The Mystique of N7

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris April 17, 2024 14:03 in Dining Diary

(Note: This is a post by guest contributor Daniel Lund III)

N7, located in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, opened in 2016 to tremendous fanfare which celebrated both the ambiance of the Parisian style café and the restaurant’s food. Accolades included Bon Appétit naming it a top 10 best new restaurant in 2016 (“The most romantic French restaurant in the world is 4,792 miles from Paris”), as well as a similar top-five award that year from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The following year the restaurant was voted the “Wine Bar of the Year” by Imbibe magazine.

N7 is named after the “Route Nationale 7” highway that runs between Paris and the Italian border and passes in front of many Michelin-starred properties. The restaurant’s website announces that it was “founded by filmmaker Aaron Walker and chef Yuki Yamaguchi, and specializes in French cuisine, often infused with a Japanese touch.”

But what was most talked about in the early days of the restaurant was a series of “can to table” offerings –fancy tins of seafood, lobster rillettes from France, calamari in spicy ragout from Portugal—straight from the can with a baguette, Parisian picnic food par excellence.” In recent years and during our current visit, the cans are gone.

Admittedly, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to the restaurant, and we loved it. With all the changes since then, we thought it appropriate to approach the restaurant as though it is just opening, to gain a fresh perspective.

This time we were seated immediately upon arrival at our exact reservation time – which was early, before 6 PM. (The entire restaurant filled up after that.) Service was very attentive.

The restaurant’s ambiance was as always very French country, “cool,” and yet very warm at the same time. Music was being played from a record player, adding to an old-school feel (although the music was not decidedly French. Where was Edith Piaf?) This is a spot with both indoor and outdoor seating that is equally suited for a romantic dinner or a large get-together of friends.

The menu resonates French bistro, although notably many of the classics have a twist. This may be what throws off some diners: expecting purely classic French fare but getting something different. We thought these differences were delicious.

Based on waiter recommendations, our table started with two soups and two salads, including a French onion soup. Because French onion soup is served in so many American-style restaurants, the thought of it may come across as cliché, although the soup is indeed a French classic. Here, the soup was clearly made as described, with a first-class veal stock, and with a subtle thickness which made this soup less brothy and quite hearty. Perfect.

The second soup, a mushroom soup (a special for the evening), was very good but definitely among the non-classic preparations we experienced during our meal. As was the avocado salad with wasabi, still perfectly fresh, perfectly pungent, and hitting all the right notes. The wasabi reminds the diner of N7’s  Japanese owner.

A roasted beet salad was similarly impressive and unique, with the mildly spicy beets nestled in house-smoked yogurt. Also on the table was a terrine of very good duck liver pate accompanied by half a crusty long Parisian baguette, pickled vegetables, and a schmear of sambal. The Asian punctuation returns, adding interest rather than detracting.

Entrées were also ordered based on the recommendations of the staff: bouillabaisse, steak au poivre, and the restaurant’s spin on coq au vin, “Coq au Riesling.” Each of the larger dishes was equally good, although none could be called traditional French.

The bouillabaisse – utilizing head-on, tail-peeled shrimp, cobia, mussels, and fish stock – was deeper in color and a bit richer than more traditional versions of the French seafood soup. The steak au poivre utilized a highly seasoned hanger steak, which was delicious, and we substituted pommes frites (clearly housecut) for the mashed potatoes that came with the dish. We liked this better. The only complaint is that we all felt the au poivre sauce could have been a little more peppery.

Finally, the Coq au Riesling proved to be a suitable take on chicken with wine, the subtlety of the white wine allowing for a unique seasoning profile for the dish (in particular, a good bit of tarragon). The two pieces of dark meat chicken here could have easily been four pieces without overloading the plate.

Only the wine, the cocktails, and the paid bread service mildly disappointed. 

The N7 wine list comes across as inaccessible unless one is extremely well-versed in French wine and desires to spend a disproportionate amount on wine compared to the food. 

Because cocktails were the beverage of choice during our meal, we only ordered wine by the glass. At the waiter’s recommendation, we picked a $19 per glass Bordeaux, which was disappointing and overpriced according to the wine app we consulted. We also found a $12 per glass Malbec to be low on the taste score.

Cocktails for the evening included a very good (and good-looking) Sazerac but inconsistent pours on the house old-fashioned.

Finally, the $8 “bread basket” would have been worth every penny had the three breads (all said to have been prepared in-house) been more interesting. Given the good visual appearance of the breads, they should have been better.

The final check was extremely reasonable, and the evening was by all accounts a smashing success. We’ll be back, and soon!