ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
A restaurant reviewed two and a half years ago doesn’t often require a new report. But reading an earlier assessment, I find that the Tomas Bistro and its neighborhood have progressed so much that it’s time for another in-depth look. Four major, recent openings occurred this year so far, while a number of restaurants turned over or went dark.
No restaurants thrived more obviously in the midst of all this turmoil than Tommy Andrade’s two establishments on Tchoupitoulas. In the the first review of his junior outlet Tomas Bistro, I expressed much admiration, but also a fear that it wouldn’t find a base of diners for its white-tablecloth dining rooms. Its new chef Jonah Nissenbaum has, in the past six months or so, brought an interesting new bag of tricks to the restaurant, resulting in one of the best sleepers in that corner of the scene. While it remains a great place to remember when the rest of the city’s top-ranked restaurants are full, it has collected a cadre of regulars and a substantial private-party business.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
I think there’s an off-chance that “fine dining”–a category of restaurant that has fallen on hard times across America in recent years–may well be on the verge of a renaissance. I put forth Tomas Bistro as a case in point. The cooking is very hip–you will find many good dishes you never imagined before. But one needd not dress to the nines, and the kitchen is so ambitious in its presentations that the whole package is quite a thrill in the eating.
Chef Jonah worked himself up through the better kitchens around New Orleans for years. He has clearly been thinking hard about the New Orleans menu. At Tomas Bistro he has t`he chance to get your mind clicking almost as fast as your palate can respond. The flavors are decidedly in the New Orleans style, while the kitchen’s shopping lists brings a few foodstuffs we haven’t seen in awhile. The food brings to the table everything needed for a big evening of dining.
In the magnificent age of the Sazerac restaurant in the 1970s, Tommy Andrade established himself as the ne plus ultra of maitres d’hotel. When the Sazerac went into decline, he co-opened Irene’s Cuisine with Irene. He left to open Tommy’s Cuisine just as its neighborhood (Emeril’s was across the street) was becoming a major restaurant nexus. It did so well that Andrade bought the building across the street, using parts of it for private party space and other parts for parking. That left a nice corner space to be turned into the new Tomas (sic; pronounced “toe-MAHSS) Bistro. After a couple of years of French-inflected food there, Tommy brought in a sharp new chef, Jonah Nissenbaum, to bring the menu into current times.
It’s a mild understatement to call this a bistro. A handsome, comfortable dining room sports full napery, baskets of bread, and other articles from the more elaborate days of New Orleans dining. The music is quite entertaining, being a collection of French jazz and cabaret music from the 1920s and 1930s. Tommy Andrade staffs the place with the old (and younger) servers from among the hundreds he’s hired over the decades. The wine cellar stocks includes more superb bottles of wine than you might find on the list. Good drinks, too.
Crab au gratin
»Atlantic blue mussels, white wine, herb butter
»Oysters Lyonnaise, crispy potato wrap, braised pork belly
Shrimp absinthe, fennel cream
Crudo duo (tuna & salmon, limoncello vinaigrette
»Veal sweetbreads Perigourdine, truffle demi-glace
»Bloody Mary oysters, caviar, cucumber water
Gumbo du jour
»Creole turtle soup
Soup du jour
Salad of romaine, pickled vegetables, garlic vinaigrette
Endive salad, radicchio, pears, raspberries, Roquefort
Grilled panzanella salad, fresh mozzarella, vegetables & herbs
Grilled Gulf fish, citrus marinated shrimp, goat cheese & thyme
»Wild-caught Des Allemands catfish and grits, Cajun tasso
Gulf fish cardinale, asparagus, crawfish beurre blanc
»»Bouillabaisse Orleans (saffron, shrimp, mussels, oysters, fish
»Tea-brined whole roasted Cornish hen, red lentils, natural jus
Duck Julia (roast moulard duck breast, confit leg, wild rice, raspberry fig sauce
Crawfish or shrimp risotto, crimini mushrooms, cherry tomatos
»Pan-sauteed veal Tomas, brabant potatoes, asparagus, crabmeat, bearnaise
»Carpetbagger filet mignon, crispy oysters, haricot verts, veal demi-glace, steak frites
Filet mignon, maitre d’hotel butter, shoestring truffle-romano frites, marchand du vin
»Roast rack of lamb, tomato provencal, rosemary port wine demi-glace
»Maricaibo flourless chocolate torte
Caramel crème brûlée-filled cannolis
»Mirliton tarte tatin, vanilla bean ice cream
Burgundy poached pear
Coffee and deauxnuts chocolate-chicory coffee mousse
Chef’s cheese plate
FOR BEST RESULTS
This kind of dining predates the age of spare plates with more empty space than actual food. So a four-course dinner here might be a bit much. This is a very good restaurants for all-appetizer meals.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
For a guy we’ve met only recently, the chef’s sense of taste is keen. Nevertheless, if a dish sounds a little peculiar, question the waiter about it. He will give you the straight dope.
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
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Pay valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly