Metairie: 1023 Veterans Blvd.
City Park Area: In the Parc Esplanade Apartments.
Carrollton: Nelson St. @ Dante St.
Metairie: Somewhere In Fat City.
And other locations.
We Orleanians have a taste for raffishness in our restaurants. So do a lot of visitors to our city, many of whom believe that an authentic New Orleans dining experience must take place in a patchwork building with a funny floor plan and mismatched tables and chairs. If the place is a little hard to find or otherwise inconvenient, so much the better.
Of and on for about twenty years, Daniel Tobar provided just such restaurants in a succession of locations around town. There were at least five of them over the years. Some didn’t stay open long enough for me to get in and review. But most were so good and in such offbeat premises that people would talk. Such news always made its way to me.
Notable among these peripatetic eateries was Daniel’s sister Sophia’s rotisserie-chicken restaurant, which itself cropped up in at least two locations, in Metairie and near the nexus of Carrollton and Claiborne. The menu there had a Greek flavor, and everything was good enough to inspire raves. (Sophia’s may well deserve its own article in this department.)
Directions to Daniel’s various restaurants usually included the phrase, “It doesn’t look like a restaurant, but. . . ” This was certainly true of the 1023 Veterans iteration. For years, a pickup truck sold shrimp, oysters and other seafoods at that spot. The truck was well enough known that when Daniel’s opened in the building behind it, everyone knew where he was. From the outside, the premises looked like a shack. Inside, it became patio. Tables made of sheets of glass sitting on high steel frameworks supported tablecloths. Some other tables were almost as low as patio furniture. Yet the food was so good and so inexpensive that customers ignored these odd discomforts.
The menu described the food as “Latin-Italian.” It’s the only restaurant I know of that used that label. More accurate would be Mediterranean, in the broad sense including the flavors of Spain, South of France, Italy, and Greece, in descending order of importance.
An entree that captured the flavor of Daniel’s was his seafood paella. Loaded with big, meaty shrimp (from the truck out front?), squid, and mussels, it had a yellow-rice-and-green-pea matrix, juicy with fish stock and fragrant with herbs. At $14, it could have served three or four people.
Also great was grilled calamari, seared after a marination in something herby and oily. A nice change from the standard fried squid.
Rotisserie chicken was always part of the menu, a whole bird for around $10. The marinade and slow roasting brought forth tender meat with a buttery sauce with lots of garlic and herbs. Pork shoulder spent hours coated with marinades and roasting in the slow oven.
The food was surprisingly spicy. They never went beyond my tolerance, but they hit right on. When Daniel made crawfish bisque or chicken gumbo, it was outstanding.
The famous dessert was a soft caramel flan, followed closely by a bread pudding with a delicious Amaretto sauce. One more attraction: Daniel’s restaurants rarely had liquor licences, so one could bring in his own wines with no corkage. It was one the first restaurants to make a selling point of that policy.
At some point in the 2000 decade, Daniel fetched up in the restaurant in the Parc Esplanade Apartments, across Bayou St. John from City Park. It was a great location if you lived there. Less so if you didn’t. I ate there a few times, but I would have gone more often if the rigamarole of getting into the gated parking lot had been comprehensible. (The problem, near as I could tell, was that Daniel was cooking, waiting tables, and buzzing people in all at the same time.)
I lost track of Daniel in the decade since Katrina. Some other owners ran the Parc Esplanade location for some time. But if he turned up in a restaurant again, I’d be there.