Based on Tom’s rule that in New Orleans, great restaurants do not reside in strip malls, we were highly suspicious of Pardo’s from the very beginning. It first showed up in Covington in a strip mall on Hwy 21 and Brewster Road, right beside I-12, moving into a space vacated by another Italian restaurant that we liked a lot.
We were taken aback the moment we walked in. Pardo’s had “it.” Gorgeous place, gorgeous clientele, gorgeous food. Delicious too.
And so began a love affair for Pardo’s that lasted through the on-again-off-again solidarity between owner Osman Rodas and chef Marvin Tweedy. A few years ago, Marvin passed away, and a landlord dispute prompted Osman to relocate Pardo’s. He purchased a decrepit retail space on Hwy 22 in Mandeville and took a long time to transform it into one of the most beautiful restaurants not only on the Northshore, but in the whole metro area.
Shortly after opening, Osman hired Robert Vasquez, a popular Northshore chef who has worked nearly everywhere there, including his own place, Opal Basil. Vasquez was known mostly for his healthy food, which seemed an odd match for the 5 star sensual gourmet fare people had come to expect from Pardo’s.
Every time I am at Pardo’s now I marvel at two things: What a force of everything it was to transform that beat-up old bookstore into...this. The space is stunning. The second marvel is not as happy. Why does Pardo’s seem to still be struggling to recapture its MoJo?
At least that is my take on it. I love this restaurant. The staff treats us like family. I like and respect the owner. The glamorous and well-heeled clientele returns time and again. The food is always good, prepared with care and first-class ingredients. But what happened to “it?” Maybe the “it” is still there and I’m just not feeling it.
Since COVID a great chef and his sous has come and gone. We had some good meals during their tenure. We dropped in recently for dinner, and we were greeted as warmly as ever.
Robert Vasquez was there, which surprised me because I thought he was doing Taco Tuesday a special weekly event we like at Forks & Corks, a sister restaurant. That’s when we learned from Robert that chef Wes Rabalais and his sous chef had departed.
Shortly after seating, we were advised that the chef would be “sending something out.” What arrived was a dark bowl of darker lentils, with a slab of foie gras in the center. This dish was utterly divine. It was Beluga lentils, roundish and plump like mismatched beads. The foie gras was seared perfectly, and released a buttery sludge of ultra richness and that sexy mouthfeel that only a few things can impart.
I love lentils, but I have never had the like of these. Perfectly done, creamy but with each pearl still formed, this was fantastic. I had to see if what made these lentils otherworldly was the essence of foie gras. I asked for another dish to compare. Even without the foie gras’s enhancement, these were the best lentils I have ever had.
What I really wanted was a steak, mainly to compare it to the steak perfection I had the week before at Dakota. I remembered that Pardo’s has a Caesar salad I really like. The dressing here is as it should be: thicker than most, that umami flavor unique to anchovies, raw egg it’s best not to think about, and copious Parmesan cheese grated, or in a more gourmet version, shaved. And housemade croutons.
After the lentil course, and more lentils for me, I ordered both the Caesar and steak frites to split. Pardo’s is proud of their house cut fries, which are served in abundance, with Parmesan grated on the pile, and truffle oil, which I usually omit. These have gone through good and bad iterations throughout the years. When they are good they are very very good, and vice versa.
The Caesar salad arrived, an appealing pile of baby Romaine lettuce leaves generously dusted with grated Parmesan, attached to each leaf with a dressing of ideal consistency and the perfect Caesar dressing flavor. Housemade croutons were scattered about. Unlike most housemade croutons, these were bare, no mildly-seasoned olive oil coating, but still crunchy.
The steak came to the table the same way the salad did, separated into two in the kitchen. Because I ordered it medium-well, it was butterflied, which I always decline when I am asked, but this time I wasn’t asked. The resulting tournedo was presented prettily, with a few roasted garlic cloves and a sprig of fresh oregano.
Unfortunately the steak was quite rare, and Tom’s was mooing, which was pleasing to him. I sent it back, and then sent it back again. It was still somewhat medium rare, but I gave up. I know chefs don’t like to cook steak for heathens who order it well done, but c’mon...
The frites came separately, a gigantic pile dusted with Creole seasoning as I requested instead of truffle oil. These were perfectly-cut strips of potato, crispy fried golden brown, greaseless, stiff, and hot. The steak was tender even if a tad underdone, but it is hard to beat a steak/frites combo.
We couldn’t finish the steaks or the fries, so dessert was out of the question. We left too early, realizing that we don’t go to Pardo’s enough simply because we just don’t go to Pardo’s enough. And I vowed to remedy that.