WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Old Metairie has a preference for at least the trappings of culinary sophistication. Because of that, Ralph Brennan's early promise that Cafe B would be a casual neighborhood spot have not exactly played out. The kitchen here is as ambitious as any of his others. That is apparent both on the plate and on the check. The hamburger is just an illusion.
This is a good restaurant for eating light, with many house specialties among the salads, seafood, and salads with seafood. The style of cooking is unambiguously New Orleans, although the gumbos and remoulades are outnumbered four-to-one by more original dishes. Fish is the most impressive specialty and imaginatively turned out. Also here is a scattering of retro dishes like macaroni and cheese (great) and panneed veal (not so great).
Cafe B is where a plantation road met New Orleans's oldest highway in the 1700s. The area underwent redevelopment about fifteen years ago, from which emerged an overpriced sushi restaurant called the Noble Bistro. It was replaced in 2006 by the New City Grille, a slightly upscale neighborhood bistro that did well until the owner's personal problems shut the place down. Ralph Brennan--of Red Fish Grill, Ralph's on the Park, and three other restaurants--renovated the space in 2010 and opened in April 2011. Chris Montero, from Ralph's now-closed Bacco, became Cafe B's chef.
Although Cafe B is dressed down (no tablecloths) and set up a little densely, it's a comfortable restaurant. The well-designed, V-shaped space breaks the dining areas into three, keeping the noise down without obviating the possibility of seeing friends. An attractive bar (where you may eat as well as drink) is at the apex. The service staff is casual and chatty. The parking lot looks bigger than it is; you will probably need to use the free valet service.
Crawfish remoulade, fried green tomato, roasted
»Pot o' shrimp, Abita amber beer, garlic, rosemary, lemon,
»Fried panko-crusted eggplant sticks, smoked paprika aioli
»Creole crab dip, Creole cream cheese, chevre, brioche
»Crawfish beignets, spicy tartar sauce
Buttermilk fried oysters, bacon, horseradish
»Macaroni and three cheeses
Crawfish tomato bisque
Strawberry salad, pecans, balsamic, goat cheese
»Wedge salad, buttermilk-pepper dressing, bacon, Maytag blue cheese
»Pear and pecan salad, greens, cane syrup vinaigrette, manchego
»Pan roasted herb chicken, carrots, mac and cheese
Shrimp and artichoke pasta, spinach, white wine sauce
Hanger steak, demi-glace, bearnaise, garlic fries, Brussels sprouts
»Seared salmon, warm baby greens, squash, pecans, Dijon herb vinaigrette
Grilled romaine and crabmeat salad, tomatoes, lemon-parmesan dressing
Crawfish fettuccine, tomatoes, leeks, shiitake mushrooms, peas,
white wine sauce
»Grilled Gulf fish, aged balsamic, wild mushrooms, spaghetti squash
Short rib and sirloin hamburger
»Panéed veal and capellini marinara, tomatoes, spinach
»Sautéed Gulf fish, lump crabmeat, brabant potatoes, citrus butter sauce
Grilled filet mignon, fingerling potatoes, spinach, roasted shallot butter
Gulf shrimp and lobster ravioli, Champagne beurre blanc, choupique caviar
»Strawberries and vanilla pot de crème
»Bittersweet chocolate mousse, brown butter pecans, chocolate brittle
»Warm bruléed bread pudding, golden raisins, praline ice cream
»Lemon ice box pie with fruits and berries
Locally made ice creams and sorbets
Selection of three specialty cheeses
FOR BEST RESULTS
Ralph is promotion-minded, starting with the inevitable early-evening menu (three courses, $18.50) and happy hour. On Tuesday evenings, they give free wine samples. The desserts are better and much prettier than one expects.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The chef is trying too hard to keep up with trends, especially the one that has chefs curing their own bacon and the like. The Asian-fusion panneed veal is much less good than the old New Orleans-Italian version.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Service +1
- Value -1
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Early-evening specials
- Open Sunday lunch
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations recommended
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Old Metairie is an old, affluent, unique part of town. Restaurants there operate under different rules. They find a healthy lunch crowd, a preference for earlier dining than elsewhere, and a desire for retrograde food and service. One more oddity: people from other parts of town are reluctant to go to Old Metairie to dine, fearing that they'll get caught at the railroad crossing for a long time--even if their destination doesn't require crossing the tracks.
Ralph Brennan is probably the most business-savvy member of his famous restaurant family. He started his career as a CPA, but was wooed into the food scene when Mr. B's opened. He overcame his Aunt Ella's dictum that it takes three years to break even with a new restaurant by turning a profit in year one at the Red Fish Grill. Even though the Brennans had only once before ventured into Metairie, he saw an opportunity here. As usual, his hunch--and his keen ability to match a restaurant with a clientele--was on target.
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