Restaurant Reviews

Near New Orleans

Report No. 00002
New Orleans Food Police
To: Bourbon St. Bistreaux

There are some days when a cop's job is easier than others. It's a pleasure to find a "Louisiana-style" restaurant that doesn't egregiously break the laws of New Orleans cuisine. I'm pleased to state in this report that your restaurant, though perhaps not up to the standards of the highest culinary temples of Louisiana, is more than good enough to please one slightly homesick New Orleanian. Your classic dishes are good, and, to my surprise, those dishes that you've chosen to "update," you've actually improved upon. Good job.

The best appetizer is the barbecue shrimp ($7.25). Grilled, butterflied shrimp of very high quality are served with a New Orleans-style barbecue sauce (actually, more of a spicy butter sauce). Your version of the sauce tastes lighter than the traditional one, still spicy, but more redolent of fresh herbs. Superb. The accompanying cornbread "souffle" is a delightful addition to the plate, perfect for sopping any remaining sauce.

As for the soups, the turtle soup ($4.25 cup, $5.75 bowl) is good but lacks that slight gaminess of the best of its kind. A better choice is the crawfish bisque, not a rustic country bisque, for sure, but an elegant city bisque. It could use a bit more crawfish flavor, but its rich, creamy spiciness makes for a great bowl of comfort food.

Of the two gumbos, seafood and chicken andouille, the waiter recommended the seafood. Unfortunately, the waiter was wrong. It's a decent gumbo, with a nice dark roux, but the flavor is all surface. The chicken andouille gumbo is a much better choice, with all the depth of flavor and swampy murkiness that a great gumbo requires.

Executive chef Jon Hebert has a deft hand with seafood, as is evident in the two best entrees I sampled. My favorite is the seafood-stuffed shrimp ($16.95), served with green beans, roasted corn (my tablemate loved it, I thought it was nasty) and the wonderful cornbread souffle. As good as the shrimp is, it's the sauce that makes the dish -- a stupendous orange butter sauce subtly spiced with cayenne. Again, good job!

I also enjoyed the soft-shell crab ($18.95), coated with a crust of blue cornmeal (a tip of the hat to the Southwest), then pan-fried and served with tasty dirty rice and veggies. The brittle crust sheathes in all of the crab's natural juiciness and flavor. (One minor infraction here, though: I would not serve the dark brown Ponchartrain sauce directly on the crab. It makes the crust soggy and detracts from the visual appeal of the crabs. Serve it on the side!)

The test of a New Orleans-style restaurant is its oyster poor boy, and yours, while slightly untraditional, is quite good. Instead of crunchy-crusted French bread, you serve yours on a soft, herb-crusted roll, a perfect foil to the salty, crunchy fried oysters. I also strongly approve of the highly herbaceous (seven-herb!) tartar sauce. (I do have to charge you with one additional infraction, though. You didn't ask whether I wanted my sandwich "dressed." Personally, I think tomato has no place on an oyster poor boy. It only makes the oysters soggy and adds nothing to the flavor.)

Seafood is definitely your strong suit (ten out of 16 entrees), but I also enjoyed the roasted pork tenderloin, stuffed with a good oyster dressing and served with a Creole-mustard sauce. Sided by sweet potatoes and other green vegetables, it makes a nice plate of food, sure to please any meat-eater.

Of your desserts, only two are made in-house. (The rest, the waiter explained, are supplied by Empire Bakery; I commend your truth in advertising.) Our waiter recommended the pecan pie ($4.95), and it was good, but the bread pudding ($4.95) was even better. Flavored with raspberry and chunks of still slightly crunchy apple, it was drenched with a delicious whiskey sauce.

I can't in good conscience let you off scot-free, if only because of your name. "Bistreaux"? I suggest that you geaux get yourself a dictionary and learn the correct spelling of the word. If there isn't a law against overly cute restaurant names, well, there ought to be.

Bourbon St. Bistreaux, 5555 Morningside, (713)522-9133.

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Dennis Abrams