Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bayona - New Orleans

Despite having a copy of her cookbook, “Crescent City Cooking”, I don’t know much about Susan Spicer. Sure, I know she’s highly revered in both the New Orleans and the American culinary world, but that’s about it. Well, when last in New Orleans, the three of us were looking for a lunch spot. Using open table as guide, we planned on lunch at La Petite Grocery.

After booking a table for three, we found parking and walked to the door only to find it locked. A note reading “closed for summer vacation” was attached to the door. Nonplussed, I scrolled through open table to see who had late lunch options and saw that Bayona had a 1:30 seating. With a table reserved, it was just a matter of parking the car at the hotel and making the quick walk to Dauphine Street.

If not for my eagle-eyed sister, I would have walked right past Bayona. With just a small sign hanging above an alley way, it was very easy to miss. Now that the small disaster had been averted, we walked into a rather small, but welcoming restaurant. Looking around, it seems like every wall is full of awards, commendations, and glowing reviews.

Once we were seated and cocktails had been ordered, it was time to scrutinize the menu. While most everything sounded delicious, there were a few dishes that stood out to me. Thankfully, we were a group that was big into sharing plates.

First out of the kitchen was a cup of the Smoked Duck & Andouille Gumbo with Rice.

Our waiter explained why gumbo was on the menu so early in the season. Apparently a tv crew had been filming at Bayona the day before and they wanted a shot of gumbo. So that’s why late august had the first gumbo of the season at Bayona.

This wasn’t a gumbo based around a rustic dark roux, instead this gumbo was silky, smooth, and it coated your tongue. With plenty of duck and a fair number of chunks of andouille, this was a very well planned gumbo. Not my favorite, but still very good.

The Cream of Garlic Soup was the second dish to appear.

I only stole a few tastes of this soup, but I was amazed at the lack of pungency. Each spoonful was a dose of smooth garlic flavor. Without the usual fire of a garlic centric dish, I was surprised but this soup was creamy, subtle, and frankly delicious.

Sauteed Sweetbreads with Potatoes, Mushrooms, and Sherry Mustard Butter came with a glowing recommendation from the waiter.

Thankfully this was one of the few times where the waiter’s recommendation was worthwhile. Starting with the star of the dish, the sweetbreads were crispy and perfectly cooked with that creaminess of the sweetbread waiting with each bite.

The Sherry Mustard Butter only furthered the dish by providing a little tartness, salinity, and creaminess. Not to be forgotten, the tiny cubed potatoes and mushrooms were just as well prepared as the sweetbreads and just as excellent with the sauce. The only thing that I didn’t understand about the dish was the beets. They provided a nice visual break to the dish, but I wasn’t too enthused about their flavor contributions.

One of the few low points of the meal came with the Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream.

There’s nothing really wrong with this dish. With a wheat toast base, there’s a healthy supply of tart goat cheese on top and the mushrooms with beautifully cooked. This just isn’t on the same playing field as the rest of the meal.

The first of the main dishes was an interesting choice for our group, there was no meat. Still, Fresh house-made Mushroom and Leek Ravioli, Asparagus, and Pecorino Cheese just sounded too good to pass up.

I was surprised to find the ravioli was a little hardier than I expected, but inside there was a beautiful filling that had almost a meaty consistency. Coupled with a smooth and utterly delicious sauce, I was wondering if I had ordered the wrong dish.

Going by the name, would you order a duck, peanut butter, and jelly sandwich? I probably wouldn’t, but I’d heard so many good things I had to try the Smoked Duck, Cashew-Peanut Butter and Pepper Jelly Sandwich.

I’ve read in Donald Link’s “Real Cajun” that Spicer uses pepper jelly with duck, but I wasn’t expecting this.

It’s hard to know what you’re getting into with this sandwich. All you can see form the outside is grilled wheat bread and a few errant caramelized onions.

However, all my doubts disappeared when I actually took a bite of the sandwich. It’s a masterpiece. Each bite brings a new flavor to the forefront, the smoky, tender, and moist duck, the sweet and slightly spicy pepper jelly, the relatively subtle nuttiness of the Cashew-Peanut Butter.

It’s sweet, savory, and just so damn rich. This really is magic between two slices of brown bread.

When I sat down to our lunch at Bayona, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was amazed at what we received. To add a little excitement to the meal, Chef Spicer actually emerged from the kitchen at the end of our meal. Granted it was a little annoying she said hello to nearly everyone but our table, but with only four tables occupied and two of them on a first name basis with the chef, it’s trivial. It’s startling to think that through all the superb dishes the low point of the meal was some pretty tasty goat cheese on toast. I’m chomping at the bit to see what Chef Spicer and Bayona have to offer for dinner.

Bayona on Urbanspoon


NMissC said...

I deeply love this restaurant-- before I got hooked on going to Herbsaint, it was my favorite of the newer places in New Orleans.

In a lot of ways, you hit it exactly right. First, the room is wonderful at lunchtime, particularly late lunch. If you'd asked me when to try Bayonna, that would have been my answer. At night, at least when I've been there, it's more crowded and intense, and the relaxing New Orleans effect just doesn't set in.

You also hit the dishes she's made classics. The sweetbreads and duck/pepper jelly sandwich are two of my favorites, and the garlic soup is justly famous. I've actually never had gumbo there, not sure why.

I'm sure you'll like dinner there, but you started it off on the right foot. Makes me want to go back, which I've not done in several years.

Cynical Cook said...


-I'm glad to hear that my experience wasn't an anomaly. As far as making it back, I think we can both agree that one of New Orlean's real problems is that are just too many good restaurants to eat at. It's hard to justify multiple visits when there's so much left to try.

Lisa Blair said...

I've only been to Bayona once - a late Saturday lunch. I had a wonderful meal and can honestly say it is one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans.