WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The very best of the Creole bistros, Brigtsen's gets that way by putting all its efforts into cooking delicious food. No menu posturing; no quirky ingredients or oddball cooking techniques; no heavy emphasis on decor, ceremony, or wine. It's all about cooking up the best local flavors possible, a project at which Frank Brigtsen and his tight little kitchen consistently succeed.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Every ingredient is fresh, local, and the best available, with heavy use of organic foods from small local farmers. Frank Brigtsen is an avid fisherman, and buys and cooks fish with more skill than anyone else. The food comes hot out of the kitchen as soon as it's finished being cooked. (This sometimes creates slight non-synchronous arrival of food at the table, but everybody expects this). The menu changes every day, keeping the wide repertoire interesting without forcing the restaurant to cook an unmanageable menu. This is the best place in town to eat rabbit.
Chef-owner Frank Brigtsen was hired into the kitchen at Commander's Palace by Chef Paul Prudhomme, who made him a willing protege. Frank moved to K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen shortly after Chef Paul opened it in 1979, and stayed there for six years. There he met his wife Marna, with whom he shares the exact birthdate. They opened Brigtsen's in 1986, taking over the former Dante By The River restaurant.
A century-old cottage, lightly remodeled to provide three small dining rooms. The best tables are in the windows up front. The conviviality among customers keeps the walls from closing in. Unless you have a problem with small dining rooms, you’ll find Brigtsen’s hospitable and easy to love. Marna Brigtsen and her dining room staff treat customers like guests in their home, with a casual friendliness and good-humored joshing.
The menu changes every day, but certain items recur often. These are some of those:
Shrimp remoulade with guacamole.
Grilled rabbit tenderloin with grits.
Gratin of oysters and artichokes.
Mustard and cornmeal-crusted fried catfish.
Pan-roasted quail with apple cider pan gravy.
Any oyster soup.
Butternut squash and shrimp bisque.
Broikled Gulf fish with crabmeat parmesan crust.
Sesame-crusted panneed rabbit.
Tournedos of beef with tasso marchand de vin sauce.
Unfried seafood platter (an assortment of five or six small seafood dishes).
Banana bread pudding.
Ice creams and sorbets.
Double chocolate cake.
Strawberries with tres leches cake.
FOR BEST RESULTS
A reservation is absolutely essential. Allow the casual-service mindset here to infect your own. Accept the advice of the servers, even if it concerns a dish you've never enjoyed elsewhere.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I find the small dining rooms a little claustrophobic, but that's just me. It would be a mistake to drastically reconfigure the place.
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
- Consistency +3
- Service +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +3
- Good view
- Small private room
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Brigtsen's is the perfect New Orleans bistro. Frank Brigtsen cooks fascinating local foods in an original but distinctly New Orleans way. Meanwhile, his wife Marna and her dining room staff treat you like family. The only way to eat unhappily here is to walk in with a dislike for Creole food.
The first pleasure at Brigtsen's is the menu surprise. It changes every day. Although the repertoire is circumscribed, there's always a new grabber among all the old grabbers. Deciding what to order is wrenching, because half the menu has powerful appeal to your appetite of the moment. Frank shops the markets so well for his raw materials that you're almost certain to eat something new--and good. When the chef uses something offbeat, he likes it and knows what to do with it.
The restaurant is a small cottage in the Riverbend section. It has not been rebuilt much. So the dining rooms have that small, residential quality. It's a little claustrophobic and loud at times, but that's what a bistro is, and one must accept this as part of the charm.
Look at the fish entrees first. You might find a species you've never heard of (the chef is a fisherman and knows all about it). Whatever's being done with duck will be spectacular. Veal dishes often sound kitschy, with every topping in the kitchen, but they invariably turn out to be elegantly balanced and wonderfully delicious.
For dessert, the most lusted-after concoction is the chocolate cake, which should be reserved at the beginning of the meal. I prefer the banana bread pudding, but I'm not a choco-maniac. Service all night has an easygoing style all its own, neither subservient nor smug. At the end of the night, everybody agrees that they're all lucky to be at Brigtsen's.
This review was updated with new information on 3/26/2010.
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