Of all the notions from the fecund mind of Chef John Besh, Borgne may be the best of them. In a casual restaurant whose decor makes a clear statement on behalf of seafood, he and his chef-business partner Brian Landry blend the flavors of New Orleans with those of the long-running Isleños community just downstream. That alone is a brilliant idea, never before explored. What comes out of the effort is a menu that seems familiar, but brings a collection of unusual flavors and food marriages that are unique in the eating. The location near the Superdome and the rapidly-developing Poydras @ Loyola area adds to its utility.
Borgne is a chic, casual, and engaging restaurant whose cuisine reaches into a realm not much explored by other New Orleans restaurants. A good deal of its menu takes its inspiration from the Spanish Islenos cuisine. That cross-pollinated with the French New Orleans cooking style as both evolved. So none of it seems foreign to local palates. The rest of the menu refers to back pages of New Orleans restaurant cookery, reviving dishes we haven't seen in a long time except in the really old eateries. (Fish en papillote, to name the best example.) All this is pulled together by Chef Brian Landry, whose major resume item is as executive chef at Galatoire's for a few years--although these days his best resume item is that he created Borgne. [caption id="attachment_36863" align="alignnone" width="480"] Black drumfish a la plancha.[/caption]
Borgne (pronounced "born") is named for the large, shallow, brackish, seafood-rich lake (a bay, really) that brings the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the side door of St. Bernard Parish. It's also the home of the Isleños--Spanish colonists from the Canary Islands. At the time of the American Revolution, Louisiana was a Spanish colony, but with insufficient Spaniards to defend it. The Isleños liked the fishing in what is now eastern St. Bernard Parish. Their particular kind of Creole culture lingers there, melting year by year into that of New Orleans. Borgne borrows those traditions, uniting them with the superb bayou seafood the Isleños enjoyed. [caption id="attachment_29367" align="alignnone" width="480"] Broiled oysters.[/caption]
Like Besh's other expansions, Borgne was expensively built and furnished, but in a casual, clean, cool style. The atmosphere maven I live with loves the place. You know it's about Louisiana. That much comes through loud and clear from square columns built of oyster shells, T-shirts worn by the servers, and hand-drawn signs, many with amusing messages. It all suggests that you are in a big seafood joint in West End, Delacroix Island, or some other End Of The World. The long bar--which looks as if it had come from another, much more formal restaurant--is backed by a wall of material suggesting endless peaceful waves rolling in from infinity.
A meal composed of oysters, appetizers, salads and gumbo or other soups would be a very good one, and you wouldn't miss the entrees. Ordering dishes with Spanish names will not result in unfamiliar flavors, and may seem the most Creole aspect of the food.