“Out of sight, out of mind” is so true it’s no wonder the saying is overused. It explains why we never eat at Nathan’s Restaurant, a place we really like in Slidell. Helmed by an alum of Galatoire’s, Chef/owner Ross Eirich, Nathan’s is a delicious restaurant very well known to us. They were a long-time advertiser onThe Food Show, and hosted a number of Eat Clubs, but we never think of it now.
It is tucked away in a marina on Bayou Bonfuca and is absolutely invisible unless you are in the marina. It is designated only by a small sign at the gate of a chain link fence which says simply “Nathan’s Restaurant” with an arrow. You take an elevator or long stairs to the second floor dining rooms, one of which is an enclosed patio overlooking the bayou. It’s fun to peer into the party barges going by.
I have no idea what popped Nathan’s back into my memory, but I’m glad it did. Unfortunately, when we tried to go, the bayou had overflown its banks and the parking lot in the marina was flooded. A woman standing in front of the bait shop next door shook her head sadly with a wan smile that said, “Don’t even try.”
And we didn’t. It was on my mind, though, and before I forgot it again we went back. Nathan’s is an unexpected delight. Casual and unassuming, the food is way more delicious than it needs to be. At the same time, the presentation is not gourmet. It’s a mixed bag that adds up to a good experience.
There is an elevator that is more trouble than it is worth. We climbed the stairs to arrive at a tiny vestibule with only a side table and hostess stand. To the right is a bar that is always full with happy people drinking and talking, but mostly laughing. The bar has a few high top tables with every chair filled, and people standing nearby talking. Everyone knows everyone here. It is almost a club.
The dining room is of decent size, with a small private room off to the left upon entering, and a side room running the length of the main room, but it is a glass-enclosed former patio. It overlooks the bayou and every party barge that passes. When the waitress saw my disappointment upon learning that this room was booked with a private party for the evening, she moved us to a small room that was like the one I wanted. This too was full of windows, and it was kind of secret. I didn’t even know there was a room behind the bar.
We started with oysters, which is essential if Tom is at the table. And I got spinach dip as an appetizer. There are a lot of oyster dishes that have arrived at our table, and all are good, but occasionally one really makes an impression. This one definitely belongs on the rarified list. Described on the menu as smoky fried oysters with Creole Honey Butter with crumbled Bleu Cheese and Chipotle Aioli, the description doesn’t represent the complexity of flavors here. The Honey Butter sauce is more of a glaze which coats everything including the Bleu Cheese crumbles, and the aioli is probably the coating for the slaw, which seems like jicama. The combination of all these flavors and textures is nothing short of sensational.
I didn’t fare as well with my spin dip, which was too cheesy, gloppy, and surprisingly short on flavor. It was served with an unusual dipper instead of the toast points stated on the menu. I couldn’t even tell what these were, but they were deep fried and really really crunchy. They were semicircles of flour tortillas(?) and were dusted with a fine powder of Creole seasoning and a pinch of sugar(?) I liked these peculiar things, whatever they were, but they couldn't save this spin dip, and I was annoyed with myself for wasting a course on something this mediocre with a menu this large and appealing.
For entrees Tom got the Trout Amandine and I got an appetizer of meatballs. If I had known or remembered how divine this red sauce is, I would have gotten lasagna. Here were four medium-sized meatballs topped with red sauce and melted Provolone, served with thick garlic crostini. The meatballs were fork tender and crusty on the outside, exactly like I like them, though I was surprised to see them served in a restaurant that way. This was hard to stop eating. The red sauce was one of the most delicious I’ve had, and I would have been happy to drink it in a cup. The crostini seemed stale.
Tom’s fish was delicious, though there was not much sauce on it. Plenty of almonds topped the trout, which could be ordered grilled, sauteed, or fried. There was a huge mound of garlic mashed potatoes and another pile of pretty tasteless squash and zucchini. These sides could be better, and so could the plating. It seems beneath the taste of the food, though maybe Ross Eirich is catering to his clientele. Slidell isn’t known as a gourmet hot spot, even though the chef’s bona fides are A-list.
Tom gets creme brulee wherever he sees it, but this was a surprise and a disappointment. It was first smallish, with a shell so hard Tom seemed afraid to crack into it, and its taste was rather ordinary.
But we like this restaurant and vowed to return soon, heading back for lunch last week. It was my intention to have the steak for $21 to compare it to our excellence benchmark at Oxlot 9, where we think their lunch steak at $24 is a steal. On the menu today the steak was $23, still a steal.
The problem with going to Nathan’s with something on your mind is the menu - it will confuse you. So many choices in only one meal! I also wanted the club sandwich, the Trout Amandine, and three other things, not to mention a burger from a list of burger options. Burgers have their own section, though I always defer to the classic.
Tom got the incredible oysters dish he loved so well last time. There seemed to be more oysters in this version and the dish was prettier. Tom was tickled by this. It is an exceptionally great version of fried oysters. All subsequent meals at Nathan’s will have to begin with this.
And there will be many subsequent meals at Nathan’s. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this menu. Getting that club at some point is a given. But on this visit I went with the lasagna because I remembered loving the meatballs I got the last time. The red sauce was superb and I thought it would make a sensational lasagna. I wish we had been there the day lasagna is a special, because the specials run $11.99, and this smallish portion was $15.95. My first thought was that it is not a good value, but it was enough of a slab of lasagna, served with two large chunks of garlic bread. To be fair, lasagna is a heavy dish, so it’s inadvisable to eat too much of it anyway. And after I got into this, the richness of the cheese and marinara and the meaty meaty excess made it impossible to finish. So it was adequate and the price appropriate for what was served. There was quite a lot of meat in this Bolognese sauce. I wound up finishing it later in the day.
After eating what seemed to be a dozen oysters on the appetizer, Tom ordered more oysters by opting for the garlic butter sauce poor boy. It came with french fries that were hand cut and perfectly fried golden brown. It was a generous pile that was hard to stop eating. And he ate it all. These oysters were plump and fried well, with a butter sauce very garlicky indeed.
There was no time and no belly room for a dessert on this visit. We left thinking about our next trip to Nathan’s and what we might get. And looking forward to it indeed.