Sainte Marie Brasserie
Have you ever thought you had a place figured out? Like you knew exactly what was going on there? That’s how I felt about Sainte Marie before dining there earlier this month. I thought it was a fancy restaurant with white table cloths, a little too far out of my league for a casual dinner.
Well guess what? I was wrong. While Sainte Marie is a classy, well-put together establishment, it’s also a friendly, casual and approachable restaurant. It’s the kind of spot you can show up at 5:00 for happy hour and stay till 10:00 eating, drinking, talking with the staff and just having an excellent time.
As I said, I dined at Sainte Marie earlier this month at the invitation of Robert Leblanc, the owner, and Murf Reeves, the managing partner. Recently Robert bought out his other partners, and Murf came over from Sylvain. They were eager to show us the changes they’d made to the food and beverage menus. Along with several other bloggers and food lovers, I learned a bit more about Sainte Marie, its food, beverages, staff and overall mission.
Additionally, Sainte Marie now has two chefs – Chef Ngoc Nguyen and Chef Darian Williams. While Chef Ngoc specializes in his native Vietnamese cuisine, Chef Darian specializes in New Orleans soul food (his native cuisine). The result is a creative fusion of French/Soul Food/NOLA/Vietnamese flavors. Overall, it’s not really a stretch if you know about the cuisines. They inherently complement each other, and it’s executed masterfully here at Sainte Marie.
On this lovely evening, we had a delicious seven course tasting menu with a bonus red absinthe course. We dined, we drank, we talked, we just plain had fun. What follows here is a summary of each dish along with its beverage pairing. While a little lengthy, it’s well worth the read. Your inner culinarian will thank you!
Our dinner started with escargot poached in a white wine sauce with garlic, shallots and thyme. It was topped with a house-made bone marrow butter and a garlic and truffle-rubbed toast. This was delectable. Normally I am not brave enough to try escargot – if it’s overcooked, it’s like rubber. However, I had nothing to fear here. The texture was perfect – a pleasant chew with no resistance. Great flavors with the marrow butter and garlic. Absolutely perfectly cooked and well-seasoned. This dish was paired with a Tripel Karmeliet beer. It’s brewed from wheat, oat and barley. It’s a rich beer that helps to cut through the butter in the dish – well paired.
The second course followed with Thai chili glazed lamb ribs with a southern-style slaw. These ribs were tenderly braised and then finished with Creole tomato and Thai chili glaze, a recipe that originates from Chef Darian’s grandpa’s old recipe. The coleslaw was also spot-on – crispy, crunchy and creamy, just the way slaw should be. While this dish was enjoyable, it was the beer that accompanied this dish that I liked best. It was a Stiegl Radler – a shandy beer; a lager flavored with grapefruit soda. You may remember this type of beer drink from my NYC post. It was both light and refreshing and helped to cut through the spice and balance the sweet of the rib glaze. It was both a well constructed dish and well designed pairing.
Next up was an interesting fusion dish – BBQ jerk shrimp with coconut rice and mango chow-chow. This is Chef Ngoc’s play on BBQ shrimp, and I approve! It was a sweet-spicy dish, which I LOVE. Both the rice and the chow-chow were tasty. I love Asian flavors and appreciate the marriage of some traditional South Louisiana items – the BBQ shrimp and chow-chow.
Interestingly, this dish was paired with their Julia and Joseph cocktail, a satisfying elixir of whiskey, rye and orange liqueur. It’s a play on a Sazerac and managed to be light and balanced. I don’t know how they did it, but it worked and it was great. Murf is a master at pairing, that’s all I can say.
Our fourth course was a ginger braised pork belly with an Asian vegetable salad. I love pork belly and this dish did not disappoint. The skin was crispy and the pork belly meat was tender and well-cooked. The crispy salad of carrot, bean sprouts and cabbage was delightful, especially with the tangy, peanuty dressing that accompanied it.
I can only guess this dish was the brainchild of Chef Ngoc, being so heavily influenced with Asian ingredients. I loved the cocktail paired with this – an Apple Jaiquiri, name for the Laird’s Apple Jack used in it and also because it’s a play on a Hemingway daiquiri. Apple and ginger are a heavenly pair so this worked well, of course.
So now the fifth course. It was a lighter dish – a bouillabaisse of drum fish, mussels, littleneck clams and crawfish. Normally I don’t go for bouillabaisse at restaurants (typically too “fishy”), but this one was delightful. Perhaps it was the andouille. Or the pieces of deep friend gnocchi soaked in the bouillabaisse. Either way, it was pleasant and not at all fishy. They managed to make it delicious. I could have used a loaf of bread to soak the sauce, but that’s another story. See – I really liked it. That’s an accomplishment, score for Sainte Marie!
So of course we had a cocktail paired with this – the Last Word, as it’s called. It’s a well-balanced blend of gin (my favorite), Chartreuse and maraschino. Of course, it was a little bitter but refreshing, nonetheless. I’m not a huge fan of drinks served “up” so next time I get this, I’m going to order it on the rocks.
If you can believe it, we’ve got two more courses to go. The chefs kept the portion sizes small, though. I was full when I left but not overly. The whole meal was well proportioned. Anyway, on to the sixth course (and our last savory course). It was a smoky grilled hangar steak with truffle parmesan fries and béarnaise sauce. I love steak and this was it – perfectly seared and light medium rare (almost rare) on the inside. The fries were crispy and the béarnaise was oh-so-yummy.
This was a perfect finish to the savory dishes and was paired with a cocktail called Yule Shoot Your Eye Out - a satisfying bourbon drink. Because of course you’ve got to have a bourbon with any steak, right? The drink also contained dram and cinnamon. Top notch pairing.
Finally, we got to dessert – a toffee cake stuffed with vanilla ice cream. The cake was crispy and the caramel toffee sauce was sweet and tasty. This was paired with a biere noire from Bayou Teche brewery (forgot to photograph). This biere noire tastes like a stout but is lighter. I definitely got some coffee flavors in there – an ideal dessert beer.
And because we’re in New Orleans, we got some lagniappe. We got to try Atelier Vie’s brand new red absinthe. Below you can see it mixed with cold water, which gives it a creamy look. This red absinthe is make from hibiscus and actually tastes pretty good. I can’t honestly say I’m a big absinthe fan, BUT I did enjoy it and would drink it again. It was a tastiest absinthe I’ve had by far. It was much more mellow than any green absinthe I’ve tried. This product is brand new so if you’re an absinthe lover, start asking for it at bars and restaurants. Or just come to Sainte Marie and have Murf serve you a tall glass. It’s probably best that way.
Still here? Thank you so much. Needless to say, I had a terrific evening. Robert and Murf were gracious hosts. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we enjoyed it all. If you’ve not been to Sainte Marie yet or if it’s just been a while since your last visit, check them out. It’s a marvelous space filled with passionate people who want to do nothing more than rock your socks off with delectable food, creative drinks and killer service.
- Address: 930 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA 70115
- Phone: 504.304.6988
- Hours: Mon-Tues – 4p-11p; Wed-Sat – 11a-11p; Sun – 11a-9p
- Web: SainteMarieNOLA.com
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