Lakeview Gets A New Gem
Tom Fitzmorris December 12, 2019 06:50 Dining Diary
Mary Ann and I had a relentless schedule today. Our first stop was at the inoperative but formerly five-star La Provence, on the old highway from Mandeville to Slidell. Ever since the death of La Provence, one owner after another has landed there, hoping to bring back the restaurant's former brilliance. Nothing much came of it all, even when the likes of Chef John Besh was in play, though those were the post-Chris glory days. I’ll never forget one of my favorite oyster dishes ever, created there at that time. Oysters Ooh-La-La, which incorporated crab fat into a sublimely delicious dish.
But suddenly now we have a promising possibility for a great new life for this great old place. Cayman Sinclair has arrived on the scene, with the money to spend to make this something special, and more important, modern. He has been a long-term provider of catering for movie making in and around New Orleans. He has also had a series of restaurants, the best known of which is Lake House, where its Sunday brunch fills the place every Sunday (often with the help of Mary Ann).
Sinclair's skills include an important aptitude. Seemingly without effort, he sees all sides of a food service business plan. He sees a dangerous fault and disassembles it before a lot of money goes down the drain, no matter how wonderful it may look. Sinclair spent over a half-hour showing this all to MA, who loves playing this game. I'll leave the analysis to her. The whole way across the lake she talked about how wonderful this development was and how glamorous the new place would be. She and Cayman have a lot of the same visions, but he has a lot more resources to see them through.
We cross Lake Pontchartrain to lunch, suffering the usual indecision as to where we will be dining. MA gets a great idea I wouldn't have thought of. We drove to Elle J's, a new Italian bistro about which I knew only a little. The new owners moved into the place a few months ago. According to MA, both grew up in the neighborhood, so as soon as it was open, they decided to leave their jobs at the Chimes and do their own thing. Vic Gerrets, the chef, was the corporate chef at Chimes since Katrina, and before that he worked in NYC with the likes of Scott Conant of Scarpetta fame. (Rigatoni Scarpetta is named for his friend, and its lighter sauce is a signature in the Scarpetta operation. Spicer moved Mondo on to the new airport.
Our first look at Elle-J's menu makes it clear that Elle-J's has a strong Italian tilt. There's a taste for red sauces here but from the first taste, it is clear that the flavors were not going to be entirely Sicilian, if at all. The shapes of the pasta are different from the ones you're used to, with lots of thin strings and sheets of pasta that take up the sauces well. MA loved her Rigatoni Scarpetta, and ML hit that dish pretty hard. MA was glad for the help. It was a large portion. Mary Leigh did not care for her Chicken Piccata, declaring it sort of tasteless. We all agreed the capers took over. It is hard to describe how delicious I found the Bolognese. I just couldn’t stop eating it, no matter how hard I tried. Even with MA’s help, it was a lot.
Before the pasta I had some chargrilled oysters, which came without the oyster shells (no great loss there). Replacing the shells is a layer of bread crumbs, olive oil, herbs,-and--of course–garlic and Parmesan cheese. As soon as the oysters cooled off so as not to melt the oyster forks, I scarfed them down. This was such a good taste that both the Marys were crazy about it. Meanwhile, MA indulged in a rare she-crab soup. This uses the same crabs we do around New Orleans, but in the Northeast, they make the connection to the female crabs for a cream soup. I knew she'd love it, but I had no idea how much she would love it. Vic came to the table to chat and she asked about it. He mentioned that his partner Jason got the recipe from his mother, who made it often. What was served is the result of much tweaking.
My entree had strata of wide but thin pasta sheets, tossed with a generous pile of Bolognese sauce with just enough tomato and meat and couldn’t have been better. The Marys were divided. ML was unimpressed, but Mary Ann liked it enough for them both. The waiter touted it, and he was right. It couldn’t be any better.
Mary Ann also got the shrimp and andouille gumbo but found it too salty.
For dessert, I had a cannoli that I liked rather well. It was dipped in chocolate. Vic brought MA a six-layer chocolate cake. She was too full to eat it, but tasted it and found it great. Another time, she said.
900 Harrison Ave. Lakeview