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Monday, September 16, 2013

Martinique Bistro is a Gem in the Big Easy

Smoked Salmon Starter at Martinique Bistro
Smoked Salmon Starter at Martinique Bistro
Every now and then I have a culinary experience at a restaurant which blows me away. With so many options in New Orleans for world-class cuisine, I've been equally impressed and disappointed over the course of time. It takes a unique combination of tradition and innovation to truly impress me these days. Not to say that I don't like almost everything that I get to eat. I most certainly consider myself to be a food and beverage enthusiast rather than a critic, but I mean to really impress me, it takes something special. To stand out to the point that I'll tell my closest friends that they have to eat somewhere. To meet a chef that reminds me about why the term culinary arts truly is an art, and why a master of kitchen magic is every bit an artist as someone whose medium is canvas or lyrics. Martinique Bistro on Magazine Street in New Orleans had that kind of impact on me. Sitting five blocks away from Audubon Park, it is a quaint gem with an outdoor seating area that is sure to bustle in the fall and an inside dining room small enough to shake everyone's hand from the center table. I got a spot with Aimee Abernathy next to a window overlooking Magazine. Chef Eric Labouchere greeted our table and told us to enjoy the ride as he prepared to unleash a flurry of his finest creations on the summer menu at us.

Double Thyme at Martinique Bistro
Double Thyme at Martinique Bistro
Manager Jennifer Sherrod started me off with a Double Thyme to go with a couple starters before our main courses started flowing. The Double Thyme blended High West Double Rye whiskey, Meletti Amaro, Rothman and Winter Apricot, Lilet Blanc, and thyme. I do love a good, well balanced whiskey cocktail, and the Double Thyme worked perfectly to whet my appetite and prepare me for the ensuing gorge.

Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho with Cucumber-Lime Granita
Our meal began with the smoked salmon, a reimagined crostini dish on housemade brioche with vidalia onion, hard boiled Louisiana quail egg, flying fish roe, and caper aioli. The visually stunning dish put together expected flavors with a modern focus to create a couple fantastic bites of scrumptious salmon. At the same time chef sent out a cup of chilled watermelon gazpacho with Louisiana blue crab and a scoop of cucumber-lime granita. The cold appetizer beautifully blended the fruit flavors and it all worked well with the crab at the bottom. During a hot New Orleans summer, this is a go-to dish for a refreshing starter!

A trio of chickpea crepes were garnished with chili oil and topped separately with field pea hummus, heirloom squash ratatouille, and feta.
Socca
Our tasting menu kicked in with the Socca. A trio of chickpea crepes were garnished with chili oil and topped separately with field pea hummus, heirloom squash ratatouille, and feta. The creative pancakes were delicious savory bites that served as vessels for multiple mediterranean flavors. Next up came a fish dish featuring loup de mer or European seabass. The sauteed fish sat atop butter poached chanterelles and some tender greens. The mushrooms and fish played off each other in the red wine and butter sauce. The taste danced on my tongue as I took bite after bite. It truly is one of the best, more refined seafood dishes that I've had in awhile. It had nothing too complex. Nothing molecular happened to any element of the dish. It simply featured great products, simply prepared, seasoned wonderfully, and combined on plate to make a beautiful arrangement of complementary flavors. I want to cook like that.  

Loup de Mer with Beurre Rouge and Butter Poached Chanterelles
Loup de Mer with Beurre Rouge and Butter Poached Chanterelles
The meat course excited me from the moment I sat down in Martinique Bistro and laid my eyes on the menu. A boneless new zealand lamb loin with cucumber and sweet onion pickles, israeli couscous, meyer lemon-watercress aioli, and tomato-sherry vinegar demi-glace awaited my taste buds. Anybody that reads enough Bite and Booze knows that I detest pickles. They are my arch-nemesis of food. But here, I almost, sorta, maybe looked forward to them. I certainly admired the choices that went into the flavor combination on the dish. There was a lot happening on one plate and I didn't want anything to overpower the lamb, but that didn't happen. The medium rare lamb loin took on the medley of gastronomy and came out a winner because of it. The dish had a certain tang to it for sure due to the vinegar in the pickles and demi as well as the lemon in the aioli and the garnishing tomatoes. Still, it worked. Every bite of lamb and couscous with accoutrement felt like middle eastern flavored fireworks exploding on my tongue. Bravo, chef. Bravo.

Boneless New Zealand Lamb at Martinique Bistro
Boneless New Zealand Lamb at Martinique Bistro
Of course, with this much goodness, there had to be dessert. I wouldn't dare ruin an epic meal like this without giving it the proper ending that it deserves. Chef sent out a couple sorbets and a couple ice creams to kick off the sweet tooth rally. I don't actually remember what they all were, but I do recall that the ice cream on the far right below is a chanterelle mushroom ice cream. If that doesn't sound good to you, well, you'd be wrong. The earthiness of the mushrooms made love to the rich creaminess and sugar in the ice cream to create a truly unique and amazing dessert. Chef Labouchere had one last trick up his sleeve. He presented Aimee and I with a blueberry cornmeal tart complete with blueberry curd and lavender chantilly. Another splendid dish, this dessert hit right on the money balancing the natural sweetness from the berries with the nearly savory cornmeal crust.


Blueberry Cornmeal Tart
Blueberry Cornmeal Tart
My experience at Martinique Bistro came to an end but I know for sure that I'll be back. This uptown eatery impressed me immensely. I know they'll have a fall seasonal menu coming out soon, so your chances to try any of these dishes may be limited to only the next couple weeks. I'll have to make sure I get back there once the new menu is out. I can't wait to see what Chef Labouchere comes up with next.

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