#6 Among The 33 Best Seafood Eateries
Pêche Seafood Grill
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Pêche was a logical next step for Chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski after their Cajun meat-and-sausage restaurant Cochon won just about every prize it could get. A restaurant with the same loose, artisanal character as Cochon but focusing on seafood seemed perfect. Indeed, it has been a jammed house since it opened, and reservations are hard to come by. And what do you know? It wins a James Beard award just about right out of the box. At least part of that quick and continuing success is the unrelenting hipness of the place. It’s a seafood restaurant, all right, but if that category carrries a connotation of fried everything, forget it. The emphasis is on grilling and roasting, focusing particularly on an eye-level hearth that converts wood into charcoal as it cooks.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
New Orleans has always been one of the great cities in America for the eating of seafood. But it must be admitted that for a few decades we were in a bit of a rut, with seafood menus that were interchangeable both among the casual places and the gourmet restaurants. By going down to the basics of fishing and cookery, Pêche–along with a half-dozen or so other places with the same goals–have redrawn the field. It would be a wonderful thing if these new rules went into force in many more restaurants.
Except for a a bit of beef for those who can’t or won’t eat seafood, Pêche is a where you go strictly to satisfy an appetite for fish. The provenance of the seafood is made clear by the number of items that vary day to day. The outstanding dish is the whole fish of the day. It’s almost always a local species, and is likely to proceed from the large hearth right behind the much larger oyster bar. The kitchen doesn’t limit itself to local or even American styles of cooking. Latin American and Spanish ideas are particularly in evidence.
Donald Link came into view during his days working for Susan Spicer at Bayona, then at Herbsaint. He bought out the latter restaurant and was near to opening his second restaurant, Cochon, when Katrina hit. In an admirable leap of faith in New Orleans, Link went ahead with Cochon, the first major new restaurant to open after the storm. Cochon and its satellite restaurants Butcher and Calcasieu were extremely successful, putting Link just behind Dickie Brennan in the building of a first-class restaurant empire. Pêche opened in early 2013 to instant crowds, both of locals and visitors. The name is a French reference to the enterprise of fishing. The building was for a century the home of the American Coffee Company, whose French Market brand was the definitive Creole coffee roaster.
The restaurant is in an industrial building from the middle 1800s, furnished with highly miscellaneous tables and chairs. Although the exterior renovation gave a handsome lift to the neighborhood, the interior still is unambiguously industrial, with exposed concrete all over the place. This makes for very lively acoustics. Incompletely-stripped wood furnishings complete a rustic picture.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Chilled seafood platter for sharing
Smoked tuna dip
Catfish, pickled greens, chili broth
Crawfish and jalapeno cappellini
Curried shrimp bisque
Greens, pecans, feta, lemon vinaigrette
Grilled tuna, olive salad
Chicken diablo, sautéed green beans
Baked drum, lemon broth, green peas
Jumbo shrimp, rice cake, chili butter
Whole grilled fish for splitting
Triple chocolate cheesecake, Frangelico anglaise
Strawberry almond galette, cinnamon orange ice cream
Pineapple rum cake, dulce de leche ice cream
FOR BEST RESULTS
Get the whole fish, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is what seafood cookery is all about. Reservations are essential as far in advance as possible, particularly around the festival season in the spring. Show up early and have some oysters.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Admitting first that I am a comfort junkie, I say that I find Peche uncomfortable. The noise level in the dining room when even moderately full is close to making the place a non-starter for me. Too much bare concrete.
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
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Oyster bar