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Monday, May 21, 2012

DCWD Travels: La Petite Grocery, New Orleans

Plaudits:  James Beard 2012 Best Chef: South Nominee, 2008 Chef to Watch by Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine in August 2008,  Chef to Watch by The Times-Picayune in 2008. In 2009, one of New Orleans CityBusiness’ Culinary Connoisseurs for Best Executive Chef and Best Neighborhood Restaurant
Neighborhood: Uptown/Garden District, New Orleans

The Setup

My company was holding a week long training in New Orleans, so prior to leaving DC, I made reservations at a few restaurants I was dying to try. With three of my coworkers (Carrie, Luke Chi Walker, and Cleveland) in tow, we decided to make the trek from Canal Street to Uptown to taste the culinary stylings of chef Justin Devillier at La Petite Grocery.

The Vibe

White tablecloths add an upscale charm to this 100-year old grocery store turned restaurant. Much like the local grocery and flower shop that occupied the space before it, La Petite Grocery manages to feel like a truly local gem. While its warm lighting and inviting wooden bar allow it to teeter on neighborhood eatery, it definitely has some hallmarks of a fine dining establishment. One lovely touch was a lone acoustic guitarist plucking out happy tunes in the bay window near the bar; sadly, we didn't get to enjoy too much of the music as we chose to take advantage of the beautiful evening and sit outside on the sidewalk. The service was friendly and attentive and quick with great recommendations for those of us that can be a bit... indecisive. 

The Food

To start our evening, we discussed ordering a bottle of wine but were all so intrigued by different cocktails on the menu we decided to go that route. For myself, I ordered the Elderflower Mojito. The waiter warned me that this was so good I'd be ordering a second before the night was out; he wasn't wrong. It was light and crisp and not too sugary as so many mojitos can be. My co-workers ordered The Bee's Knees (Hayman’s Old Tom gin, lavender blossom clover honey and lemon), A Good Old Fashioned Cocktail (Bulleit bourbon, muddled local citrus and brandied cherry, citrus sugar and Angostura bitters), and whiskey neat (from a small but quality whiskey selection). All were happy with their orders, though my Bees's Knees coworker ended up being persuaded to switch to the tantalizing Elderflower Mojito for her second drink. 

The food menu changes seasonally and Chef Devillier is committed to sourcing locally when possible. This showed in the quality ingredients we were served at every step of the way.

For appetizers, we decided to try the the blue crab beignets with old bay aioli and fried gulf oysters with frisée, serrano ham, piave vecchio, and roasted garlic dressing. Both of these were fine, though not entirely memorable when compared to the main courses.  I actually had originally ordered the off menu special squash blossom salad to start, though the waiter had to come back to inform me that, regrettably, they were sold out of this dish. 

Cleveland and I opted for the paneed rabbit with wilted spinach, spaetzle and lemon caper brown butter. I love rabbit and, with Chef's commitment to local sourcing, was excited to partake. This dish was very good, though admittedly the rabbit really could have been replaced by any number of proteins as it was fried and served schnitzel style. Still, this was a particularly good schnitzel, and the caper brown butter sauce was rich and indulging, while the spinach and spaetzle added very nice textural elements to the dish.

Carrie opted for the local shrimp and grits with shiitake mushrooms, smoked bacon and thyme. The shrimp was very large, plump, and well cooked, and the grits were fluffy and buttery; the dish was generally well received. 

Luke Chi Walker opted for the LPG cheeseburger with house-made pickles, onion marmalade, arugula, whole grain mustard, aioli and gruyere served with fries. To quote her on this one, "the house-made pickles were definitely a highlight, as well as the onion marmalade. It was juicy and tender, and the gruyere cheese sent me over the edge! It was probably one of the most satisfying burgers I've had in a while."   

The Verdict

A very pleasant local eatery with some serious kitchen chops to back it up. There were a few unmemorable moments, but overall very good, and the extremely helpful house staff put it over the top. 

Food Rating: *** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd 
Calm to chatty
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
: Head over to Frenchmen Street for the real New Orleans, not the Bourbon Street that usually gets all the hype.

La Petite Grocery on Urbanspoon

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