1413 Upperline St,
New Orleans, LA, 70115
The Upperline is a classic New Orleans restaurant, serving slightly tweaked Creole food in a distinctly quirky and artsy environment. The restaurant happens to be near Zara's Little Giant (my usual, slightly odd smelling grocery) and right up next to a Quick-E-Mart type establishment: that doesn't stop a healthy number of over-50ish patrons from frequenting the place most nights of the week. Upperline has a great reputation and has been cracking along for a good long while now: I figured I needed to try it.
I wandered in at 7:00 after circumventing a Mardi Gras parade (damn things!.) Wherein I had a look at the menu: big time must haves include fried green tomatoes with shrimp remolaude, spicy shrimp with jalapeno cornbread, hot n' hot drum, and Cane River Country Shrimp. Hard choices to make.
I decided to go with the crispy Oysters St. Claude, served up with Upperline's signature sauce. These were fried nicely (perhaps a teeny bit too much batter) and presented in a good portion size. The sauce was interesting: sort of reminded me of a tomato pesto, although I detected an interesting citrus n' chili accent in there. Good appetizer but it needed a little something something more - maybe a nice slaw or interesting garnish to create a hot n' cool juxtaposition?
Being a committed and long-term duck fan, I went with the roast duck with two sauces - garlic port and ginger peach. The duck came out in a giant half portion and was nice and flavorful with a good crispy, and fatty skin: I liked the distinct wood roasted flavor and the juicy, rustic nature of the whole thing. Even better was the sweet potato and pecan mash served with: maybe I just don't get enough sweet potato in my life but this was seriously good stuff. The ginger peach sauce had a nice classic sweet and vinegary flavor to it - good spooned over a tender piece of duck - but I found the garlic port, despite its big chunks of roasted garlic, a bit too salty. Minor complaint.
Service was excellent, and I sure as heck don't expect it as a college-aged female dining alone. I received plenty of non-patronizing attention, my food came out quickly, and I even got to meet the owner. JoAnn Clevenger is as sweet and vaguely batty as described: she happily handed me a list of the area's best used book stores and her favorite dishes at the OTHER restaurants in town: now if that's not confidence in your restaurant's product, what is? Finally, prices ain't cheap but a lot better then many of the other old-guard restaurants in town - and I definitely got two meals out of my giant hunk o' duck.
Make sure to excuse yourself to amble about the building and look at the art. JoAnn has accumulated an array of just plain odd to sublime art from all over New Orleans and it is well worth a glance. The staff will happily discuss it with you if you ask, and some pieces are on sale. (Some pieces I would love to have, some would give me nightmares, but to each his own.)
I'll certainly be back to Upperline on those rare and exciting occasions when I have the money: it's a high quality dining experience in a funky place, with an intimate and quiet feel that can on occasion be lacking in NOLA. (No jazz bands, Emeril-imitators, or hordes of drunk co-eds here: thank you, thank you, thank you!)