As told by Don Clement, writing in these pages as the gourmet neighbor. He is a sometime guest cohost of the Food Show. He is a very enthusiastic diner and cook. He has his own sous vide machine. Really.
One of the many great Katrina casualties was Gabrielle Restaurant, a neighborhood bistro since 1992. The restaurant, then housed on Esplanade in what is now Santa Fe, was extremely popular for its contemporary take on Cajun classics. The proprietors, Greg Sonnier, a 2004 James Beard Award finalist and his wife Mary Sonnier, an award-winning pastry chef, were always at the helm. The road has been rocky for the Sonniers since those glory days. Operating on State Street for a while, a seemingly endless attention-grabbing battle with the neighbors forced them out eventually.
Greg surfaced for a stint at Kingfish in the French Quarter, Greg Sonnier and Mary Sonnier along with their daughter (Gabrielle, the restaurant’s namesake as you have surely guessed) finally re-opened their restaurant in October of 2017, in a much-less-traveled neighborhood on Orleans. The restaurant is a very unassuming casual place that jumps out at you driving by. Painted a bright blue, to put it kindly. it is a welcome sight on a brisk Saturday evening. Upon entering, we were warmly greeted by Gabbie, the restaurant’s manager and brought to a very quaint table. The lighting is low, casting an almost-seductive glow to the art-filled walls and the crystal cut decanters used for overhead lights. Perfect for this eclectic setting. This place screams New Orleans!
Gabrielle is a small restaurant, maybe 50 – 60 seats. with a menu that is robust. There is definitely something for everyone here. We started with an appetizer special, Oyster Casserole. It was served piping hot in a small casserole dish. The oysters were small, which regular diners may have come to expect with the oyster “situation” of late. The popular joke “size matters” can’t be true in all cases, because the dish was very flavorful. My one complaint would be that it was very wet. There was a great deal of liquid in the bottom of the dish. Either way, it was happily devoured by my wife and me.
Next, the soups. It is not often that I am excited by soup, but this time I was. My wife selected the She Crab Bisque. Since this dish is not seen in our neck of the woods very often, she had to try it. What arrived was the perfect cup of silky, rich crab bisque. You could taste the crab fat that delicately added richness to the soup. She opted for the cup, and was disappointed that she didn’t order the bowl-sized portion. This was a definite hit.
Whenever I see a Quail Gumbo on the menu, I’m in. Full disclosure, in my opinion, Chef John Folse’s gumbos are among the best anywhere. It is by this standard that I judge all gumbos. He has mastered the art of the roux. With that in mind and a slight predilection to be unimpressed, I ordered the Smoked Quail Gumbo. Mind-blowing! That says it all. The dark rich base, the smoky tender quail, the house-made anise green sausage, the popcorn rice…this was perfection. It was even better when I dipped a warm piece of crusty buttered bread in to clean up what was left in the bowl. This is a gumbo to be reckoned with and it can proudly sit next to Chef Folse’s gumbo any day.
Now I could not wait to get to the entrees. My wife ordered Paneed Rabbit. It was a leg of rabbit, pounded flat, breaded and perfectly fried. It was delicious. What sort of made me scratch my head was the sides. It was served with little round disks of pasta, red gravy and the rabbit was topped with a spoon of burrata. Why? It just didn’t make sense. The burrata had no flavor and no place sitting on top of that beautiful leg of rabbit. The dish was still delicious, I just wished the sides would have been more complementary to the rabbit.
I selected the Double Cut Mojo Marinated Pork Chop. It was visually gorgeous. As everyone knows, a double-cut pork chop can be tricky to cook. Too long in the oven, and it’s a dried out doorstop. Cooked too little, and it’s inedible. Chef Sonnier has mastered this tricky subtlety. As I cut into it, you could see the juices flowing from this tender piece of meat. It was topped with root beer glazed apples which were a perfect match to this mojo marinated chop. It was so tender, I cannot help but think this was cooked in a sous vide then grilled.
While the pork chop was excellent, again, I am perplexed by the sides. Sometimes less is more. The chop was accompanied by the glazed apples, house mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, red cabbage and it was topped with a deep-fried jack cheese stuffed pepper. I wished it had been simpler, but the pork chop was so good, it really didn’t matter. I ate half and took the leftovers home and it made a great lunch the next day.
This restaurant lived up to our expectations. The food, the ambiance, and the service were all warm and genuine. Gabrielle is like having dinner with an old friend. A friend you can’t wait to see again.
2441 Orleans Ave New Orleans
Th-Sat Lunch 11-2
Tue-Th Dinner 5-9
Friday & Saturday till 10
Closed Sunday and Monday