Borgne New Orleans
Before leaving for New Orleans I was sure to stalk as many menus as I possibly could, talk to everyone I know who’s ever been there, and brush up on the last season of Top Chef in order to stake out reservations at the best places. Going down for a wedding limited us to two dinner reservations, so the competition was fierce! It was highly recommended that we try at least one John Besh restaurant while we were there; so after stalking every menu of all his restaurants in town we settled on Borgne. Chef Brian Landry’s menu had featured a ton of fresh seafood, just enough butter, and the southern comfort we were looking for our first night in town. To say that he set the bar high was an understatement. We didn’t have a better meal while we were in town, and we ate…a lot.
We started out with delicious chilled corn bisque with jumbo lump crab, dehydrated corn, micro basil and chili oil. The corn had a sweetness that was balanced out well by the florally micro basil and the chunks of crab lent a flakey richness to the soup. The part of the soup that I loved the most was the dehydrated corn on top. Soup, in my opinion, can often seem one noted and the corn gave it a pop of texture that one-upped any other ordinary soup I’ve had in a restaurant.
Our waiter then brought out a dish I’ve been waiting to eat for weeks, broiled Louisiana oysters topped with spicy garlic butter breadcrumbs. The oysters were accompanied with freshly baked fennel herb bread to soak up all the juices. The oysters themselves were very fresh tasting and soft, and the garlic herb butter complimented them well without overwhelming their taste.
The next dish was the highlight of the meal, garlic clove Louisiana shrimp with tomatoes, eggplant and fregola. The sauce was a shrimp stock with a little bit of sherry and when it combined with the tomatoes, eggplant, and piquillo peppers it tasted like a southern version of my favorite Mediterranean dish, eggplant caponata. The first bite was sweet and garlicky and a moment later you could taste the heat on the tip of your tongue. The fregola, a grain like Israeli couscous, soaked up a lot of the brothy flavors and was a welcome carby addition to the dish. Later when Chef Landry came out to talk to us we found out that this was his version of New Orleans famous BBQ Shrimp with Mediterranean influences, and made without any butter!
The feast continued with a hearty portion of black drum a la plancha. The flakey white fish sat on a perfect swirl of brown butter and was topped with pecans and lump crab meat. I was super impressed that all the components of the dish complimented each other so well; the brown butter and the pecans gave the dish a toasty-warm aroma and the crab’s natural sweet flavor combined for the perfect bite.
We were very grateful that Chef Brian Landry was able to come over to our table to answer a couple of questions for me about his New Orleans background and cooking style. I was curious to know how as a New Orleans native he kept his cooking traditional while giving it his own unique twist. Landry explained that at Borgne they try and stay away from French Creole and focus more on Spanish and Mediterranean flavors, like the garlic shrimp dish which is a sort of combination of the tapa (dish/plate) Gambas al Ajillo and BBQ shrimp.
New Orleans is well known for its myriad of different sauces and so I was curious to find out if Chef Landry had a particular favorite or one he enjoys making the most. Landry explained the delicious compound butters that he enjoys making at Borgne like the crab fat butter that goes into their fish in a bag dish, or a shrimp based compound butter made from the toasted heads of the shrimp that is great on pasta. In addition he explained that they try and keep all their seafood and produce as local as possible and often get different deliveries fresh from the farms 2-3 days a week. It helps them to cook the freshest food depending on the season.
I couldn’t help but asking Chef Landry’s favorite way to eat oysters. His answer: raw, with just a bit of really spicy horseradish. In addition, his favorite fish to cook is one that he caught himself!
Our meal concluded with two amazing desserts: a chocolate hazelnut pudding with condensed milk sorbet and a key lime ice box cake with ginger foam and black rum ice cream. I loved the tartness of the cold key lime ice box cake and spicy ginger foam. Taste Tester #1 loved the hazelnut pudding so much that when I suggested he was full and we push it to the other side of the table I could have sworn his look could have killed.
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