Food Is A Pleasure, Right?
Mary Ann Fitzmorris December 11, 2019 10:29 Dining Diary
There are now two worlds. These two worlds operate in New Orleans as well. And on a much smaller scale, there are two restaurant worlds on display in New Orleans, especially lately. In this house, we inhabit the more tradition world. We eat out because it tastes good, not because of any particular mission statement or goal of any kind other than we like to eat, and we like to eat what we like. Because we also cover restaurants for a living, it is sometimes necessary to venture into places from this other world. Places that would otherwise be ignored by us.
But when the owners of Coquette opened a place in the Lower Garden District called Thalia, it made news because it is owned by two people who have operated a delicious restaurant for a long time in the traditional world.
The first time we ventured into Thalia there was a minor wait. We had already dragged Tom there because it’s not his kind of place, and my daughter and I quickly decided to just return ourselves. We did this last Thursday, arriving when they opened. We were the first customers, and I asked for a particular table which the host graciously obliged. I later regretted that decision.
The place is tiny, and the two-tops are so close to each other that you could eat off your neighbor’s plate. Not a problem here, because everyone is from the same world. Except us. I did not want to hear the conversation at the next table from a young lady whose world was absolutely rocked by the prospect of fake meat gaining prominence in the food world. As I have said before, I am an animal nut who loves the idea of eating less meat, but making plants try to taste like meat is absurd, and manipulation of food is too prevalent already. Eat a salad. Also, vegan ice cream does not taste like ice cream, hence the name, ice CREAM. It tastes like something else, and I do not want to taste it again.
This entire conversation was had as the young lady twirled her hair constantly, putting it in a knot and taking it out absolutely nonstop, over the food on our table. Kudos to the host (who seated us where we asked) for coming to the table to ask if we wanted to scoot over a table. Very astute of him to read what was no doubt apparent on my face. He could have shrugged it off as what we deserved for messing up the seating plan (we did), but there were no other tables occupied at this point, so moving was a nice and welcome gesture. Another lovely gesture came from the chef, who personally came to the table to apologize for the size of the artichoke I ordered, offering to downsize the price. I accepted.
Oh, yes! The food…
The menu was captivating, and I wanted a lot of things on it. My first mistake was ordering a stuffed artichoke. I knew it would not be, like, ...a stuffed artichoke like our mamas made. But my curiosity prevailed. I was very excited by the smell in the place. It was divine, The artichoke arrived. A dark and shriveled thing, about a third the size of a normal artichoke, with crispy breadcrumbs. The very affable waitress explained that the tiny pitcher on the plate was olive oil with anchovies at the bottom. I was instructed to pour this on the artichoke. I did not, so I can accept some responsibility for the bizzarity of this. There was very little stuffing to the leaves, and that is what I get for ordering something so traditionally New Orleans in a place like this. Was it bad? No. Ridiculous? Yes.
ML was busy with her own plate of labneh butter with cornmeal Naan. She was puzzled by it too, and ate it very slowly, trying to decide if she wanted to keep doing it. After a few bites it was decided. Not. I poked my finger in the labneh butter and thought it delightfully tart, and delicious. After a few more swipes of the finger (because the Naan was that uninteresting), she remarked, “Mom, you know you’re eating butter, right?” I said that it was cream cheese, unaware of exactly what labneh was, knowing only that it is the hottest thing in that other world. It is, actually, exactly what we in the other world know as cream cheese.
For entrees, we got a pasta. I warned ML about this, knowing it would be Bellegarde’s whole-wheat pasta. Again, sorry, but if you are going to serve whole wheat pasta you'd better drown it in a delicious sauce. Only Graison Gill’s mother is a bigger fan than I, but I will stick to his fantastic breads made of heirloom grain. To me, pasta is only good if it is white. I’d rather eat a spiralized zucchini with Bolognese rather than any whole wheat pasta.
My entree was the only thing we got that was delicious. It was a wild-caught speckled trout fried in cornmeal over a homemade tartar sauce flanked by grape tomatoes. This was so good my fish-averse daughter ate half of it. She has never done that. Good thing, too, because it was a very generous portion of two large filets. Back in that other world, the roasted cauliflower was crunchy, rendering it impotent as a side dish.
I’m glad I got that fish, which was a special. It was the kind of thing I might find at Coquette, in that other world. These two chefs are good enough to straddle both worlds. This is a neighborhood restaurant. I will leave it to the neighborhood.
1245 Constance at Thalia New Orleans