The most ambitious and best Chinese restaurant in town when it first opened, Cafe East was the first New Orleans restaurant serving a Pan-Asian menu. It's mostly Chinese, but goodly amounts of Thai, Japanese, and Korean food show up, sometimes fused with other flavors in single dishes. For example, the meal begins with a dish of very good kimchee--the spicy, cold Korean cabbage. All this happens in a stunning, airy dining room with a singular design. In the past couple of years, the food has drifted toward the middle ground, and it's not as exciting as it had been. Nor is the service and other details. But in a town like ours where most Chinese restaurants work the low end of the spectrum, it's still one of the best.
The building once housed the Canton Restaurant, one of the longest-running of New Orleans Chinese eateries. The people who own Cafe East (they're somehow connected with the Sake Cafe, but I'm not sure how) spent a lot of money renovating the place when it opened in 2004, and did it all over again after the flood caused by Katrina.
A striking, almost futuristic cube of a building in which every element makes a statement interesting enough to dwell on, Cafe East resembles no other Chinese restaurant. The enormous main dining room has high ceilings and lots of space between everything. Lighting sconces change colors slowly but constantly, making the place feel alive. The only missing piece is in the service department. Not enough of the waiters are up to the sophistication of the food and wine they serve.
Take a chance and order dishes you've never had before, even if you've ordered the same fried won tons and Mandarin chicken all your life. This restaurant will reveal a new world. Be ready for prices higher than you're used to paying for Chinese food, which is underpriced around New Orleans.