WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
SoBou represents either the vanguard of a new era in dining out, or a phase we’ll laugh at in twenty years. In either case, it’s decidedly pitched at younger (thirty-ish) customers, who seem as delighted by the freewheeling format of the place as older customers are puzzled by it. The center of gravity is the bar, where an intensive program of developing cocktails and custom ingredients for them rules. The bar chef is as prominent as the one in the kitchen. The food goes with cocktails as well as they ever do. In case a customer suffers from a coolness deficiency, something familiar can always be found to eat or drink.
To eat best here, it helps to suspend culinary logic. A cone of raw tuna topped with avocado ice cream? Try it. The combination of sweet potato beignets with duck boudin and foie gras? Sounds like a car wreck, but tastes great. Fortunately, most of the menu seems rational, if highly original. The idea of ordering one course at a time works better than it might seem, because the menu is structured that way. If you’re hungry for a nice fillet of fish or a steak, you are in the wrong place.
The Commander’s Palace branch of the Brennan family opened SoBou in the summer of 2012, taking over the space that had been–purely coincidentally–Ralph Brennan’s Bacco. It functions as the all-day restaurant of the rather hip W Hotel, whose lobby is only barely distinguishable from the restaurant. Commander’s chef Tory McPhail also owns a piece of SoBou. The name is short for “South of Bourbon.” The pink elephant in the logo is not a political symbol. His name is Barbar.
If you remember what Bacco looked like, forget it. Only the floor plan and the very noisy acoustics remain. The bar is central, of course. The largest dining room snakes around it, its walls displaying what looks like the ghosts of past liquor bottles. A little-known private room for a dozen or so is the most secretive place to eat in any New Orleans restaurant. A very cool place.
Cracked olives, marinated in cayenne & charred chilies
Creole beer nuts (sweet, spicy roasted pecans)
Cajun queso (cracklings, pimento cheese fondue)
»Yellowfin tuna cones (pineapple & coconut tuna tartare, basil-avocado ice cream)
»Cochon de lait gumbo
Sweet summer corn vichysoisse
Two-stonefruits salad (peaches, cherries, greens, pistachio beer nuts, fennel, Creole cream cheese, Southern comfort vinaigrette)
Apple & pear salad, Camembert, salted pecan tuile
»Crispy oyster taco, pineapple ceviche, ghost pepper caviar
Hamburger on broche bun
»Shrimp & tasso skewers on grilled pineapple, ghost pepper jelly
Butternut squash beignets, foie gras fondue, duck debris
Alligator sausage corndog
Slow smoked baby back ribs, Caribbean sauerkraut, ghost pepper cotton candy
»Foie gras burger, root beer and foie gras ice cream float
»Crackling-crusted yellowfin tuna, crawfish macque choux, crab-boil lentils
Beef short rib sandwich, red onion jam, Brie
»Crispy bone-in chicken confit legs, Crystal hot sauce-sweet soy glaze
Char-grilled shrimp salad
»Confit of duck leg boudin, foie gras, white bean cassoulet
»Crispy boudin balls
Mac n’ cheese, bacon
»Roasted Covey Rise Farm veggies
»Flourless dark chocolate torte, white chocolate mousse, chicory coffee shake
Spicy peach mojito sorbet
»»Cherries jubilee & white chocolate bread pudding
Pina colada cheesecake
FOR BEST RESULTS
Start with a cocktail (they really are experts at this) and one or two small plates. (They’re big enough to split.) Repeat until you’re sated. If you prefer wine, get one of the cards that allow you to help yourself to a tasting (or more) of eight wines.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The noise level is very high. Tablecloths would help. You’ll need very good teeth to eat the cracklings. Watch your step leaving the restaurant.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +2
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open most holidays
- Open all afternoon
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
SoBou is not just a new restaurant, but a new kind of restaurant. Not the first of its kind–places like Sylvain and Ste. Marie have been playing this game for a couple of years already, to say nothing about proponents of the idea in major restaurant cities elsewhere. The idea is to fuzz out the structure of the standard restaurant meal, replacing it with a menu that more resembles that of a first-class bar.
What remains is a selection of eats that could be understood by someone who never ate in a restaurant before. You can order anything you want from the menu (it even looks like a bar menu), anytime you want. The concepts of appetizer, entree, salad, and dessert have largely lost their meanings. When you’re ready for another glass of wine, you can either wait for a server to come by, or help yourself from a vending machine–actually built into the uniquely-designed walls.