By naming his Uptown restaurant Patois, chef and co-owner Aaron Burgau, 37, says he gets to stretch the definition of a French bistro and dig deeper into the melting pot that makes his home town’s restaurant scene so seductive. While the house-baked brioche starts a meal off on a Gallic note, the meuniere sauce on that fish is fueled with satsuma, a Japanese citrus. House-made fettucine takes a Mediterranean spin with preserved lemon and sun-dried tomatoes; sauteed sweetbreads are moistened with a reduction using country ham. Even Burgau’s more rustic preparations are infused with sophistication.
Patois is two small, cream-colored dining rooms, carved from a former house and distinguished with broad windows and a 19th-century clock with mother-of-pearl inlay on the bar level. The understated interior lets you focus on the food, which runs to a Flintstonian appetizer of spice-rubbed, smoke-perfumed lamb ribs topped with green-tomato relish (it’s served on a broad paddle) and exemplary paneed rabbit presented with Swiss chard, mellow white beans and fennel jam for a soupcon of sweetness. Crisp with airy bread crumbs, it’s a life-changing sort of schnitzel, richer for the cake of rabbit and pork confit that also squeezes into the picture.
The perfect southern exit comes by way of caramelized pain perdu. The glorified French toast comes with the essential B’s: bacon-bourbon ice cream and candied pork belly. What a way to go!
6078 Laurel St.; 504-895-9441.
patoisnola.com. Entrees $22 to $30.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
“I can tell you right now what I want,” says a diner to his server at the counter of this Treme institution. Without even looking at the menu, the regular sitting next to me requests six orders of fried chicken to go.
If the stranger’s sense of anticipation hadn’t piqued my curiosity, the high-pitched sizzle of cooking oil turning wet-battered chicken into crisp caramel-colored happiness would have done the trick.
Opened in 1957 as a bar (hence the name) by Willie Mae Seaton, who turned the joint into a restaurant in the early ’70s, Willie Mae’s is legendary for that fried chicken, which comes three pieces to a plate with a choice of two sides. (Consider potato salad, crisp with celery, and green beans scented with bay leaf.) The servers know before you do that you’ll need extra napkins to eat lunch and that any meal is better with a slice of cornbread baked in the same kitchen that excels at frying.
Pork chops and smothered veal are also available, but going to Willie Mae’s and missing the chicken is like visiting the bowling alley instead of the Oval Office at the White House. Seaton, 95, no longer works here, but she continues to eat her signature “a couple times a week,” says great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton-Stewart. “She’d eat it every day if we let her.”
The area around the restaurant, including a boarded-up school, is uninviting. The food and folks inside — including hostess Seaton-Stewart — are anything but.
2401 St. Ann St.; 504-822-9503. Lunch entrees $8 to $10.