a lot of customers find this sort of thing charming.
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 +2
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted