736 Dante St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Dante's Kitchen is a laid-back little place in New Orlean's river-bend, tucked back at a safe distance from the always rocking Daiquiri Cafe, facing the train tracks. Situated in an old house, Dante's has developed a reputation in town for serving high-end New Orleans and Southern specialities at unusually reasonable prices (with an emphasis on local ingredients,) and it seems like mostly locals occupy the tables inside and the garden eating area outside. So how's the food?
Every table is started off with a cast iron pot of spoonbread with honey butter, that intoxicating Southern speciality that resembles a warm and gooey corn souffle. This stuff was downright delicious - like a semi-liquid corn cake (and I very much like my corn cakes.) It was snarfed down with unusual speed, which may explain why I have no photo.
We sampled the shrimp and grits with andouille red eye gravy ($9.00), a house speciality and a truly fine specimen of a classic Southern dish. Nice, char-grilled (or so it seemed) shrimp topped a healthy portion of slightly cheesy and pleasantly buttery grits, topped off with a fine gravy. A must order. The cauliflower salad was less successful: an apparent riff on New Orleans's classic olive salad, this had a decent vinegary, peppery flavor but became overwhelming and entirely too oily as a starter-size salad. This pickled cauliflower concoction would work much better as a condiment.
I had the roasted seabass with preserved meyer lemon, roasted squashes, slow roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, red kale, wild mushroom jus ($23.00.) Let's start with the good: the seabass was delicious, with a crispy, savory skin and a buttery and fork-tender interior. The other components of the dish weren't as successful: the combination of all those strongly flavored ingredients made for a vinegary and rather powerful combination, which served to overpower the subtly flavored fish. The combo of kale, wild mushroom, tomato and olive (and whatever other stuff) would suit a muscular slab of beef or another full-flavored red meat a whole lot better.
Charlotte, one of my dining companions, had Bell & Evan’s chicken roasted under a brick, maple glazed, with a potato and bacon hash cake, topped with a fried farm egg, ($22.00). Huge portion and it looked pretty darn delicious: apparently she orders this all the time.
I also got to take a look at the Daily Preparation of Local Farm Vegetables, served with a goat cheese and caramelized onion croquette ($20.00). The verdict from my dining companion? Decent flavors, but the presentation - note the vivid pink and green on that there plate (and no, you don't need to adjust your monitor) was nothing if not lurid. She also noted that this dish too suffered from the addition of strongly flavored greens: it overpowered the roasted beets and caramelized onions that made up the rest of the dish. The goat cheese croquette was pronounced tasty.
We also sampled these beet greens, the day's seasonal vegetable. I rather enjoyed these and their pungent and earthy flavor, although they were, once again, not much more then vinegary green vegetables. I am a fanatic collard green fan, a kale aficionado, an ardent supporter of mustard greens and broccoli rabe, but Dante's Kitchen, I implore you, does every single food item on the planet have to involve greens with vinegar? Admittedly this could be due to our ordering choices, but I am not entirely convinced. (Were there greens in the spoonbread? Are there greens in dessert...?)
Dessert did not involve greens (to the relief of all) and was nicely presented and tasty: freshly made sorbet came out in a beautiful custom-made compartment dish, and mega-rich chocolate spice cake had a crackly and tasty crust, accompanied by a flavorful scoop of gelato. I didn't sample the strawberry shortcake, but it was both bigger then my head and tasty looking and that sure counts for something.
Verdict: Dante's Kitchen serves interesting, tasty, and reasonably priced riffs on Southern and Louisiana cuisine, but could use a less profligate hand with vinegar, oil, and greens in the kitchen. It's definitely a fine addition to New Orlean's bistro restaurant scene, and I'll be returning for another visit - I'll just have to ensure that I don't inadvertently order the Greens with Greens and Green Sauce speciality platter. Shouldn't be difficult.