New Orleans Dining: Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant
When luxury baby boomer travelers are visiting a particular area, one of the top items on their to-do list is to sample the local cuisine. And certainly, New Orleans can deliver on that category in spades.
The Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant on historic Saint Charles Avenue features an acclaimed menu with French and Italian-inspired, yet distinctive Southern dishes and a dynamic wine list in a modern bistro setting.
Louisiana native Chef/Owner Donald Link opened Herbsaint a decade ago inspired by the Cajun and Southern cooking of his grandparents and began his professional cooking career at the tender age of 15.
In 2007, Link earned a James Beard award for Best Chef South, and in the same year, Cochon (more on this restaurant in another post) was nominated for Best New Restaurant. The James Beard Foundation again nominated Link in 2012 for the prestigious award of Outstanding Chef.
The James Beard Foundation also honored Link’s first cookbook—Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana (Clarkson Potter) with their top award for Best American Cookbook. Released in 2009, Real Cajun is a collection of family recipes that Link has honed and perfected while honoring the authenticity of the Cajun people.
Gourmet Magazine listed Herbsaint as one of the Top 50 Restaurants in America. It was also inducted into the Nations Restaurant News Hall of Fame and was listed in The New York Times as “one of the top 3 restaurants that count.” For his commitment to the industry, Link was named Restaurateur of the Year in 2012 by the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
Settled in a comfortable corner location, we began our gastronomic journey with Chef Link’s take on the classic Louisiana Gumbo. While we’re certainly not experts on all things gumbo, most gumbos we’ve had in the past were on the thick side. This was more soup-like in consistency, full of fresh flavors, with steam from the bowl wafting towards the heavens.
My first authentic bowl of gumbo. I enjoyed it immensely!
Next up, Butter Poached Gulf Tuna with Criolla Sella Chillies and Mint. We’ve long been huge fans of sushi-grade tuna and the flavors here did not disappoint. Isn’t that beautiful! YUM!
Now, I need to explain something. If you put a fresh poached egg on a beautiful dish of whatever, you will immediately have my attention. Not to take anything away from the excellent dishes we’ve yet to share, for me, this dish was the highlight of the evening. Behold: Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg.
First of all, you should know that guanciale is similar to bacon or pancetta, but is made from the jowls of the pig instead of the belly. And secondly, you should know that this dish had me seriously considering standing up to do a happy-dance right there in the restaurant. Holy Italian Cajun Fusion Batman! That was GOOOOOD!
Carol’s main course was Kurobuta Pork Belly with Cajun Grain Risotto, Pickled Eggplant and Shrimp Broth.
When we each took a bite, our taste buds went, “Whoa … what’s going on here? All those flavors in one bite”?
My main course was Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique. Our waitress had me at duck confit!
This is one of Chef Link’s signature dishes, and I gotta tell ya, it was everything I had hoped it would be. The duck skin was perfectly crisp, the meat tender and juicy, and all that wonderfulness was sitting atop a mouth-watering heap of Louisiana dirty rice with just the right dash of citrus to compliment the duck. Wow!
I can’t stand it anymore. “Honey, buy us two tickets to New Orleans. We’re going back for some more duck confit!”
Now, it is generally at this time in our dining experience that the pastry chef descends upon us with humpteen samples of her/his delights. However, as we nearly cleaned all of these plates, we begged for mercy and decided to pick only one dessert.
While there were many temptations, as I’m a huge dark chocolate lover, and my lovely bride is a equally huge fan of caramel corn, we opted for Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake with Salted Caramel, Cashew Ice Cream and Cocoa Nib Caramel Corn. Wow. That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?
As expected, I hoarded the pudding cake (I’m so bad), while Carol picked out most of the caramel corn pieces. What a delightful dessert.
Before we left, someone mentioned to me that New Orleans was a decade behind the times in the culinary world. Hmmmm. I’m certain that we’ll be sampling some decades old cuisine while in New Orleans, but in my humble opinion, Chef Donald Link’s cuisine was a delightfully modern fusion of Europe, Cajun, and Southern cooking.
Disclosure: our wonderful dining experience was provided by the kind folks at Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant. Thanks! Let’s do it again. Sometime soon!