The look around the dining room is understated, with sleek gray walls echoing the patterns of artful lighting fixtures. Then a flash of flame from the grill raced through the room, in sync with the aromas of sizzling and charcoal emanating from it, and our attention settled on the open kitchen and what might come out of it next.
This kitchen stands where there used to be a theater stage. Now it puts on a show of vivid, sometimes revealing, flavors alongside an oyster bar tapping into local and distant waters.
The new restaurant The black Cat open in mid-December, bringing back an old name now revamped for a much different role.
The address at 715 St. Charles Avenue was previously Marcello’s Italian restaurant, which closed during the pandemic. But it’s still known to many as the home of Le Chat Noir cabaret, which hosted local and touring shows for 12 years, from 1999 to 2011.
The dining room occupies the former theater space; the restaurant lounge and oyster bar occupy the window-lined front bar, which once hosted tango evenings and where performers had fun after the shows.
Bearcat restaurants have always defied easy categorization, with menus that swing between a health-conscious California cafe and a tavern run by an indulgent chef.
Le Chat Noir is a much more ambitious restaurant, but it shares some of the same principles. This includes a wide range of vegetarian, vegan, paleo and gluten-free options. It’s a cuisine where vegetables can take center stage but not to the exclusion of a special marrow bone or poultry liver terrine (try a slice of it on a side of sweet potato, which is transformer).
The chef is Seth Temple, a Lake Charles native who has cooked around New Orleans and London, where he worked at Michelin starred restaurant Lyle’s.
He has a knack for dishes that, on paper, seem simple but turn out to be compelling and even revealing. Eating here is both exciting and fulfilling, it is not the easiest balance to find at the table.
The same goes for wine here, and more on that below.
For our first meal, we ate lobster and steak. Yet when we told people about it, the first dish we wanted to talk about was turnips. Truly.
They have long stems and attached greens, cooked with a delicious miso bath with a spicy, fermented Sichuan flavor. The tangled greens were like crispy noodles to swirl together, and the fresh snap of the turnips played lightly against the intense sauce, while the candied citrus gave an added edge.
Another small dish features white anchovies, the sweetest and meaty with vinegar funk, a staple of Spanish tapas bars. A small flotilla of them is dropped into a pool of chive oil and chili oil which start out as separate swirls and combine for a delicious brown porridge that turns out to be irresistible as a dip for some of the focaccia. crispy served on the side.
Make too much lobster and you miss the point of having lobster. Temple did just enough for the version he drizzled with pepper butter, in the style of New Orleans barbecue shrimp sauce. It was garnished with a fillet of scallop mousseline, a little seafood deli meats to add another element, silky and sweet and salty.
The steak we tried was a teres major, a lesser-known cut that intersects the tenderness of a tenderloin with the fuller flavor of a strip. This preparation, with sprinkles of salt and a side of chimichurri, showed just how thin a steak can be.
For dessert we had classic madeleines, light and crunchy, with a chocolate pudding laced with salted butter caramel, giving the hot cookie a thick drape of chocolate. It was like dipping churros.
The Goat Pie was a sober final study, a little tart, quite creamy, very chewy. It was like finding a soft landing after a heavy meal, rather than going out with a bang.
The sommelier is Kevin Wardell, who moved to New Orleans from Sonoma, where he built a reputation in the wine business akin to that of a “chef” – him and his wife, Sarah. , ran a wine bar where the other summits hung out. His list at Chat Noir is a tour of unknown finds and revealing associations.
Wardell is a passionate impresario for all of this. It could sink into the sub-regions of Piedmont, then to the Canary Islands and return to a hollow between the most famous valleys of France. It can produce wines that are timeless but possibly new to you that state why we go for these kinds of experiences in the first place.
There hasn’t been a good time to open a new restaurant since the start of the pandemic, and yet they keep coming, often designed into those windows when it looks like maybe things are going right again. The Black Cat opened up just as another wave once again darkened the whole picture.
So far, however, he seems to be doing well, and he’s a prime example of the exciting new talent and promising places emerging through it all.
715 avenue Saint-Charles, (504) 381-0045
Dinner (from 5 p.m.), Tue-Sat.
Price range: small plates $ 12-15, main courses $ 18-30
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