Sometimes things are just not meant to be. When Gautreau’s reopened we immediately wanted to go there. It’s been a few years since we ate at Gautreau’s, and it’s been a favorite of Tom’s since the 1980s, when Gautreau’s was one of the darlings of the Contemporary Creole movement in the New Orleans restaurant scene.
COVID kept Gautreau’s closed longer than most, and we were excited to return there. I made a reservation for a recent Friday evening after the show, but the weather became too inclement to travel across the bridge just for dinner. When I canceled the reservation I made it for the following night, but that too fell apart when the guy renovating a bathroom here at the Cool Water Ranch didn’t finish in time for us to make the reservation. I decided then to call for a reservation when we are on our way. That was last night, but the plan didn’t work. They were “fully committed” when I called.
Then I called The Bower, the latest establishment from Mark Latter, owner of Tujaque’s, Bar Frances, and Claret. But when we arrived for the reservation, there was no place to park. Except for the bright and beautiful complex in the Lower Garden District where both Claret and Bower are located, the neighborhood is dark and a little sketchy. I didn’t want to walk too far in the dark. We called that restaurant and canceled that reservation too.
What then? Earlier in the evening I thought about Avo, a very good Italian restaurant that has physically evolved throughout the years, the last evolution happening last year. Avo occupies the space that for so many years was Martinique on Magazine. Martinique was a charming little place that was at least half an outdoor garden space. When Avo moved in they renovated, and it became a hip and glamorous space with the garden area getting closed in, yet keeping the outdoor vibe.
Avo is the site of a favorite Tom-and-the-waiter story. He went through a period of giving waiters a most peculiar reply to the question, “Is there anything else I can get for you?” After a pregnant pause he answered, “A pet bunny.” Reactions to this weirdness have always been widely varied, (except for a cringe from the Marys) but Nicole, our waitress at Avo went back to the kitchen and came back with a napkin fashioned into a bunny. We talked about that last night, and learned that Nicole was owner Nick Lama’s cousin but had moved on. Fun memory.
And our memory of the food here was spot on. It was delicious the night Nicole waited on us, and it was delicious last night. The first thing at the table is a little brown bag marked Avo, filled with chunks of delicious homemade focaccia. It was a little oily but crunchy on the edges where it had been hard-toasted. This was fantastically good. The premium olive oil that accompanied it was not necessary. We ate too much of this, but it was hard to stop.
We ordered polpette, which came in a cast iron ramekin, the four meatballs sitting in a spicy red sauce that was properly thick but not too thick, and spicy but not too spicy. A smattering of Parmesan cheese was sprinkled about. I was a little surprised at the firmness of the meatballs. They weren’t hard, just a little firmer than I expected. They were still delicious, but the taste statement was made by the sauce. I liked their size, slightly less than two inches.
Also on the table was a ramekin of arancini, something we always order when we see it. These balls of risotto can seemingly be filled with anything. We've seen them the usual way with meat and cheese, and we‘ve seen them with crabmeat, and these were simply Mozzarella cheese which oozed out with every forkful.
They were crunchy on the outside from a thin coating of breadcrumbs. They sat in another red sauce which seemed different from the polpette sauce. The thickness and smoothness of the sauce was a pleasing contrast to the slight crunch of the arancini.
We only ordered one entree and a side to split. It was the short rib lasagna and asparagus. This was the last and final time I will order a short rib ragu. That was the sauce of the lasagna. It was very good - how far wrong can you go with short ribs? But I decided last night that I preferred ground meat in the red sauce.
It was very cheesy, and the lasagna noodles were soft. This was not a large portion, but it was just right for the richness and heaviness of lasagna. It was a tasty and pleasing version of a hearty lasagna. The asparagus are the best I have had in the US. Only in Italy have I had better. Grown not far from the plate there, I find them really good, more tender and more flavorful than anything here, even in the fanciest restaurant. Asparagus is not a favorite of mine, especially when you get down to the woodsy end of the vegetable. These were tender throughout, grilled leaving a nice char, coated in olive oil so they were moist, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Definitely some of the best I’ve had. This was not a lot of food but it was enough food. We skipped dessert too.
The waiter was very nice, the food really delicious, and the environment gorgeous. But I didn’t really care for the way the place felt. The hostess didn’t seem welcoming, and the level of sanitizing was distracting. Italian food is soul-satisfying, but my soul was not satisfied here this night. Just my palate.