WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Few other restaurants run in Herbsaint’s groove. Its menu is a unique pairing of gourmet Creole-French bistro main items with decidedly country-style garnishes. So you get duck confit with dirty rice. Grilled chicken with blackeye peas. But that’s not all. Pasta appears more than you’d expect, along with Italian tinges. The cooking defies category. It is, however, always full of interesting options, and is so intriguing that the place is a great success in a location where few restaurants have found anything other than a struggle.
Chef Donald Link’s understanding of the essence of country cooking–Southern, Cajun, French, or whatever–is so thorough that everything emerges from the kitchen with a blue-plate-special quality. This locks in perfectly with the desires of the clientele that can easily infect such cooking. The excellent quality of the building blocks–locally-raised and organic ingredients and meats cured by the chef himself, to name two–goes a long way to ensuring that. The small size of the restaurant allows another degree of polish.
The first major new restaurant of the 2000s, Herbsaint opened in 2000 as a partnership between Bayona’s proprietor/chef Susan Spicer and her former sous chef Donald Link. Link bought out Spicer a few years after Katrina. Herbsaint is named for the anise-flavored liqueur created in New Orleans, famous as much for its use in cooking (notably oysters Rockefeller) as in drinking. At the beginning, the food here had a distinctly French-bistro tinge; it has since evolved way from both the French and the city styles of cooking into something more rustic. At the same time, the food, service, and wine improved steadily.
The L-shaped dining room, inherited from past restaurants, has been renovated into a sleek, angular space. The big windows remain uncovered, looking onto the increasingly green St. Charles Avenue streetscape. A modest bar lines the wall of the shorter wing; the open kitchen takes its place on the Girod Street side. A second dining room, a bit isolated from the main action, extends that way, too. In recent times tables have been set on the sidewalks; unless the weather is unbearable, these are usually full.
Gumbo of the day
»Soup of the day
Mixed greens with Ryals cheddar, City ham and buttermilk dressing
»Arugula with roasted beets, burrata and walnut vinaigrette
»Jumbo lump crabmeat with beets, sprouts and grapefruit
»Gnocchi with pancetta and oven dried tomatoes
»Louisiana shrimp and grits with tasso and okra
»Beef short rib with potato rosti and salsa verde
»Housemade spaghetti with guanciale and fried-poached farm egg
Grilled chicken brochette with napa cabbage slaw
»Mussels mariniere with french fries
»Fish of the day
Kurabuta pork belly with Louisiana sticky rice cake and local greens
»Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique
Slow cooked lamb neck with bacon braised borlotti beans and onion confit
Grilled chicken with polenta and olives
»Sauteed jumbo shrimp with cauliflower croquette, pancetta and kumquats
»Grilled top cut ribeye with sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and French fries
Vegetable of the day
»French fries with pimenton aioli
»Collard greens gratin
»Warm chocolate pudding cake with salted caramel
»Coconut cream pie with macadamia nut crust
»Banana brown butter tart with fleur de sel caramel
Ponchatoula strawberry balsamico
Gianduja chocolate cake with olive oil and sea salt roasted hazelnuts
Saffron panna cotta with port hudson organic honey
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream
Ice cream/sorbet of the day
»Artisan cheese plate
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reserve days in advance. Recent publicity for the restaurant and Donald Link make Herbsaint very busy. Place an order for the fresh-cut fries with your cocktails. Throughout the afternoon, Herbsaint serves from a menu of small plates. Although Herbsaint has made a major specialty of fatty chunks of pork belly, know that it’s not exactly to everybody’s taste.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu always seems two dishes short in each section, although the constant flow of new dishes keeps it fresh. The front door needs to be replaced by one that won’t allow icy blasts to shoot inside during the winter.
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
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +3
- Sidewalk tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Chef Donald Link’s growing national reputation–largely built on his opening Cochon right after Katrina and a good new Cajun cookbook–rarely gives enough credit to his much better bistro Herbsaint. One that did was Nation’s Restaurant News, which named Herbsaint to its Fine Dining Hall Of Fame–no small achievement. Herbsaint is original and delicious, and has attracted a strong regular clientele that makes the place hip and fun. Every meal I have there is better than the one before.