WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
A good restaurant close enough to Clancy's to catch that ultra-popular bistro's overflow could be expected to do well. But that's not the reason why having dinner at Patois requires advance planning. Chef Aaron Burgau's food is brilliantly flavorful, and different enough from that of other restaurants in the category to stand out. The premises have just the right tough of neighborhood-cafe informality to make locals comfortable.
While we've seen most of the dishes here before (even the unusual garbure soup was a specialty at the old Maylie's decades ago), the chef seeds them with enough unusual ingredients with big flavors that the eating is more exciting than we remember from past encounters. The choice of dishes also veers bravely away from the standards. (A restaurant without a filet mignon? Wow!) It adds up to a unique dinner, one worth thinking and talking about afterwards.
On the corner of two back streets, the building has been a neighborhood business for almost a century. The oldest restaurant anyone remembers here was Norby's, a neighborhood poor-boy joint that closed in the 1990s. Following the strategy used successfully by its block-away neighbor Clancy's, the place was renovated into a gourmet Creole-Italian bistro called Nardo's shortly before Hurricane Katrina. It reopened after the storm but never quite caught on. Chef Aaron Burgau, who was in the kitchen of the excellent Bank Cafe in Marigny until it closed in 2007, opened Patois later that year with partners Leon and Pierre Touzet.
The configuration hasn't changed much since the Norby's days, although the interior decoration added a lot to the environment. The front room, with its long antique bar, seems to be the prime place to dine until you go up the few steps to the back room. That's quieter, darker, cooler, and more private. Nice contrast.
»Terrine of rabbit and currants.
»Gnocchi with guanciale (cured hog's jowls) and brown butter.
»Mussels with smoked tomato broth.
Sauteed sweetbreads with lentils.
Shrimp and chorizo with spoonbread.
Sizzling baby octopus with olives.
Crispy pork belly with seared scallop.
Grilled lamb ribs with green tomato relish.
»Smoked rabbit and andouille gumbo.
Heirloom lettuce salad with shaved Asian turnips and wildflower honey
»Duck confit salad
Lump crabmeat salad
»Seared scallops with ginger jasmine rice, black garlic butter
Shrimp with fettuccine, broccoli raab, olives
»Roasted pheasant breast with confit of pheasant leg and foie gras emulsion.
»Fennel-crusted rabbit with purple-hull pea-poblano pepper succotash
Grilled hanger steak with red wine and marrow
»Porcini-crusted pork chop with brown butter sage and farroto
Chocolate-hazelnut cake with bittersweet chocolate pudding
Gingerbread bread pudding
Caramelized pain perdu
Frozen creme fraiche creme brulee
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reservations are essential; this is a hot restaurant. The Sunday brunch is quite different from the dinner menu, but one of the best Uptown.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I wish they were open for Tuesday dinner. The booth tables in the bar are less than ideally comfortable for four people of larger than fashion model size. It's noisy in there, too.
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 +1
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Patois is the restaurant of the twenty-teen decade. It serves food so fine that it must be considered in the company of the finest restaurants ever to operate in New Orleans. Yet its circumstances are so casual that one needs to adjust one's image of a first-class restaurant to accept this as one of them. (One word: tattoos.) It's easy to imagine that poor boy sandwiches were once eaten at these same tables.
Something else I like about Chef Aaron Burgau's palate is that he blends classic local flavors with classic French ones. That merger is where grand New Orleans restaurant cooking came from over a century ago. Now here we have the same synthesis all over again, but for a different era of everything.