French Quarter: 539 St Philip. 504-529-8811. Map.
AE DC MC V
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Sometimes, the best way for a restaurant to gain a high profile is for it to keep a low profile. Irene’s doesn’t advertise much, doesn’t have a website, rarely shows up at festivals, has no summer, Reveillon or early-evening specials. Yet it remains so popular that visitors to New Orleans somehow find the corner of Chartres and St. Philip, and put up with a variety of inconveniences to have dinner there. The local diners love it, too.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Irene’s regulars–many of whom come from well out of town–find their way to the place for the best of reasons. The food is lusty, aromatic, ample, simple, just offbeat enough to set it apart from other Italian restaurants, consistent and quite a bargain. The formula has so much appeal that a one of the main topics for conversation among the diners is “How long did you have to wait for a table?”
The menu shows a bit more influence from Northern Italy than most New Orleans Italian restaurants do. Pasta and red sauce is good here, but a footnote to the menu rather than a main theme. Roasting, sizzling garlic with herbs and olive oil, fresh seafood are the main themes. The menu is abbreviated but covers a great deal of ground, with a dish or two from every common food category. And a bit more than that in the seafood department.
Irene DiPietro’s family has run Italian restaurants around town for decades. She’s related to the owner of Fausto’s, for example. She and former partner Tommy Andrade–who departed to start up Tommy’s in the CBD in the early 2000s–opened Irene’s in the early 1990s. It was a hit from the first day, even in the face of a somewhat spartan space and an insufficiency of tables. Food conquered all.
A rumor circulating for a year or two is that Irene’s will soon relocate, but the management denies this.
It’s in an old paper warehouse with many odd spaces. The kitchen, entrance, and bar are not where you’d think to find them. The dark main dining room isn’t big enough to accommodate everybody who’d like to eat there, and some tables outside it are not very comfortable. The service is thoroughly friendly but usually a little scarcer than optimal.
»Oysters Irene (baked on the shells Italian style, bread crumbs, panetta, olive oil, garlic, herbs
Mussels marinara (steamed in a red sauce)
Escargots with mushrooms and garlic butter
»Panneed oysters with grilled shrimp and spinach
Crabmeat au gratin
»Ricotta and spinach ravioli, marinara, Parmigiana cheese
»Parma prosciutto with marinated artichokes
»Sauteed fish of the day with shrimp, roasted peppers, corn macque-choux
»Fish of the day, jumbo lump crabmeat, toasted almonds, green beans, brown butter
»Cioppino with fish of the day, shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, clams, mussels, tomato-saffron-fennel broth
Fried soft-shell crab (in season, March-October)
pappardelle pasta, fresh basil
»Cannelloni al forno with ground veal and roasted eggplant
»Roasted chicken with rosemary, lemon and garlic jus
»»Duck st. Philip (roasted to crisp skin, raspberry-pancetta demi-glace, pecans, spinach, sweet potatoes.
»»Grilled lamb chops, roasted garlic, sautéed green beans, rosemary and port demi-glace oysters
FOR BEST RESULTS
Show up right when the place opens if you don’t like waiting.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
There is no good place to wait for a table here. The reservation system is sketchy and can’t be counted upon. It was nice when they were open for lunch for a while after the hurricane. I wish they had a web site, but really, not all that many changes occur.
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
- Consistency +3
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Open Monday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Reservations accepted