One of our favorite COVID shake-ups is the arrival of Wes Rabalais on the northshore, joining the Osman Rodas group of restaurants as executive chef of Pardo’s.
We are big fans of both Osman Rodas and Wes Rabalais, whose food we got acquainted with at the ill-fated Magnolia Hotel’s Laurel Oak restaurant. The restaurant opened right before our collective worlds changed irrevocably.
It was mere weeks after opening that it closed with its long-term future uncertain. So like Gus Martin and Michael Gottlieb, Wes Rabalais made his way north, landing at gorgeous Pardo’s, a good match for Wes’s gorgeous food. Wes had a checklist of required kitchen upgrades that were met, and the two embarked on an ambitious new course.
On a Friday night dinner recently, the place was packed with the crowd of beautiful people that always fill this dining room. Pardo’s is the only north shore restaurant with a valet, which fits here. So L.A.
Osman and Wes kept bringing food in addition to what we ordered. There was a lot of food. Wes and Osman came to the table to talk about our entrees, campaigning hard for the burger, which is only available at lunch. Knowing what burger fans the Fitzmorris girls are, they wanted to dazzle us with their version of this American classic. ML agreed.
Tom started the way he starts every meal. With oysters. Fried with the usual suspects, some version of greens, cheese, and aioli. This one had a basil leaf as crown and some jalapeno aioli underneath.
We got a macaroni and cheese for the table, and I am sorry and surprised to say I preferred the Pardo’s mac’n’cheese from its days at the original place to all subsequent versions, including this one. It was creamy and fine, but otherwise unremarkable.
They brought us a special for the evening, a short rib agnolotti with mushrooms and microgreens which was perfect. There was a delicious cream sauce studded with plump agnolotti. This was quickly devoured by all.
For some inexplicable reason I got barbecue shrimp and grits cakes with country ham, thinking of combining these two. When they came to the table it was immediately obvious that I shouldn’t do that, and a more thorough read of the menu would have helped. The barbecue shrimp were exactly what this dish should be. A medium thick sauce with undertones of Worcestershire and a grilled version of the great Pardo’s ciabatta alongside. The shrimp were enormous, something that everyone else but me likes in this classic New Orleans dish.
The little grit cakes surprised me. They were many, all one inch cubed, resting on a dollop of Bourbon aioli and topped with a twist of country ham. They were fried golden brown and had an ideal texture. This was very good, and meant to stand on its own as it should.
Tom got poached halibut, which he loved. What’s not to love? Halibut is a fantastic fish, and this was done beautifully. It was quite complex, with roasted poblano, sweet corn, lunchbox peppers and confit fingerling potatoes in a rich sauce. A fantastic light dish. I’m not a poached fish fan but I will definitely get one of these for my own next time.
Mary Leigh got a truly sensational burger, which was less about the presentation of a tableside pour of the aged white cheddar sauce than the actual taste of the beef. This was a very superior and carefully blended meat patty. To call it a meat patty is an insult. Take away the perfect brioche bun and all the asides, this was a truly tasty protein. It came with an enormous pile of very good french fries.
It was the next course that showed the special talents of Wes Rabalais, in addition to delicious food. He is a master plater. We got a chocolate tart with pecan crumble and bruleed homemade marshmallow. The tart was ganache inside with a thin shell, set off to the side of the plate with these little coin-sized puddles of toasted marshmallow scattered about. It was like an abstract painting I didn’t want to touch and mess up. But that chocolate in the tart looked very dark, and the Fitzmorris girls don’t pass on dark chocolate. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.
The other dessert was a geometric puzzle of pound cake cubes with peach compote placed alongside and on top of them in methodical fashion. Described on the menu as Diplomat cream and toasty bits, these two other ingredients pulled the first two together into a wonderful combination of flavors.
Besides great food and a stunning environment, the air is always buzzing at Pardo’s. Many of these beautiful people know each other (I ran into Don McMath, one of my favorite people of all time there, having dinner with Debbie, his fun wife, celebrating their blind first date 51 years ago.) Besides the patrons, we love the staff here. It had been a long time since we were here and it was like visiting old friends. Totally fun night.