ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The Central Restaurant Frontier in New Orleans has pushed noticeably upstream in recent years. Large new buildings and renovations of old ones invite sophisticated new places to eat in a part of town where there were only blue-collar lunch houses for decades. The entire process can be summed up by what became of Ditcharo’s, at the corner of Carondelet and Girod. “The Ditch,” as the place was called by its regulars, was a utilitarian lunch place with a bar full of regulars for many years. But absorbing energy from many new restaurants in the area, it has become a gourmet bistro, complete with an original menu and a two columns of specialty cocktails and wines. And a five-star chef-owner: Justin Devillier, of La Petite Grocery fame. This is real progress.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
For me, the memory of Maylie’s restaurant–a remnant of another era of dining in the CBD–casts a wonderful spell around Balise and the similar restaurants that opened in this long-underused part of town. In some ways, it’s like the French Quarter dining scene, but without the tourists. You have to be a local to appreciate places like this.
The first French explorers who came to the mouth of the Mississippi River three hundred years ago found that a diagram of the river looks like a bird’s foot–“balize” in the French dialect of these pioneers. To this day the vicinity of the mouth of the river is called by that name by geologists. This suggestion enters the menu both as an anecdote (explained at length on the restaurant’s web site) and in the rustic style of much of the cooking.
The dining rooms–some of which are at the top of a steep stairway–were not remade to any great extent by the renovation. The floors are a mixture of tile and concrete, reminiscent of more than a few old restaurants around town. While this suggests a very casual cafe, in fact the kitchen is painstaking and the service staff polished.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Most of the menu makes feints in the direction of rural home style, Creole cookery. A lot of comfort food here, even among dishes that would strike the average diner as innovative. Another way of putting it is to say that here are a lot of forgotten culinary ideas ripe for revival. The chef has done a lot of homework in this direction.
It is the nature of Balise that the menu changes constantly, with at least half of the menu turning over in the course of a month. There are also several specials every day. Here is the whole menu, with the » symbol marking recommendations.
Long stem broccoli (piave vecchio), sauce gribiche (like a white, mustardy remoulade with a bit of egg)
Local radishes, amber honey, chive, yogurt butter
»Beef tartare, pumpernickel, horseradish, buttermilk, dill
»Raw oysters, spicy mignonette, nuoc cham, cocktail sauce
Cobb salad (pickled shrimp, bacon, haricots verts, avocado, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, blue cheese, buttermilk dill dressing
Pickled quail eggs, hot sauce
»Chilled roasted beets, almonds, tarragon & brown butter
Pickled poached carrots, house-made feta, mint, fresh chickpeas, olive vinaigrette
»Crispy veal sweetbreads, celery, blue cheese, pickled red onion, hot sauce
»Chicory rubbed cobia (lemonfish), apples, smoked cipollini onions, roasted cauliflower puree
»Baked rigatoni, ragout of beef cheek, shiitake mushrooms, Fontina cheese
»Fried smoked oysters, marinated field peas, pecans, oyster-parsley emulsion
Hamburger, sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, pickles, comeback sauce (a heavy-mayonnaise variations of remoulade)
Chipped pork on toast, grilled brioche, chow chow, onion rings, charred onion mayonnaise, mustard jus
»Lamb & canellini bean stew, oyster mushrooms, kale, acorn squash, pistachios, rosemary, juniper jus
»Barbecue Gulf shrimp, grilled rustic bread, roasted garlic puree
Cornmeal fried Gulf fish, charred napa cabbage, celery root remoulade
Grilled hanger steak, baby broccoli, grilled mushrooms, salsa verde
»Twice cooked chicken half, potato puree, roasted vegetables, chicken jus
Daily vegetarian selection
»Hand cut fries, malt vinegar aioli
»Roasted brussels sprouts, peanut romesco
Buttermilk biscuits, chicken liver mousse, red onion jam
»Spiced roasted cauliflower, satsuma yogurt
Fingerling potato & leek gratin, sherry, Gruyere cheese
Shishito peppers, cream cheese aioli, bacon bread crumbs
»Chocolate pots de creme, white chocolate panna cotta, chicory-milk chocolate soft serve
Sticky toffee pudding, salted pecans & smoked vanilla ice cream
»Apple fritters, cinnamon sugar, vanilla sour cream
Autumn spice cake, cream cheese mousse, frozen pumpkin custard, pumpkin seed honeycomb, candied sage
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reservations are essential. This restaurant is still in its honeymoon period, and it stays busy at dinner.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
At some time in the future, a new floor and a less rigorous climb to the second floor should be added. The rest rooms are sub-optimal, also.
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 +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly