WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Even as all the trends point to the death of grand dining, one or two new restaurants open in New Orleans every year purveying exactly that. Le Foret was the best of the Class of 2009. Although it keeps such a low profile that most people to whom I recommend it has never heard of it, and even has a hard time visualizing its location. Those who have been there have no problem remembering the place, though. Its beautiful dining room, spectacular presentations and service, and impressive and growing wine cellar gladden the soul of those of us who enjoy restaurants that can fill an entire evening with pleasure.
The cooking is Creole-tinged modern American food, involving beautiful raw materials made even more beautiful in the kitchen. The dinner begins with not one but two rounds of amuse-bouche offerings. There will be another later, after the dessert, and even a madeleine as you exit. In between, the courses are inventive without being contrived. Familiar foodstuffs--most of them locally produced, with the sources named--emerge from the kitchen with their flavors maximized. (It helps that not just the ingredients but the preparations are kept in sync with the seasons.) Timing, wine service, and attitude are calculated to turn the meal into an occasion.
The building, despite its highly visible location, stood empty so long that most Orleanians can't picture it. Those of a certain age remember it as Ralph's Arden Bar, a hangout for well-heeled businessmen in the shipping and oil industries, when many such companies were headquartered nearby. Le Foret owner Margaret Schexnayder (in the oil business in Cajun country) renovated all three floors in high style.
The main dining room has a contemporary, rich style. Oversize windows look out into the intersection of Camp and Common. The curtains are wide open, allowing the streetlight to pour inside. I can't decide whether I like this or not. The ambient sound level is a touch on the loud side when the room is full. Upstairs, the rooms are quieter. On the top floor is a dining room for about fifty and an apartment; the possibilities of this are intriguing. All this is managed with elan by Danny Millan, whose past includes stints at August, Brennan's, the old Sazerac, Emeril's, and other first-class dining rooms.
(The menu changes often This is a recent sample)
»Grilled quail, potato gnocchi, prosciutto, pine nuts, Creole mustard
»Crab bisque, roasted corn, red potatoes
»Charbroiled oysters, garlic, lemon zest, panko, parmesan and herb butter
»»Seared foie gras, Louisiana strawberry, pecan butter, balsamic and brandy milk punch
»Butter lettuce, Mr Higgins' jumbo lump crabmeat, cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pickle red onion, orange supreme, green goddess dressing
Green and white asparagus, crabmeat, Dijon champagne vinaigrette, lemon gremolata, poached yard egg, truffle hollandaise
»»Le Foret champignons, shiitake mushroom confit, pickled onions, pate de foie gras, sultanas, hazelnuts, watercress
Fruits de mer risotto, Maine lobster, mussels, littleneck clams, Louisiana shrimp, peas, wild mushrooms
»Seared beef tenderloin, carrots, spinach, potato puree, roasted garlic, thyme veal glace
»Soft shell crab crusted in cornmeal, corn maque choux, wild arugula, crabmeat, mirliton, cherry tomato salad
»»Seared diver sea scallops, eggplant and tahini puree, summer squash ratatouille, frisee, warm pancetta vinaigrette
»Duck breast, duck confit and pasta terrine, radish and baby beets, foie-buttered duck jus
Pan-roasted red snapper, asparagus tips, baby squash, wild mushrooms, baby spinach, confit potatoes, and herb vinaigrette
»»Grilled double pork chop, bacon red potatoes, Brussels sprouts, sauce au poivre
Wild mushroom and goat cheese ravioli, porcini cream, yellow foots, maitake, beech oyster and shiitake mushrooms
Five-course chef's tasting menu
Arugula and radicchio, pear, prosciutto, ricotta salata, herb balsamic vinaigrette
Mussels and gulf shrimp, shallots, herb and white wine broth
Lobster risotto, peas, wild mushroom and scallions
Pan-roasted red snapper (as above)
Crème brulee, cinnamon, star anise, fresh fruit
FOR BEST RESULTS
The five-course tasting menu at $60 gives a good taste of the restaurant at an outstanding price. Another good strategy is to build a meal of the very string appetizers. They make hot dessert soufflees, which you should order at the beginning of the meal.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
While Le Foret is easily capable of delivering classical service, its waiters are more like those of a gourmet bistro. That may be a smart move, given the informality of dining these days. But I still miss the sharpness of the 1970s and 1980s.
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 +2
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +3
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly