The current buzz in town centers around a newcomer on the edge of the French Quarter in the space vacated by Meauxbar.
MaMou arrived a few months ago to high expectations. Two longtime friends in the business finally decided to combine their respective talents and open their own place. Louisiana native Tom Branighan was the chef at Longway Tavern after making the rounds in New York City, and Iowa-born Molly Wisemeier had finished her singular New Orleans gig as sommelier at Revolution after working in Chicago for Charlie Trotter.
When the Meauxbar space opened up these two decided it was time to do their own thing, together. Molly exudes warmth and knowledge in the front of the house, while Tom runs a remarkably orderly kitchen that turns out beautifully-plated and delicious food. The smallish menu shows wisdom and restraint, the mark of a chef who wants to execute a manageable number of things very well. And he does.
MaMou’s menu is French-inspired, with New Orleans and global influences. The cassoulet, for example, is made with red beans but includes couscous. There is a small slab of hogshead cheese on top. Talk about a clash of cultures!
Gunther and Evelyn Preuss were with us this evening, and Molly sent us a glass of Champagne to welcome us in. She is charming and very passionate about what she does.
Evelyn started with escargot, and Gunther had the cassoulet. I got the housemade fries with truffle and was surprised that it came without aioli. We asked for something, and they whipped up a saffron-infused aioli. The fries were uniform, crisp, golden brown, and totally uninteresting. Could my obsession with this menu item be waning? I hope so.
Evelyn’s escargot was beautifully presented in a tart shell. The snails were surrounded by a thick Romesco Sauce with basil and suet. Chef Branighan uses wispy large vegetable leaves rather than microgreens for garnish, looking more glamorous than trite.
Gunther got the cassoulet, and he said he liked it well enough, We were puzzled by the couscous. The red beans were thick, maybe too thick, and spiced exactly right for this town. Despite these anomalies, it could have been any red beans dish in town. A small slab of unimpressive hogshead cheese lay atop all of this. This was okay but nothing more.
Evelyn got another app, the Charlotte. This was such a beautiful thing! A mixture of beet nuggets cooked to that “sweet spot” was arranged in a circle with a bit of lettuce in the center, some radish slivers, tiny chopped scallions, and a blanket of Parmesan. It had a citrusy vinaigrette that pulled it all together. This was refreshing, healthy, and delicious.
Gunther and Evelyn both did better with their choice of entree, which was the same. I was thinking about that one too, but how boring would that be? Besides, I saw something else I just had to get.
The dish that dominated across the table was risotto with Italian sausage. It was pretty simple, and at $22, really inexpensive, especially for a special. It was tasty, though I was surprised to see it in a place like this where presentation is carefully executed. The rim around the risotto was a rich brown demi-glace, with deep wine notes. The sausage was crumbly, sitting in little clumps throughout the risotto. A garnish of baby radishes had roots and leaves still attached.
I think Tom had the dish of the night. His Fish Florentine that night was flounder, and it was just lovely. As I have said many times, fish should not be rolled, but maybe this could be an exception. It had the most exquisite presentation, resting in a tiny sea of spinach, roe, cream, foam, and a hint of tarragon. What was most distinctive about this was a circular edible sort of doily on top of the roulade.
My entree was Chicken Bonne Femme, another classic Creole Chicken Dish I’m always confused about. Maybe the confusion comes from all the interpretations of it out there. This was no different. Another arresting presentation, this one was chicken pieces fried crispy, but very tender inside, and covered in what seemed like a chimichurri sauce, but it was more of a paste. There wasn’t much of it, but it was definitely a terrific enhancement to the hard crispness of the chicken. A heavy dose (but not unwelcome) of parsley leaves filled out the plate.
The potatoes were bare home fries, a little thinner than traditional home fries, making them more like a thick potato chip. They were crisp on the outside with a little potato inside. If this is Chicken Bonne Femme I am more confused than ever. It’s definitely the hip version of the dish, but I really liked it. I ate it like fried chicken and fries. The schmear of the sauce on each of the three chicken pieces was a great accompaniment.
Tom and Evelyn each had some red wine in a large Riedel glass. Fancy, to go with this fancy food. It’s not every day you see food like this, and it is nice to run across it. The setting is a little underwhelming for this caliber of food, but I think it’s a preference for this 34-year-old chef. Hip and vintage rather than full-blown glamour. Not my scene, but I liked the feel of the place. It was full of people having a good time over great food.
When I talked to the two owners of MaMou about the place on the radio show, I could tell they put everything they had into it, meaning all their dreams. Their hard work and careful planning are reflected everywhere. I can’t imagine how they could have done it better. It’s a great new addition to the New Orleans dining scene, and the best restaurant that opened in 2022.